More 401(k) Sponsors Provide General Education than Individual Advice

Far more organizations provide defined contribution retirement plan participants with general educational materials about the plan and about investing than provide participants with individual investment advice, according to a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

An SHRM news report said the poll reveals that 87% of organizations that provide their employees with a 401(k)-type plan make some type of investment education available to plan participants. Among those that offer investment education, the top formats are: 

  • Brochures or other written materials delivered online or through mailings (98% of respondents); 
  • Computer modeling, including Web-based interactive tools (90%); 
  • Call centers or help desks to answer questions (87%); 
  • Group seminars (80%); and 
  • Individual sessions (60%). 


The top subjects of investment education are plan information, such as the terms of the plan (97%); a listing of all funds available in the plan (97%); general financial and investment information, such as assessing risk tolerance (94%); interactive tools, such as those that help participants estimate retirement income needs (87%); and non-individualized asset allocation models (59%).  

According to the news report, 51% of organizations provide or make available some form of investment advice, such as guidance to help plan participants make decisions about fund selections and contribution rates. Among respondents that offer investment advice, the most common formats for delivering this advice are: 

  • Brochures or other written materials (82%); 
  • Computer modeling, including Web-based interactive tools (81%); 
  • Call center or help desk (74%); 
  • Individual sessions (71%); 
  • Professionally managed accounts (68%); and 
  • Group seminars (57%). 


SHRM said not-for-profit organizations (88%) are more likely than publicly owned for-profits (53%) to report using individual sessions to present investment advice.  

The most common subjects of investment advice are fund investments (94%), contribution level (90%), and asset-class allocation (88%).  

Thirty-nine percent of respondents say they provide investment advice directly by the plan as defined under applicable U.S. Department of Labor rules and regulations (for example, individualized recommendations to invest, purchase or sell investments and funds based on the needs of a plan participant). Twenty-three percent say they provide investment advice through an independent third party, where a third party serves in an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fiduciary capacity , and  21% provide investment advice by or through an independent third party where a third party does not serve in an ERISA fiduciary capacity.  

Forty-two percent say they currently provide computer-model-based advice, pursuant to a Pension Protecton Act-eligible investment advice arrangement, while 6% say they do not currently provide that but plan to in the future. Fifteen percent currently provide level-fee-based advice, pursuant to a PPA-eligible investment advice arrangement, and 8% do not currently, but plan to in the future.