Number of First-Time 401(k) Savers Jumped in 2015

First-time health savings account usage also increased nicely.

Employees are enthusiastically embracing their workplace financial benefit plans, with the number of first-time 401(k) savers growing 44% in the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2014, according to the most recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch Plan Wellness Scorecard.

Roth accounts also saw significant growth, with the number of contributors rising 21% and their average deferral rates increasing 20% over the previous year’s contributions.

Health savings account (HSA) usage is up across all generations, and in the first six months of the year the number of workers contributing to an HSA rose 42%. While Baby Boomers have the highest HSA balances and the fastest balance growth, Millennials now account for 33% of HSA enrollment, up significantly from 9% in 2010.

Employers are increasingly adopting automatic features, including voluntary increases, and employees are responding heartily. Today, nearly half (47.5%) of employer plans now automatically enroll their employees into their plan. The number of 401(k) plans combining auto-enrollment and auto-increase grew 40% in the first half of 2015. Employers offering voluntary auto-increases rose 36%, and 24% more employees opted for this.

“We are pleased to see employees, particularly the younger generations, become more engaged with their employer-offered benefits year after year,” says Lorna Sabbia, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Employers play an integral role in the financial wellness of their employees. Strategic plan design, including diversification, automation and simplification, can make a tremendous impact in overall employee participation and engagement.”

NEXT: Employee engagement

Mobile access to Merrill Lynch’s Benefits Online web portal grew 77%, bringing mobile access to the site to 19%. Bank of America Merrill Lynch also recently launched Advice Access, a professional saving and investment advice service tailored to an employee’s individual situation; Advice Access usage increased 7%, and today, 57% of all plans offer this service.

Employees who use Advice Access tend to have better financial wellness scores; they have an average 8.6 score, compared to a 7.4 score for those who do not use Advice Access. Further, 92% of Advice Access participants are considered financially well, compared to 69% of non-users.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch also recently launched a retirement income estimate tool. Thirty-eight thousand employees used this tool within the first six weeks of its launch, and 7% of all visitors to its web portal click through to the tool.

Despite the uptick in mobile and online traffic, employees clearly still want to meet with advisers in person. In the first half of the year, sign up and attendance at one-on-one meetings increased 192%, and group meetings increased by 93%.

As Bank of America Merrill Lynch says in its report: “More employers are recognizing the potential of providing education on site via seminars and personal consultations. Employees clearly appreciate on-site access to financial professionals who can talk about their personal situation, follow up with additional materials and, in general, provide the guidance so many employees want and need.”

The report comes on the heels of the Bank of America Millennial Year-End Snapshot, which found that 40% of Millennials said the Great Recession made them more hesitant to invest in the stock market. The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Plan Wellness Scorecard is culled from an analysis of the 2.6 million retirement plan participants it serves. The full report can be downloaded here.