Retirement Savings PortabilityBy Tom Johnson | September 1, 2021

On May 13, 2021, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held its first hearing on retirement security since 2013. With testimony from a blue-ribbon panel of witnesses, the hearing had a broad focus, but the topic of retirement savings leakage, and its most-promising solution, auto portability, were prominently featured.

Leading off witness testimony was Lori Lucas, the President & CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), the most-respected, independent and authoritative retirement research organization in the United States.

To the select audience of U.S. Senators, Lucas’ testimony quickly targeted "reducing plan leakage" as a key policy initiative and identified auto portability as a solution that could dramatically lower cashout leakage levels. Lucas pointed to EBRI research that has quantified auto portability's projected benefits of $2.0 trillion when applied to all balances, $1.5 trillion when applied to balances less than $5,000, and finally, its ability to significantly boost the benefits of other policy initiatives, such as open multiple-employer plans (open MEPs).

Lucas also noted auto portability’s benefits in response to a follow-up question from Committee Chairman and Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA), who inquired about policies that could expand access to part-time employees.

Lucas’ response reflected her command of the facts and data. She referred to EBRI research that revealed a positive impact of legislation that expanded access via open open MEPs and automatic enrollment, but these programs – when further paired with auto portability – yielded dramatically increased benefits of up to 26% for younger age segments. Lucas added: “it’s not just getting people into the plan that’s at issue here, but more holistically, keeping that money in the system because part-time employees are likely to have low balances, and those are the balances that are likely to be cashed out…when they change jobs.”

Following Lucas in responding to Senator Murray’s question was Deva Kyle, Counsel, Bredhoff & Kaiser, who expressed her view that “solutions that focus providing money to individuals to save for retirement security in portable plans are much more important than solutions that provide other kind of incentives such as tax deductions.”

Later, in response to another question from Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), Kyle again noted the importance of portability “so that plans can follow people as they switch jobs, because, as we know, we’re no longer in the 1950s or 60s, where people get a job when they’re 20 years old and retire there. People switch jobs, and a lot of times, if their plans don’t go with them, they’re set back in providing retirement security.”

Finally, towards the end of the hearing, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) illustrated the pervasive nature of cashout leakage by offering his personal experience with cashing out at age 35 to buy a new home and later regretting the example he’d inadvertently provided his two millennial sons.