Saturday, September 08, 2018

Will the Administration’s Executive Order ‘Work’?

Over the coming weeks, a question that you’re likely to see posed (again and again) about the President’s Executive Order is – “will it work?”

“Work” in this case means to expand access to workplace retirement plans, for that is the stated policy of the Trump administration in issuing the order.

The answer, of course, will depend in no small part on what emerges as a result. While it’s hard to argue with the underlying principle, and even less with the foundational arguments (“Enhancing workplace retirement plan coverage is critical to ensuring that American workers will be financially prepared to retire” and “Regulatory burdens and complexity can be costly and discourage employers, especially small businesses, from offering workplace retirement plans to their employees”), at this point the order is no more than a directive to the Labor and Treasury Departments to consider and recommend some alternatives.

That said, the directives are reasonably specific – to look into ways to expand access to multiple employer plans (MEPs), and even more specifically, to look into ways to expand access to workplace retirement plans by those with “non-traditional employer-employee relationships,” to review ways to make retirement plan disclosures more “understandable and useful,” including a consideration of a “broader use” of electronic disclosures, and to at least look into and consider changes to the life expectancy assumptions imbedded in current required minimum distribution calculations.

As for the MEP directive – it’s well established that access to a workplace retirement plan has a significant positive impact on retirement security, and on the likelihood that individuals will save for retirement, and so anything that expands access to those programs is a good thing. As for the impact of MEPs, well, providers have long touted the ability of a multiple employer plan structure to expand coverage – and since plans at the smaller end of the market are unarguably sold, and not bought, at a minimum it should make it easier to profitably support and provide services to that market. But again, and as I’ve noted before, all MEPs are not created equal in terms of the security they offer retirement savings – and so, the ability to deliver on those promises will depend on the final recommendation.

While open MEPs – certainly a version that permits non-related employers to join together, and that addresses the “one bad apple” concern – are clearly the big deal in this particular order, the potential impact of the other two initiatives have the potential to be significant. For example, a recent study (underwritten by the American Retirement Association and the Investment Company Institute) of the impact of a shift in e-delivery assumptions found that participants could save more than $500 million per year, assuming about eight participant mailings per year across more than 80 million 401(k) account holders.

As for the impact of a change in the RMD calculations – well, for some people at least, that could provide some relief as well. A new study by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) finds that the withdrawal amounts taken by those 71 or older are generally no greater than the RMD. In fact, in 2016, more than three-quarters of those 71 or older took only the amount they were required to take – and so, if they were required to take less, that might well mean savings that would last longer.

So, with any luck at all, this might well add up to more retirement plans, more retirement plan savers, and retirement plan savings that might last longer.

Here’s hoping.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

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