Thursday, December 24, 2015

Naughty or Nice?

A few years back — when my kids still believed in the reality of Santa Claus — we discovered an ingenious website.

This was a website that purported to offer a real-time assessment of your “naughty or nice” status.

Now, as Christmas approached, it was not uncommon for us to caution our occasionally misbehaving brood that they had best be attentive to how those actions might be viewed by the big guy at the North Pole. But nothing ever had the impact of that website — if not on their behaviors (they were kids, after all), then certainly on the level of their concern about the consequences.

In fact, in one of his final years as a “believer,” my son (who, it must be acknowledged, had been particularly naughty that year, and he knew it) was on the verge of tears, worried that he’d find nothing under the Christmas tree but the nuggets of coal in his stocking he so surely deserved.

Bad Behaviors?

With so many reports purporting to chronicle the sorry state of retirement confidence and lack of preparations (think the two might be connected?) among Americans, it seems that many participants act as though some kind of benevolent elf will drop down their chimney with a bag full of cold cash from the North Pole on retirement’s eve. They behave as though, somehow, their bad savings behaviors — and incessant warnings — throughout the year(s) notwithstanding, they’ll be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a myopic, portly gentleman in a red snow suit.

Ultimately, the volume of presents under our Christmas tree never really had anything to do with our kids’ behavior, of course. As parents, we nurtured their belief in Santa Claus as long as we thought we could (without subjecting them to the ridicule of their classmates), not because we expected it to modify their behavior (though we hoped so from time to time), but because we believed that kids should have a chance to believe, if only for a little while, in those kinds of possibilities.

We all live in a world of possibilities, of course. But as adults we realize — or should realize — that those possibilities are frequently bounded in by the reality of our behaviors, be they “naughty” or nice. This is a season of giving, of coming together, of sharing with others. However, it is also a time of year when we should all be making a list and checking it twice — taking note, and making changes to what is naughty and nice about our savings behaviors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — but he looks a lot like you, assisted by “helpers” like the employer match, your financial adviser, investment markets and the tax incentives that encourage workplace retirement plans and your ability to save.

Happy Holidays!

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

p.s. The Naughty or Nice site is still online (at, and it now includes suggestions for how to improve your standing, should that be required. Those looking for suggestions on how to improve your savings standings can check out, along with the Ballpark E$timate, to see how you’re doing!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

6 Tips on Shopping for a Provider

My single memory of venturing out on Black Friday to shop came at the instigation of my “little” sister, who has long undertaken such forays. Nor was this to be a random shopping expedition — armed with circulars and coupons, she directed me and my two brothers with the fervor and furor of General Patton as to which stores we were to invade, the objective(s) of these intrusions, and in some cases, the line(s) in which we would take up residence while she pursued items she (apparently) did not trust to the pursuit of mere amateurs.

Shopping for a new provider is not something one would normally compare with a Black Friday foray, but if you have a plan sponsor — or plan sponsor prospect — who’s thinking about shopping for a new provider, here’s a list they may find useful.

Make a list — and yes, check it twice.

In an area fraught with as much potential complexity as searching for a retirement plan provider, it’s easy to think you’ll learn what you need to look for by simply going through the process. Though learn you will, shopping for a retirement plan provider without a sense of your core needs is a bit like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach; everything will sound good, and you’ll likely overload on “sweets.” Santa Claus makes a list — so should you: of plan design features (real and anticipated) that you want supported.

Know your pain points — and be ready to share them.

If you’ve had a plan in place before, you have almost certainly experienced at least one bump in the road, and perhaps several (and perhaps more than a mere “bump”). At the core of those experiences is something someone either did or didn’t do that contributed to the problem(s). Or maybe you simply have certain areas of sensitivity. Regardless, make sure you’ve detailed those, and be certain to share them with potential providers, preferably with a preface of “what procedures/protocols do you have in place to prevent something like….”

Have — and know — your budget.

These services aren’t free, though they may well be packaged in such a way that the plan sponsor doesn’t have to write a check. At a minimum. know how much you are able — and willing — to pay. And while you’re at it, you’d be well advised to be attentive to the cost(s) of the plan, who’s going to be pay them, and how those who provide services to the plan will be paid, and by whom.

Remember that provider rankings are only a starting point.

Think about it — an unknown number of plan sponsors about which you know nothing in terms of complexity of plan design, capabilities of staff or breadth of perspective/experience or tenure with the provider rate those provider capabilities, and from that a satisfaction score is gleaned.

