Bank of America Merrill Lynch Finds Participants More Engaged in Plans

Robust plan design, education and the use of digital tools can increase employee engagement with their retirement plans, the firm's Plan Wellness Scorecard shows.

Employers are making it easier for employees to take more control of their finances by continuing to simplify retirement plan design and expanding the savings solutions they offer to include Roth 401(k)s and health savings accounts (HSAs), according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Plan Wellness Scorecard. 

“Backed by the financial wellness solutions of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, employers are able to give employees access to the financial help they want and establish a culture of financial wellness. This engagement growth has also been driven in part by employers making education more accessible with onsite meetings, webcasts and personal consultations,” the company says. 

Among Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s proprietary 401(k) business, the last year has seen a 6% increase in new enrollments, a 17% increase in plan assets, a 20% increase in contributions and an 18% increase in deferral rate changes. The majority of employees in every age group actively contribute to their 401(k) accounts, with younger employees slightly more likely to contribute—82% of Millennials made a contribution, as did 77% of Gen X and 75% of Baby Boomers. 

Nearly two-thirds of employees say their employer has been at least somewhat influential in getting them to save for retirement. Employers that are looking to help their employees save more for retirement and establish a culture of wellness in the workplace are embracing simplified plan features. Auto-increase has become very popular, showing a 24% year-over-year adoption growth rate and a 172% increase since 2012. 

The Scorecard finds that the higher the automatic enrollment default rate, the higher the levels of employee participation in their 401(k) plan. The overall participation rate at a 3% auto-enrollment rate is 80%, while the participation rate at a 6% default rate is 83%. 

NEXT: Increased mobile usage, Roth accounts and HSAs


In addition to simplified plan design, website and mobile access to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Benefits OnLine has seen increased usage. In the past year, there has been a 10% increase in website visits and a 14% increase in the use of mobile sessions. And, when employees access their account, they are doing more than just checking balances: 16% are using express enrollment for voluntary enrollment, 13% are using digital to make beneficiary changes, and 8% are using it for contribution rate changes.

Among the 57% of plans that offer Roth accounts, Roth contributions increased 25% versus 16% for pre-tax contributions. In addition, the number of employees contributing to Roth accounts increased by 31%.

Beyond looking just at saving for retirement, employees are also looking for ways to save for their health care expenses, today and in the future. Employees are increasingly using HSAs to put aside pre-tax dollars to help cover their medical costs. The Scorecard found a 21% increase in the number of employees contributing to HSAs and a 36% increase in HSA balances.

In addition, 70% of contributions to HSAs are bring used during the year, leaving 30% to remain in the accounts for future health care expenses.

The latest Plan Wellness Scorecard can be downloaded from