Advisers Focusing More on Plan Design

Advisers are discovering that demonstrating better retirement plan outcomes through plan design is the ticket to differentiating themselves in a competitive industry.

“They’re focusing more time than ever on the actual plan design,” George Castineiras, senior vice president of Total Retirement Solutions at Prudential Retirement, told PLANADVISER, adding that the adviser community has become “razor sharp” on its value proposition.

Advisers’ focus on plan design could be one reason both automatic enrollment and automatic escalation seem to be on the uptick, Castineiras said. Prudential’s retirement plans saw an increase in auto enrollment, from 20% in the fourth quarter of 2011, to 31% in the same quarter a year later, as well as a significant increase in plans using auto escalation, (9% in the fourth quarter of 2011, to 17% in the same quarter 2012).

Another reason for an increase in auto enrollment and escalation could be “social responsibility,” as Castineiras described the increase in saving after the recession—similar to the financial discipline that occurred after the Great Depression. “Part of what happened in 2008 became a catalyst for [saving],” he said.

During the recession, younger generations witnessed Baby Boomers struggle to handle retirement needs, which prompted them to take a more proactive role in their financial futures, he added.


The industry as a whole has also realized the defined contribution (DC) space needs to be modeled after defined benefit (DB) plans, which is prompting more auto options. “Everyone’s watching the auto path taking hold,” Castineiras said.

Throughout the industry, auto enrollment seems to be changing more substantially than auto escalation, which still holds a rate of about 1% a year across the industry, according to Castineiras.

In regard to auto enrollment, the average deferral rate has not changed radically since the 2006 Pension Protection Act (PPA) was passed (a 2% to 4% deferral rate, on average), but momentum is starting at a 5%-plus deferral rate, and Prudential encourages participants to reach a deferral rate of at least 10%, Castineiras said. Although PPA was a great catalyst for plan design, the industry has collectively realized participants need a much higher deferral rate than 3%.

In addition, plan sponsors have for the most part adopted a retrospective approach to enrolling participants—re-enrolling all participants with an opt-out option versus opt-in, he added.