As we celebrate the 25th year of this publication, we look back at PLANSPONSOR’s first Defined Contribution (DC) Survey. The survey premiered in 1996, three years after the initial publication of the magazine.
This, of course, was before the before the widespread use of the internet. Quinn Keeler, senior vice president, research and surveys, who has mined and worked with the data from the start, notes, “We began by surveying magazine subscribers via fax broadcasts and received responses via fax, keying the data results into spreadsheets.”
According to the November 1998 survey, provider technology use was growing, with 4% of plans offering internet enrollment and 36% allowing for internet balance inquiries. Keeler says, “The survey drew enough plan sponsor responses that we began our annual provider ratings, beginning with 13 providers.”
In the survey findings that follow, taken from our 23rd annual DC Survey, plan sponsors rate 24 providers; plan sponsor responses—400 in 1998—now exceed 3,700.
Much has changed since our earliest surveys. To compare just one finding from 1998 with the equivalent in 2017: A plan’s average number of investment options then was 10.5 vs. 22.8 today. Keeler finds this somewhat counterintuitive, considering that a target-date fund (TDF) series is considered one option and that many industry experts stress streamlining investment menus.
But some things haven’t changed. In 1998, when plan sponsors were asked to list their top four objectives for participant communications, 40% rated increased participation as No. 1; increased deferrals, cited by 33% of respondents, was No. 2. This year—reflecting the ongoing importance of such measurements—66% of sponsors called participation rate their gauge of plan success, and 52% cited deferral rates.
“The Internet made the survey process-—particularly the fielding and analyzing aspects-—much easier and more efficient at first,” Keeler recalls. ““Now it’s become more challenging as plan sponsors are asked to fill out surveys constantly and often tell us they feel deluged with surveys. It has become a struggle to maintain such high response levels, but we are perennially thankful to all the plan sponsors that take time to do so.”
However, the DC Survey remains a valued way for plan sponsors to evaluate providers based on peers. This year, we present our findings in a more accessible way. The data includes six market segments, and providers are included in each segment where they earned enough feedback to receive a score. A plan sponsor looking for information supplied by plan sponsors of the same size can simply turn to the segment that correlates to its plan. —PS