Participants Need Help with Retirement Planning

Many employees are at a loss for how to plan for retirement.

A survey from J.P. Morgan Asset Management found most employees admitted they need professional assistance in planning their retirement. Nearly three in four (76%) said they need professional assistance with elements of retirement planning such as how much to save and how to allocate their investments.

For example, when it comes determining a comfortable retirement income, 53% estimated they would need less than 75% of their pre-retirement salary. However, most financial experts cite this figure as too low. In any case, only 13% of employees believe they are on track to replace 75% or more of their pre-retirement income. Four in 10 do not have a specific target of how much to save for retirement, and less than 30% believe their savings will last throughout their retirement.

Plan sponsors can help their employees with retirement planning though useful plan design and features. “Plan design can have the biggest impact on participants having success with their retirement plan. And features like automatic enrollment and automatic escalation of contributions are critical to that success. Good plan design can make for better contribution results in a short length of time, achieving a double-digit savings level as quickly as possible,” Catherine Peterson, director of Retirement Insights at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, told PLANSPONSOR.

“Asset allocation of participant accounts is also important. Plan sponsors can conduct a re-enrollment giving participants the option to make a new investment election or be defaulted into the plan’s QDIA. This process harnesses participant inertia and can quickly improve the plan’s overall asset allocation,” said Peterson.

Other survey findings indicate issues with retirement planning information being given to employees. Only 20% of plan participants felt they could absorb the retirement savings information provided to them. And a significant portion felt unable to make investment decisions.


Peterson noted that from a participant communications standpoint, a more specific approach is needed. “General communications, which have been used for decades, simply haven’t worked. With today’s retirement planning, you need to meet people where they are, either in their life or career. You need to use a more-targeted message. For example, a message that you would send to a group of participants that are underinvested is much different from one that you would send to a group that is not saving at an appropriate rate.”

When asked if the problems with retirement planning are due more to participant inertia or a need for increased financial literacy, Peterson said, “About half of those surveyed said that they wanted to simply press an ‘easy button’ when it came to investing and saving for retirement. The question that plan sponsors need to ask is do their participants have enough knowledge to plan their retirement on their own? The survey found that while many participants were looking for advice and wanted help when it came to investing for retirement, only about 12% wanted a professional to completely handle their investments.”

While the survey results mentioned some employees going to their HR department or other sources for retirement planning information rather than a financial adviser, Peterson noted that it was a low percentage and varied by age. “While younger employees, such as those under 30, were more likely to seek retirement planning advice from their employers and other sources, the older an employee was, the more likely they would use a financial adviser for their retirement planning.”

The survey results also show that an aging workforce will affect the bottom line for some companies. “The survey looked at when employees wanted to retire and when they thought they could actually retire. While the older, higher-income employees planned to retire around 61, and felt they could do so, younger, lower-income employees didn’t believe they could afford to retire until later (closer to 67 or 68). As a result, employers could face higher benefit and health care cost due, in part, to an aging workforce. The overarching aim is to get employees to retire when they want to retire, rather than later,” said Peterson.

The survey polled 1,009 employees participating in a 401(k) retirement plan that had contributed to the plan within the previous 12 months. The survey was conducted online from October 2 to 18, 2012. Those polled were at least 18 years old and employed, either full or part-time, at a for-profit organization with at least 50 employees.