Schwab Finds Participants Paying More Attention

Charles Schwab has found that participant engagement in Schwab-serviced 401(k) plans increased both online and over the phone during the months of September and October.

A Schwab news release said participant activity online increased 37% and phone calls into Schwab service teams were up nearly 30% over monthly averages from January through August 2008.

“The most common inquiry our service teams are receiving is participants asking for account log-in information like pin numbers and passwords,” said Catherine Miller, Charles Schwab vice president of 401(k) education and advice, in the news release. “This is a real indication that people who have been very hands-off with their 401(k) in the past are all of the sudden getting engaged and paying much more attention.’

In addition, one-on-one participant advice consultations via the phone increased more than 40% from September to October.

While the number of people reducing their contribution rates into plans has increased, Schwab found the majority of participants in Schwab-serviced plans are not significantly shifting asset allocations. Participants enrolling into plans for the first time or increasing deferral amounts remained consistent or even increased compared with prior months; however, the number of participants decreasing their deferral amount rose to 3% in October, compared with a little more than 1% in a typical month.

Participants conducted 50% to 70% more transfers compared with the same period in 2007, and more participants moved assets to stable value and money market funds than usual. However, transfers during the two month period still represented less than 1% of total plan assets.

Although the percentage of participants taking hardship withdrawals increased in September and October, the combined percentage of participants taking loans or hardship withdrawals remained below 1% for each month, Schwab said.