It’s not a bad place to start — but like those rankings on Amazon, they have a limited value in predicting your satisfaction with that platform. They’ll likely affirm your preexisting preferences or fuel your imbedded concerns, but they aren’t much benefit in creating new ones.

Trust — but verify — references.

Proffered references are, almost by definition, going to be positive. (If they aren’t, and aren’t positioned as negative, that will tell you something valuable about the provider who provided them.) But having taken the time to request them, you shouldn’t assume that no value can be gleaned. Press for references that are like you in terms of plan size, design and complexity. Try to get someone who has converted to their platform in the past year — better still, someone who has left that platform in the past year (though it will likely be due to M&A activity, not service or fees). And ask them what questions they wished they had asked when they went through their process. If you ask them if they are satisfied, they’ll likely say they are. The question is, should they be? And will you be?

Get help.

Unless you are a serial provider shopper, odds are you aren’t an expert at the business of shopping for a provider. It is a complicated and time-consuming process, with an abundance of opportunities for disconnect in expectations simply because you don’t ask the right question(s). As an ERISA fiduciary, you are expected to review (and subsequently monitor) those that provide services to the plan with the skill and expertise of a prudent expert. If you lack that, you are expected to engage the services of someone who does.

Or else run the risk of winding up with a lump of coal.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The 5 W’s: A New Plan Fiduciary Perspective

The Five Ws (or as they are sometimes called, Five W’s and one H) are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering in a variety of settings.

There are a lot of questions that plan fiduciaries should ask, but here are five W’s and an H that every new plan fiduciary — or every “old” fiduciary who is new to a plan — should ask.

Who are the (other) plan fiduciaries?

Fiduciary status is based on your responsibilities with the plan, not your title. If you have discretion in administering and managing the plan, or if you control the plan’s assets (such as choosing the investment options or choosing the firm that chooses those options), then you are a fiduciary to the extent of that discretion or control. And, if you are able to hire a fiduciary, then you’re (probably) an ERISA fiduciary because the power to put others in a position of power regarding plan assets is as critical — and as responsible — as the ability to make decisions regarding those investments directly.

But assuming for a second that you are a plan fiduciary, it’s important to know who the other fiduciaries are for the simple reason that all fiduciaries have potential liability for the actions of their co-fiduciaries. If a fiduciary knowingly participates in another fiduciary’s breach of responsibility and conceals that breach or does not take steps to correct it, then both are liable.

What does the plan cost?

Ever made a hotel reservation or rented a car, only to find that the final bill reflected a price that was significantly higher than the price quoted on the firm’s website or in their promotional materials? Sometimes those extra charges are arguably beyond the control of the provider (sales taxes, special local room taxes, etc.), and sometimes — well, sometimes you just feel that the only reason they charged those the way they did was to obscure the actual cost of what you thought you were buying until they had already charged your credit card.

401(k) fees can feel a little like that, in that some fees are explicit, some are implicit, and some are transactional, meaning that they only show up when certain transactions occur (e.g., loans). Odds are that you are familiar with the explicit fees, and you may well be familiar with certain aspects of the implicit ones too. For example, you may know the basis points charged by the funds on your investment menu, on average if not specifically. But when was the last time you multiplied those basis point charges times the dollar value of assets in those funds?

Those fees might not seem like much — and may, in fact, seem “reasonable” expressed as basis points. But do the math and you might be surprised — especially if your plan assets have been growing. (As a reminder, the fiduciary admonition is that the fees and services must be reasonable, and the reasonability of fees charged should certainly be viewed in the context of the services rendered.)

That said, there’s nothing like bringing it down to an individual account level to really put fees in a “real world” perspective. So whether you actually have an “average” participant or need to create one, take the time to figure out how much they are paying for their retirement plan each year. And then ask yourself whether, if they knew that, they would they feel it was “reasonable”? If the answer is “no,” you either have some communications work, or some fee negotiations, ahead.

When was the plan document last updated?

Having a plan document is one thing, finding it (sometimes) another. But if that document isn’t updated to reflect the latest legal requirements — well, that’s a problem.

Where is the plan document (or at least a copy of it)?

On your way to figure out when your document was last updated, you’ll also have an opportunity to locate it. Like most legal documents, plan documents can be rather tedious to read, much less understand. And, like most legal documents, the longer they are in place, the more changes (particularly changes imposed by law, rather than by specific intent) tend to be appended separately, rather than incorporated, making them even more difficult to read, much less understand.

