Report Highlights Plan Differences among Industries

Vanguard’s "How America Saves" analysis highlights industry differences in plan design and participant behavior.

Generally, employees of utility companies who participated in their 401(k) or other defined contribution plan at Vanguard in 2010 tended to save more in their plans, participants in small ambulatory health care firm plans invested more of their plan assets in target-date funds, and participants in the plans of large mining companies had the highest average account balances.  

The plans of small utility firms (fewer than 1,000 employees and 92% participation rate) and large mining companies (more than 1,000 employees, 88% participation rate) had the best participation among the industries in the report. Vanguard plans as a whole had a 74% average participation rate.  

On average, participants in the plans of both small and large utilities (more than 1,000 employees) saved at a higher rate than their counterparts in the other industry plans as well as all Vanguard plans. Their 9% and 8.2% average contribution rate, respectively, surpassed the 6.8% average contribution rate for Vanguard plans in aggregate. The plans of large manufacturing companies lagged with a 6.5% average contribution rate.  

At $237,081, the average account balance of participants in plans of large mining companies was significantly higher than the average account balance of participants in Vanguard plans collectively ($79,077). In contrast, the lowest average account balance was the $63,697 for participants in large information services company plans (more than 1,000 employees). 

Large plans tended to offer TDFs more so than smaller plans; in the lead was the 93% of large ambulatory health care firms that offered TDFs, far surpassing the 79% of all Vanguard plans offering the funds. The standout in terms of small industry plans was utilities, 94% of whom offered TDFs. However, among participants using TDFs, those in the smaller plans covered by the reports usually invested more of their assets in the funds. For example, 62% of participant assets in small ambulatory health care firm plans were invested in TDFs, compared to the 41% of assets invested in TDFs by participants across all Vanguard plans offering the funds.  

Auto enroll plans were far more prevalent at large manufacturing companies (more than 1,000 employees) than at any other type of company in the report and Vanguard plans broadly. Sixty-seven percent of large manufacturing companies (more than 1,000 employees) had an auto enroll plan versus 24% for all Vanguard plans. At 6%, small ambulatory health care firms (fewer than 250 employees) were least likely to have an auto enroll plan.  

The findings are part of Vanguard’s How America Saves 2011 (see "More Participants Getting Investment Help"). The industry reports analyze the behavior of plan participants in eight industries, including the ambulatory health care; finance and insurance; information services; legal services; manufacturing; mining, oil and gas extraction; technology; and utility industries.   

Plan sponsors in these industries can use a new benchmarking tool to compare their plan data with others in their industry and Vanguard plans overall, available at