Taking Your Plan (and Participants) to the Next Level

More employers are starting to enhance financial benefits, through automatic enrollment, health savings programs, or other financial wellness initiatives, notes Rick Irace, chief operating officer, Ascensus Retirement.

There’s no doubt Americans are having trouble saving enough money for retirement. A 2016 survey found one in three Americans has saved nothing for retirement, and 50% of Americans have saved less than $10,000. These numbers present a challenge for plan sponsors to get participants to not only start saving for retirement, but to also save enough.

Traditionally, plan sponsors were viewed solely as gatekeepers to the company retirement plan, but today’s sponsor plays a much larger role in the retirement planning picture. Now more than ever, plan sponsors are expected to wear multiple hats, as they must evaluate the financial health of employees while consulting, coaching, and promoting responsible saving habits for participants’ financial wellness.

Below are the biggest challenges plan sponsors face in today’s environment, as well as how they can embrace their growing list of responsibilities to help employees financially prepare for the future.

Employees aren’t enrolling – The number one challenge plan sponsors face is simply getting participants to enroll in a plan. Plan sponsors not only feel the need to educate employees about the benefits of saving, but they also carry the responsibility of getting them enrolled in the retirement plan.

Automatic-enrollment features are a great way to boost plan participation. Ascensus data shows that plans with automatic-enrollment features have an average participation rate of 78%, while plans without them see a participation rate of 69%. Simply put, automatic-enrollment features get more employees into the plan, especially workers who are hesitant or weary of the enrollment process.

Furthermore, when employers help employees start saving with automatic features, employees often stay the course and continue saving in the plan. According to Ascensus data, when employers opted to automatically enroll their next new hire at a default rate of 3% to 5%, 47% of employees stayed enrolled in the plan at that savings rate.

Individuals aren’t always increasing their savings rates – Increasing a participant’s savings rate on an annual basis vastly improves the likelihood of a successful retirement. Automatic escalation is a useful tools to combat the inertia that most participants experience. More and more, plan sponsors engage in discussions with participants about a plan’s benefits and encourage them to increase their savings rates in order to help participants take better control of their financial lives. Combining automatic escalation with automatic enrollment is an amazingly powerful approach to boosting employees’ savings. Plans with combined automatic-enrollment and automatic-increase features have an average participation rate of 80%, according to Ascensus data.                                

NEXT: Communication Issues

Navigating communication barriers can be difficult – Plan sponsors are faced with the tremendous challenge of communicating to participants at various stages of their lives. For instance, sponsors wouldn’t speak to an employee fresh out of college about saving the same way that they’d speak to a company veteran with four children. Personalized communications are a great way for plan sponsors to address this challenge. Delivering information relevant to the employee given his or her individual needs will resonate much more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Recognizing the needs of different generations and relating to them on a personal level can help plan sponsors make meaningful connections with employees when it comes to saving for retirement.

Archaic approaches don’t align with today’s tech-savvy participants – Technology shouldn’t be a barrier to getting participants to enroll in a retirement plan. In today’s digital age, participants expect to be able to utilize technology to simplify their retirement planning. Online and mobile plan enrollment processes are becoming the norm, with higher adoption rates than ever before. In 2016, 92% of Ascensus’ clients allowed employees to enroll online at their convenience. Because this digital enrollment process is typically quicker and easier to complete than the traditional paper form, employees are often more likely to complete enrollment via this method. Online capabilities continue to gain traction, not only for the actual plan, but as a way to promote smarter saving strategies. Plan sponsors should utilize technology as an education tool and a way to further engage participants as much as possible.

Despite these challenges, I can’t imagine a more exciting time for our industry and am very optimistic about the financial health of Americans. More employers are starting to enhance financial benefits, through automatic enrollment, health savings programs, or other financial wellness initiatives. This creates a tremendous opportunity for plan sponsors to contribute to the noble purpose of helping employees save for the future.

By: Rick Irace, chief operating officer, Ascensus Retirement


NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice. Statements by the authors do not necessarily reflect the stance of Strategic Insight or its affiliates.