Report Points to Liquidity Concerns as Reason for Match Suspension

A recent study suggests liquidity concerns—and not profitability concerns—was the reason many firms suspended their retirement plan match contributions during the recent economic crisis.
The study, from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, analyzed possible factors that may either encourage or discourage firms to suspend their match, including the liquidity, profitability, and size/industry of the firm, as well as the nature of its pension arrangement. The results “first and foremost” point to liquidity constraints as the primary reason employers suspend their 401(k) matches, according to the Issue Brief on the study.

Researchers found that the quick ratio, a measurement of a firm’s ability to discharge its current liabilities, is significant and negative, indicating that firms with more short-term assets relative to liabilities are less likely to suspend their match. Similarly, failure to transmit employee contributions also had a statistically significant and negative impact on the probability of suspending the match, suggesting that “those firms willing to compromise on their accounting by holding on to employee contributions rather than transmitting them to the 401(k) are less likely to face the liquidity constraints that would force them to suspend their match,” the report said.

The study also found that large firms and those in the manufacturing sector are more likely to suspend their 401(k) match.

What did not seem to be a significant factor in a firm’s decision to cut the match was profitability, as well as the size of the employers’ match and whether the employer also offered a defined benefit plan.

The researchers contend that the match suspensions of the past year will have little impact on participants, especially since it seems companies are reinstating their matches when they see an improved financial picture. The report notes that it could have an impact on new hire participation levels, but with hiring down, that impact is likely low.

The Issue Brief, as well as the CRR’s list of companies that suspended their match, can be accessed here.