Retirement Readiness: Act II

Plan sponsors have learned their roles for Act I of the retirement readiness program, so now it’s time for Act II.

Plan sponsors and advisers do not pay enough attention to the critical moments of employees’ transition into retirement, contended Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of Retirement & Investor Service at Principal Financial Group, speaking to attendees of the Plan Sponsor Council of America’s (PSCA’s) 66th Annual Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Patterson pointed out that plan sponsors have learned that people do not like giving up stuff, but they will often give in to “loss later” if they feel they are doing something responsible now. People don’t like to be “caught” doing something irresponsible, so the “opt-out” system of automatic enrollment—in which the employer will know if the employee is being irresponsible—is a key to getting people to save.

But, this is Act I in retirement readiness, he said; an effective transition must be included in the discussion about retirement readiness.

According to Patterson, most people do not know what they will do in retirement, and they don’t know how to budget for what they will do. Principal’s research found most participants intend not to touch their defined contribution retirement plan assets until they have to, and preretirees are desperate for education and advice. He suggested plan sponsors should make retirement transition help a part of employees’ benefits package. 

It’s not just about what to do with their employer-sponsored retirement plan, Patterson said. The retirement transition benefit should be a planning event to consider an employee’s financial picture without a steady paycheck, look at potential setbacks and evaluate what protections employees have.

“Just drifting into retirement is scary,” Patterson concluded.