Why 401k Plan Reviews Miss The Mark

Many financial advisors neglect to review the effectiveness of retirement plans with plan sponsors as often as many sponsors want and, when reviews do take place, they often fail to focus on what’s most important, according to research from MassMutual Retirement Services.

“Frequent, focused plan reviews are essential to assess the ongoing effectiveness of a retirement plan and to help ensure that plan participants are saving enough to retire when they reach their traditional retirement age,” Tom Foster Jr., spokesperson and practice management leader for MassMutual Retirement Services, said in a statement. “It’s a clear opportunity for financial advisors to improve and build their retirement plan practices.”

Many plan sponsors say they want to review their retirement plans more often than they currently do. Nearly three in five (57 percent) plan sponsors want advisors to help them review their retirement plans semiannually or more often, something that only 44 percent of sponsors report currently takes place, according to the “2016 MassMutual Retirement Plan Review Study.” However, sponsors who rely on advisors typically review their retirement plans more often than sponsors who do not use an advisor.

Plan reviews can lead to improvements such as new plan designs to better meet an employer’s objectives, according to Foster. MassMutual has enhanced its plan design-related services with new educational materials to help employers address employee demographics, organizational structures, business strategy, financial obligations and participant needs. Employers can learn more about these services by contacting their relationship manager or account manager.

Any improvements to a plan should generally start with a careful review and include consultation with plan legal counsel and other experienced advisors, as appropriate, Foster said. However, when reviews do take place, many advisors and employers are not focusing on what’s most important in determining whether a retirement plan is effective, he said.

“Unfortunately, only one in four sponsors reviews its plan to determine whether employees are actually saving enough to retire,” Foster said. “This points to a missed opportunity on the part of both advisors and sponsors. We need to focus more on the effectiveness of the retirement plan and educational programs to help ensure that working Americans are saving enough to retire on their own terms.”

The research finds differences in focus between sponsors with an advisor as opposed to sponsors without an advisor. During plan reviews, sponsors who work with an advisor typically prioritize satisfaction with their plan provider. Sponsors without an advisor prioritize fees and costs. The study finds that some of the major considerations of plan review break down as follows:

# Major Considerations Advisor No Advisor
1 Satisfaction with plan provider 79% 71%
2 Performance of investments 76% 59%
3 Fees associated with plan 71% 73%
4 Effectiveness of education and advice 50% 31%
5 Participation rate 45% 34%
6 Time and effort to administer plan 43% 28%
7 Whether employees are saving enough 27% 25%

“Advisors can do a world of good to help employers focus on savings, the effectiveness of education programs, and perhaps the ultimate metric: whether their employees on target to be retirement ready,” Foster said. “Participation in the plan is certainly important too. But if every employee participates but each saves only 1 percent of his or her salary, it’s totally ineffective as no one will ever be prepared to retire.”

 

Employees who work past the traditional retirement age band of 65-67 may cost employers significantly more for healthcare, disability and Workers Compensation insurance as well as salaries. Taking proactive steps to help ensure a retirement plan is helping as many employees to retire at the age they first qualify for full Social Security benefits can potentially reduce those costs, according to Foster.

Erick ArnettWhy 401k Plan Reviews Miss The Mark