Survey Shows Auto Enrollment Winning Prevalence

Automatic enrollment of employees into defined contribution retirement plans has been adopted by a majority of surveyed plan sponsors, according to Mercer.

Fifty-one percent of survey respondents are now offering some form of auto enrollment, with another 6% planning to add it in the near future, and 18% actively evaluating the feature, a Mercer press release said. “The old hesitancy by employers to “force’ employees to make contributions has given way to the more pressing challenge of inadequate retirement savings. In fact more than half (56%) of the respondents to our survey cited this challenge as their number one reason for adding auto enrollment to their plans,” said Amy Reynolds, a Mercer principal and defined contribution retirement plan consultant, in the press release.

Cost was the primary reason for not adding auto enrollment, followed by concern over being too paternalistic.

The survey also found a strong correlation between offering automatic enrollment and plan participation rates, according to the press release. While almost half (45%) of those plans that have automatic enrollment achieve participation rates of 90% or more, only 7% that do not use the feature achieve these high rates. Nearly three-quarters of plans with automatic enrolment achieve at least 80% participation, compared to less than 20% of those that do not offer it.

Two-thirds (65%) of plans that use auto enrollment experience opt-out rates of less than 5%, and only 8% experience opt-out rates greater than 10%.

Auto Designs

Among the survey respondents who utilize automatic enrollment, Mercer’s survey found 62% use a 3% default salary rate; 20% use a default rate greater than 3%; and 11% are using a 2% default rate.

Seven-in-ten (70%) also use an automatic deferral increase feature—in which plan sponsors increase participant deferral rates each year by a given amount—either as the default or as an option.

A summary of the survey findings is available at