Auto Catch-Ups on Fidelity Drawing Board

Fidelity Investments is testing a new feature under which older participants already contributing at or close to the maximum to their 401(k) plans can "automatically" catch up.

Despite continued educational campaigns to motivate more workers to take advantage of the provision, clients were seeing a lax 9.8% take-up rate for the “catch-up” provision, which allows for employees age 50 and older to put another $5,000 a year into their 401(k) plan (in addition to the regular limit of $15,500). “That’s a number that should be dramatically higher,” James Cornell, Fidelity Senior Vice President of employer marketing said.

 Cornell said the test started about nine months ago with about 25 clients – partly at the request of activist plan sponsors who continued to struggle with how to get older participants to take advantage of the catch up provision. “These are definitely the more aggressive clients we’ve got,” Cornell told

 He said the “auto catch-up” program was being implemented differently by different clients, including a difference in how quickly participants were to be increased to the legal ceiling.

 The initial effort is largely focused on highly compensated employees (HCE) already contributing at or close to the legal limit. “We want to move the needle (on the take-up rate) for all participants, not just HCEs,” Cornell said. “But they may be the first beneficiaries of this.”

 Cornell said Fidelity intends to keep the test going until the spring and then meet with clients to decide how to proceed from there. The company would like to eventually roll out the “auto catch-up” provision to all its 401(k) clients, he said. Clients were reporting strong acceptance of the move by participants with few opting out. “It’s a very, very powerful mover of participant behavior,” according to Cornell.