This frequently results in other documents — sometimes those as “official” as a summary plan description, sometimes as ad hoc as a plan sponsor’s “cheat sheet” — being the actual reference for plan administration. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course — unless or until those “other” documents reflect something other than what the actual plan document provides, since plan fiduciaries are accountable for ensuring that the plan is administered in accordance with the plan document. Thus, knowing what the plan document says (and where it can be found so that you can be sure you know what it says) is crucial.

How much insurance coverage do you have?

As an ERISA fiduciary, your legal liability is personal. While employers routinely carry professional liability insurance (sometimes called errors and omission insurance), in most cases that won’t cover ERISA claims. While fiduciary liability coverage is not required by ERISA, plan fiduciaries are well advised to not only see that this separate coverage is obtained, but to verify the conditions and limits of the policy.

Why do we offer this workplace retirement plan?

The kneejerk response to this question is almost always, “to attract and retain qualified workers.” While benefits matter, and can matter significantly depending on individual circumstances, most surveys suggest that benefits, and specifically retirement benefits, are a secondary consideration.

These programs do have costs, of course: the time and effort to administer the program, the costs of the plan itself, the dollars invested in an employer match, and your time (and exposure to liability) as a plan fiduciary. Those costs may pale in comparison to other programs you are expected to oversee — and the return, that ever-present obsession with ROI, may be years down the road.

Still, anything worth doing is worth doing right. And doing a workplace retirement plan “right” generally starts with having concrete goals and objectives: a specific rate of participation, a quantified level of individuals taking full advantage of the employer match, a definite number with appropriate asset allocations in place, perhaps even an established focus on individual retirement readiness.

Regardless of your goals, and how you strive to achieve them, if you don’t know why the plan is offered in the first place, you may well find yourself lacking the principles that every busy plan fiduciary needs, sooner or later, to keep conflicting priorities in balance — and yourself out of trouble.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Retirement Industry Thanksgiving List

Thanksgiving is a special time of year — and one on which it seems fitting to reflect on all for which we should be thankful. Here’s my 2015 list:
I’m thankful that so many employers voluntarily choose to offer a workplace retirement plan — and that so many workers, given an opportunity to participate, do.
I’m thankful that so many employers choose to match contributions or to make profit-sharing contributions (or both). Without those matching dollars, many workers would likely not participate or contribute at their current levels — and they would surely have far less set aside for retirement.
I’m thankful that the vast majority of workers defaulted into retirement savings programs tend to remain there — and that there are mechanisms (automatic enrollment, contribution acceleration and qualified default investment alternatives) in place to help them save and invest better than they might otherwise.
I’m thankful that trends that suggest that more plan sponsors are extending those mechanisms to their existing workers as well as new hires.
I’m thankful for qualified default investment alternatives that make it easy for participants to create well-diversified and regularly rebalanced investment portfolios — and for the thoughtful and on-going review of those options by prudent plan fiduciaries.
I’m thankful that participants, by and large, continue to hang in there with their commitment to retirement savings, despite lingering economic uncertainty and competing economic interests, such as rising health care costs and college debt.
I’m thankful that the federal government remains willing to postpone taxing pay that Americans postpone taking (and spending) by saving for retirement.
I’m thankful that a growing number of policy makers are willing to admit that the “deferred” nature of 401(k) tax preferences are, in fact, different from the permanent forbearance of other tax “preferences” — even if governmental accountants and certain academics remain oblivious.
I’m thankful that the “plot” to kill the 401(k)… hasn’t. Yet.
I’m thankful that those who regulate our industry continue to seek the input of those in the industry — and that so many, particularly those among our membership, take the time and energy to provide that input. I’m hopeful, particularly in areas like the fiduciary proposal, that the final product will reflect that input.
I’m thankful for objective research that validates the positive impact that committed planning and preparation for retirement makes. I’m thankful for the ability to take to task here research that doesn’t live up to those objective standards.
I’m thankful for the warmth with which readers and members, both old and new, continue to embrace the work we do here. I’m thankful for all of you who have supported — and I hope benefited from — our various conferences, education programs and communications throughout the year. I’m thankful for the constant — and enthusiastic — support of our Firm Partners and advertisers.
I’m thankful for the team here at NAPA (and the American Retirement Association, generally), and for the strength, commitment and diversity of the membership. I’m thankful to be part of a growing organization in an important industry at a critical time. I’m thankful to be able, in some small way, to make a difference.
But most of all, I’m once again thankful for the unconditional love and patience of my family, the camaraderie of dear friends and colleagues, the opportunity to write and share these thoughts — and for the ongoing support and appreciation of readers like you.
Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving!
- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, November 21, 2015

