Plan Sponsors Calling on Advisers to Improve Participant Outcomes

“They are hiring advisers to understand how well their plan is functioning and how to improve it,” Jordan Burgess, with Fidelity Institutional Asset Management, tells PLANADVISER.

Sixty-two percent of retirement plan sponsors say their employees expect to meet all of their funding needs in retirement, but 45% of sponsors do not think their employees are saving enough to retire, according to Fidelity Investments’ Plan Sponsor Attitudes Study.

Ninety percent of sponsors have had employees work past their desired retirement date, and 73% of sponsors say there are costs associated with employees delaying retirement. Thirty-seven percent say this leads to increased benefit costs, 33% say it reduces career mobility for younger workers, 31% say it causes challenges for strategic workforce planning, and 27% say it leads to lower productivity.

“At the end of the day, it isn’t news that many employees are falling short on retirement savings,” Jordan Burgess, head of specialist field sales overseeing defined contribution investment only at Fidelity Institutional Asset Management, tells PLANADVISER. “One piece of progress is that plan sponsors and plan advisers are more aware of this and the implications it has for their company.”

Burgess says the fact that 90% of employers have faced employees or a subset of employees working past their desired retirement date “is an important number. They are much more aware of the impact this has on their company and associates.”

The data infers that sponsors are looking for guidance from retirement plan advisers to help with these challenges, Burgess says. That is why 93% of sponsors are working with an adviser, up from 68% 10 years ago, he says. Sixty-three percent are satisfied with their adviser, up from 19% in that same time frame, he adds.

“They are hiring advisers to understand how well their plan is functioning and how to improve it,” he says. Specifically, sponsors are focused on participation, their match, fund choices and lowering costs, he says. “Advisers are driving changes to help with these goals,” Burgess says. “In fact, in 2019, 75% of plan sponsors made some type of change to their plan. The first area is in plan design, all designed to help employees save more. They are either increasing the match or adding one, adding a Roth option and adding automatic increases. We look at these developments as very positive to helping people save more.”

The second area where sponsors are making changes is to the investment lineup, most notably increasing options. Fidelity thinks plan sponsors are likely adding passive options due to their lower costs, replacing underperforming funds and adding target-date fund (TDF) options, Burgess says. “The investment piece is all about costs and offering a quality lineup to help their workers get to the right asset allocation,” he says.

“We know that these are encouraging and important changes because we know that to be successful, you need to be auto enrolled early—longevity of saving matters—and the contribution and the match are also important,” Burgess says.

What sponsors are seeking from their advisers is help “with the increasing complexities of running a plan,” he says. “They want their 401(k) plan to be competitive so that they can recruit top talent. They want to reduce costs. They want to reduce the threat of litigation, and they want help with their fiduciary responsibilities.”

Additionally, they want their adviser to educate employees about retirement and the importance of saving enough, as well as to create a strong investment lineup and implement a financial wellness program that helps their employees with financial goals beyond retirement, he says. “Advisers are dealing with more than they ever have,” he says.

In fact, the study found that 56% of employers are offering a financial wellness program, and 59% said they found them to be very impactful for their workforce.

More information about the survey is here.