PSNC 2018: Retirement Industry Leaders Discuss Top Trends

Drew Carrington and Michael Knowling review the 8 most talked about retirement industry topics.

Day One of this year’s PLANSPONSOR National Conference (PSNC) included a summary of the most widely discussed subjects in the retirement industry.


Led by seasoned veterans in the institutional retirement planning space, Drew Carrington, head of institutional defined contribution – U.S. at Franklin Templeton, and Michael Knowling, head of client relations and business development at Prudential Retirement, the discussion delved into the eight topics that, they’ve found, for sponsors are most top of mind—from financial security in today’s economy to the use of white label funds and collective investment trusts (CITs) in retirement plan investment menus.


Starting off the discussion, Knowling explained the challenge to achieving financial security in the U.S., emphasizing the financial crisis in retirement preparedness. He blames people’s lack of savings, insurance and planning for the predicament.


“One-third of Americans are not covered by a pension or savings plan,” he said, citing a 2016 study. “When you ask them what is their plan, they say they’ll continue to work. That is not a good plan.”


Besides the one-third of Americans without a retirement or savings plan, 44% of workers are delaying retirement, according to a PwC survey, and two-thirds of employees believe they will outlive their retirement savings, a Northwestern Mutual study found.


“What’s alarming is, for those born today, the life expectancy is 88 for males and 91 for females,” said Knowling. “[The lack of savings] is a growing trend workers need help with.”


To offset low savings, Knowling suggested, employers should focus on three areas with their participants: planning, savings and protection. Ask your workers where they are today and what they envision for their future, he said. Then have them concentrate on the basics, whether that’s establishing a budget, creating an emergency savings fund or planning for health care costs.


Once workers take this initial step, then their focus can shift toward secondary items such as managing debt, saving for a first home or first child, or estate planning, Knowling said.


“As [to] protection, we spend a lot of time thinking about wealth and savings,” he said. “It’s also making sure [your employees] have life insurance, disability coverage and that they’re preparing for lifetime income.”


Additionally, structured retirement tiers were discussed in the session, with Carrington using to the term to encompass all groups of participants, whether they be long-term or new employees. “You’re going to have long-term employees; you’re going to have other participants who are relatively new to the plan,” he said. “We think that a tier has more than one thing in it, it’s not just a list of investments. It’s plan design changes, providing tools, coaching, etc.”


Other topics were retirement income product development, managed accounts, menu specification and emergency savings—otherwise known as rainy-day funds. When asked if their company offered an emergency savings plan, less than 3% of polled PSNC audience members responded, yes.


According to Knowling, employers that help workers meet short-term needs through such savings plans, and by adding contributions, can improve participants’ financial literacy and engagement with the idea of saving. “It creates financial confidence, and confidence leads to literacy. If people are confident, they’re more likely to make better decisions than if anxious or worried,” he observed.


Menu specification, a once-popular model that reduced 401(k) options to simplify investment menus, now has an addendum. Instead of limiting options to increase engagement, add options, Knowling recommended. This will benefit both participants and investment managers. “If you have very few investment options, it’s hard for an investment manager to construct portfolios,” he noted.


As for trends in investments and technology, Knowling and Carrington cited the impact of white label funds and CITs, as well as mobile engagement, on plan design.


Carrington noted the growing popularity of the two investment vehicles, and that CITs have overcome their reputation as a “clunky” investment. For 401(k) plans, CITs are less expensive than mutual funds and can be highly personalized—participants can construct their own funds, deciding what they want for an active/passive mix.


Along with framing these tools as solutions, Knowling and Carrington examined how communication drives participant engagement. Knowling noted the continuing shift toward the mobile world and the growing trend in voice-mobile technology.


“Texting or mobile engagement is not a new channel,” he said. “But it is fundamentally people who want to engage, and it’s part of our lifestyle,” he said.