6 Things Boomers Need to Know About Saving for Retirement

Several weeks back, I wrote a column entitled, “5 Things Millennials Need to Know About Saving for Retirement.” But what about those at the brink of retirement?
Retirement seems close — perhaps too close for the comfort of Boomers, some of whom have already begun cycling into retirement. In fact, the youngest element of this cohort (born in 1964) is now already 51, and it’s said that 10,000 Boomers roll into retirement every day.
That said, whether you’ve been saving or not, or not saving enough — here are six things Boomers need to know about saving for retirement.
1. Social Security won’t be as much as you think it will be.
When you were your kids’ age(s), you too were likely disdainful about the long-term prospects for Social Security (and hey, your kids weren’t around for the real funding crisis back in the early 1980s!). That said, you’re not only close enough to collecting; many of you are probably in the age group where when politicians talk about making changes, they’re careful to assure you that yours won’t be changed.
However, even if one assumes that the program remains largely unchanged from what it pays today, if you retire at full retirement age in 2015, your maximum benefit would be $2,663 a month, according to the Social Security Administration. Those who retire at age 62 (and many of today’s workers do, not realizing that waiting can translate into larger benefits) in 2015, your maximum benefit would be $2,025; and if you retire at age 70 in 2015, it would be $3,501.
Now those amounts are based on earnings at the maximum taxable amount for every year after age 21. In other words, that’s probably more than most of us would get. In fact, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit for January 2015 was $1,328. Note that the maximum benefit depends on the age a worker chooses to retire, among other things — and that assumes that the current questions regarding Social Security’s longer-term financial viability are addressed, and/or that current benefit levels aren’t reduced.
2. Not everyone has a pension, and you probably don’t. And if you do, it probably isn’t a full pension.
Now, by “pension” I mean the traditional defined benefit (DB) pension plan, one that, in the private sector anyway, was largely employer funded. According to the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), in 2011, just 3% of all private-sector workers participated only in a DB plan, and 11% had both a defined contribution (DC) plan and a DB plan. So, only something like 14% of workers in the private sector still have a traditional pension plan (even then, it doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern; see “3 Pervasive Retirement Industry Myths”).
That said, you’ve been in the workforce long enough (and during the right time) that you might actually have a pension, or at least a piece of one. Here’s the thing: People talk like the Millennials invented rapid job turnover, but the reality is that job tenure statistics have been relatively consistent going all the way back to the 1950s. What that means is that lots of workers who were “covered” by a pension plan didn’t work at those employers long enough to vest in that pension, or at least not long enough to vest fully. So, look back through your work history, check and see if those employers offered a pension. And you might want to check out thismissing pension tool from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
3. You won’t be able to work as long as you think.
I’m sure there are days when you would love nothing more than to be able to stay in bed (or at least not go to work). But industry surveys continue to suggest that not only do people expect to work longer, their retirement savings calculations seem to depend on it.
You hear people talk about 65 as the “normal” retirement age, even though it’s no longer that, even for Social Security benefits (aside from the reality that many still start collecting at age 62, unless you were born before 1943, your normal retirement age is 66 or older — you can check yours out here.)
Meanwhile, EBRI’s Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) has consistently found that a large percentage of retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned — 49% of them in 2014, for example. Many who retire earlier than they had planned often do so for negative reasons, such as a health problem or disability (61%), though some state that they retired early because they could afford to do so (26%).
The bottom line: You probably shouldn’t count on being able to work as long as your finances may require. And that may require cutting back in the here-and-now in the interests of the there-and-then.
4. You could be missing out on ‘free’ money.
When you started working, if your employer offered a DC plan, you had to fill out a form in order to participate (you probably even had to wait a year), make investment choices, etc. These days a growing number of employers automatically enroll eligible workers in these plans, direct their savings into a default investment alternative, and even automatically increase that initial deferral rate each year. But even among those employers, most only automatically enroll new hires, not existing hires. And that could mean that even if you work for one of those employers, you might have been overlooked by these “auto” enrollment programs — and you might still need to go get one of those enrollment forms (or visit the plan’s website).
Your savings may well be matched by your employer (see “6 Things 401(k) Participants Need to Know”), so even if you’ve missed out on years of the opportunity to save and have those savings matched, there’s no time like the present to start — and start as aggressively as you can. After all, time is — literally — money.
5. You can use catch-up contributions to catch up.
Thanks to a provision in the tax code, individuals who are age 50 or older at the end of the calendar year can make annual catch-up contributions; up to $6,000 in 2015 and 2016 may be permitted by 401(k)s, 403(b)s, governmental 457s, and SARSEPs (you can do this with IRAs, as well, but the limits are much smaller). The bottom line: If you haven’t saved enough, these catch-up provisions can help. You can find out more here.
6. It’s not too late to start.
The reality is, without a sense of where you stand, what resources you have available, what your needs are and how long you have to prepare, it’s impossible to figure out the best way forward. But it starts with figuring out how much you’ll need. And for that, you might check out EBRI’s Ballpark E$timate — it’s free and easy to use. Then gather up those 401(k) statements, those IRA accounts, check for missing pension balances, and start saving!
- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, November 14, 2015

