IMHO: Commit, Meant

Much to my surprise, my son went to prom this weekend.


Now, I realize that a lot of kids go to prom—and I also realize that more don’t go than is generally appreciated by those who do.  But my son, who at present isn’t in a relationship (and certainly not one serious enough to make prom attendance a “requirement”), has long been of the mindset that prom was just a lot of “bother,” and an expensive bother at that.

Having committed himself to this event, however, we of course had to contend with all those things that constitute that “bother”: renting a tux, selecting flowers for his date, etc.  Later there emerged items like the expectations around the table at which (and with whom) he and his date would sit and the gathering(s) beforehand—and afterwards.  For the very most part, he dealt with each new “decision” calmly, though as time went on, you could see him taking deep breaths as he contemplated just how much more of this “bother” he would have to endure (girls seem to have a lot more tolerance, if not enthusiasm, for the social “nuances” of such occasions).  As for his Dad, I wondered if he would have gone along with the idea in the first place had he known just how “complicated” the process would become.

Setting up a retirement plan is not, generally speaking, a front-burner item for most employers, particularly among those at the smaller end of the market.  They have their hands full just staying in business and making a profit.  It’s not that establishing a workplace retirement plan is a “bother” exactly, but it’s one of those decisions that brings with it a series of other, related decisions—decisions that have to be made not just once, but reviewed and remade on an ongoing basis.  In my experience, this is not always fully appreciated by employers (many of whom it would seem would really just like to set it (up) and forget it).  Little wonder, then, that those who work with them to help them fulfill those responsibilities and make those decisions frequently wind up feeling like some kind of glorified “nag,” constantly prodding and reminding plan fiduciaries of the things to which they need to attend.

Ultimately, the decisions required for my son’s prom could only be postponed and/or ignored for so long.  At a certain point, it was simply too late to worry any more about tux and/or tie color, corsages, and/or driving arrangements.  And, as it turned out, doubtless in no small part because there was a date certain, all of the necessary decisions got made in time (though a couple seemed more or less ad hoc and at the last minute).

For plan sponsors, the issues are generally more complex: Suboptimal fund menus can live on almost indefinitely, plan design changes can nearly always be put off in perpetuity, and as for fee and/or provider reviews—well, unless there’s a fire, the intermittent “smoke” is fairly easily ignored.  There is, after all, no prom night, no single date on the calendar by which everything needs to be in order.  Plan sponsors inclined to put off till another day those hard and/or complicated decisions can often do so (and do so often).

However, those who choose not to “bother” with such decisions probably shouldn’t have bothered with setting up the plan in the first place.