7 Things You May Not Know About the Saver’s Credit (and 4 You Should)

Beyond the tax advantages to saving for retirement on a pre-tax basis, the ability to watch those savings grow without paying taxes until they are actually withdrawn, there is another savings incentive with which many are not as familiar.

It’s the so-called Saver’s Credit, and it’s available to low- to moderate-income workers who are saving for retirement. For those who qualify, in addition to the customary benefits of workplace retirement savings, it could mean a $1,000 break on your taxes — twice that if you are married and file a joint return!

That said, just 24% of American workers with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 are aware of the credit, according to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. However, that’s twice as many as found by the 11th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey.

Here are some things you may not know about the Saver’s Credit:

The official name for the Saver’s Credit is actually the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit.

A wide variety of retirement savings contributions qualify.

The Saver’s Credit can be taken for contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA (including MyRA), a 401(k), SIMPLE IRA, SARSEP, 403(b), 501(c)(18) or governmental 457(b) plan, as well as voluntary after-tax employee contributions to qualified retirement and 403(b) plans.

There are two deadlines for contributions.

To qualify for the Saver’s Credit, contributions must be made to 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457s or the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan by the end of the calendar year. However, retirement savers have until April 15, 2016, to make an IRA contribution that could qualify them for the Saver’s Credit for tax year 2015.

The Saver’s Credit is (still) not available via the 1040 EZ form (though there have been legislative attempts to remedy that situation.

Rollover contributions aren’t eligible for the Saver’s Credit.

Eligible contributions may be reduced by any recent distributions (for 2015, distributions received after 2012, and before the due date of the 2015 return, including extensions) from a retirement plan or IRA (a list of these distributions is available here.)

The adjusted gross income limits for eligibility are higher for 2016.

While most contribution and benefits limits were not adjusted for 2016, the income limits for the Savers Credit were adjusted higher (a table outlining those changes, as well as the limits for 2015 is available here).

And some things you may know (but are worth repeating)…

The amount of the credit is 50%, 20% or 10% of retirement plan or IRA contributions up to $2,000 ($4,000 if married filing jointly), depending on adjusted gross income (reported on your Form 1040 or 1040A).

It is a credit — a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax liability. If the standard or itemized deductions or personal exemptions eliminate tax liability, you can’t claim the Saver’s Credit. Moreover, it can’t be carried forward to the next year. Nor can you get a tax refund based only on the amount of the Saver’s Credit.

In order to claim the credit, individuals must be 18 years or older, must not be a full-time student, and cannot be claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.

You only get the credit if you file for it. It’s not too late to save and get “credit” for doing so — make sure the participants you work with, and plan sponsors you work for — are aware.

Additional information about the Savers Credit is available here:,-Employee/Retirement-Savings-Contributions-Savers-Credit

Saturday, November 07, 2015

5 Reasons Why More Plans Don’t Offer Retirement Income Options

A frequent commentary on today’s plan designs is that they are more focused on accumulation than the eventual spend-down of those savings.
It’s said that defined contribution plans too often not only facilitate lump-sum distributions, but, in design at least, encourage them. And yet, despite a growing awareness of the importance of retirement income planning,PLANSPONSOR’s 2014 DC Survey finds that nearly half of plan sponsors offer no income-oriented products to their participants.
Here’s five reasons plan sponsors give for not offering retirement income options.
1. There is no legal requirement to provide a lifetime income option.
Let’s face it, it’s a full-time job just keeping up with the plan provisions, standards, participant notices and nondiscrimination tests that are required by law. The notion that a plan sponsor would, in the absence of a compelling motivation take on extra work, and work that carries with it additional financial and fiduciary responsibility as well, doesn’t seem very realistic.
That said, plan sponsors — particularly larger plan sponsors — take on plenty of other plan design changes that aren’t forced on them, most notably the automatic enrollment designs outlined in the Pension Protection Act of 2006.
However, with no obligation to provide this offering, and an underlying concern that providing the option does involve taking on additional liability.
2. The safe harbor for selecting an annuity provider doesn’t feel very “safe.”
I’ve never met a plan sponsor who felt that the guidance on offering in-plan retirement income options was “enough.”
I’m not saying they’re not out there – clearly there are in-plan options available in the marketplace now, and thus, logically, there are plan sponsors who have either derived the requisite assurances (or don’t find them necessary). Or who feel that the benefits and/or participant need for such options makes it worth the additional considerations. That said, industry surveys indicate that only about half of defined contribution plans provide an option for participants to establish a systematic series of periodic payments, much less an annuity or other in-plan retirement income option, and that’s following the 2008 safe harbor regulation from the Labor Department regarding the selection of annuity providers under defined contribution plans.
That said, earlier this year, the Labor Department in Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2015-02, acknowledged that they had heard those concerns, and offered some insights on how to “reconcile the ‘time of selection’ standard in the safe harbor Rule — which embodies the general principle that the prudence of a fiduciary decision is evaluated under ERISA based on the information available at the time the decision was made — with ERISA’s duty to monitor and review certain fiduciary decisions.”
Part of this additional clarity was the point that the plan fiduciary among other things appropriately concludes that, at the time of the selection [emphasis added in the DOL’s FAB], the annuity provider is financially able to make all future payments under the annuity contract and the cost of the annuity contract is reasonable in relation to the benefits and services to be provided. “At the time of the selection” is further defined as the time that the annuity provider and contract are selected for distribution of benefits to a specific participant or beneficiary; or the time that the annuity provider is selected to provide annuities as a distribution option for participants or beneficiaries to choose at future dates.
I’m not saying that is “enough” — but clearly the Labor Department is listening, and trying to close that comfort gap. And if you haven’t yet read FAB 2015-02, you should.
3. Operational and cost concerns linger.
While several industry providers have offered what seem to be workable, effective solutions to the “portability problem,” plan sponsors remain concerned that the cost and complexity of transitioning these offerings — either by individual plan participants, or the plan itself — would be daunting, at best.
4. Participants don’t take advantage of the option when offered.
The so-called “take up” rates among participants can be sliced in different ways — by provider (the options are varied, after all), by participant age, even by the involvement of the employer in positioning in the option — but however you parse it, the word I’ve generally heard to describe participant adoption rates is… ”disappointing.”
Now, that kind of response hasn’t stopped plans from putting in options like self-directed brokerage accounts (SBDAs) over the years (on the other hand, the participants who were embracing SDBAs tended to be fairly influential voices).
And there is evidence that even defined benefit plan participants, given the choice between taking a lump sum or an annuity, often go for the former. That said, a study by the non-partisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) also supports the notion that plan design matters, and matters to a large extent, a large extent, drives annuitization decisions.
5. Participants aren’t asking for it.
Once you’ve walked through all the objections to in-plan retirement income options, it all seems to come down to this. Despite industry surveys that suggest worker interest in the concept (if not the reality) of retirement income solutions, it never seems to get to the level of expressing that interest to those who actually make retirement plan design decisions.
Plan design can surely help steer participants toward these options, but most advisors I’ve spoken with say that, for a variety of reasons (cost, complexity) these retirement income options are still sold, and not bought.
Sure, most plan sponsors acknowledge that participants (certainly older, longer-tenured participants) could use the kind of help that a retirement income structure could provide, and yes, plan sponsors are looking for a more secure safe harbor, and they’d certainly welcome a PPA-ish “nudge” in that direction.
But until it becomes an articulated concern for the workers they hope to attract, retain and eventually retire from their workforce, it’s likely that the adoption rate — by plans and plan participants — will be slower than might be hoped.
- Nevin E. Adams, JD