Increasingly, 401(k) plans have become more-and-more “institutionalized” – reflected by an increased level of sophistication in investment options, coupled with a downward trend in fees.
Unfortunately, the benefits of increased institutionalization are frequently lost to large numbers of participants who fail to keep their balances in the 401(k) system when they change jobs – a phenomenon known as cashout leakage.
Now, there’s clear evidence that plan sponsors understand the value of plan-to-plan portability in preserving 401(k) plans’ institutional benefits, and that a shift towards already-available portability solutions is underway.
Evidence of the Shift
If you had any doubts that a clear shift towards plan-to-plan portability was underway, then the latest research report from Alight should change your mind.
Released in January, Alight’s 2020 Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing, surveyed 131 plan sponsors with 5.5 million employees, and found that:
- “A majority of employers (56%) say they are interested in a clearinghouse solution that makes it easier for workers to have balances move from one employer’s plan to another’s when there is a job change.”
- “A majority of employers say they are interested in an automatic rollover program that can help people who are subject to mandatory distributions (<$5,000) consolidate retirement savings into their current employer’s plan” (i.e., auto portability).
- Only 21% are satisfied with their efforts to discourage cashouts. Of those not satisfied, a majority (51%) are likely to take steps to address the problem.
More evidence of the shift to plan-to-plan portability:
- Plan sponsors now clearly understand the linkage between financial wellness and preserving participants’ retirement savings, following a job change.
- Policy experts view auto portability as a viable solution to 401(k) cashout leakage and are calling for its widespread adoption. Writing in Forbes, Angela Antonelli of Georgetown’s Center for Retirement Initiatives (CRI), states that “plan sponsors should be willing to integrate auto-portability into their own plan designs and make it the new normal for employees who switch jobs”, adding: "we have a solution and it is time to get it done."
- Socially responsible corporations are waking up and embracing retirement savings portability as a sustainable finance practice that not only benefits their employees but delivers significant societal benefits.
Importance of the Private Sector
The private sector has taken the lead, in terms of both the development of portability solutions, as well as their adoption.
Whereas past attempts to protect job-changing participants’ balances via public policy and regulation failed (ex. - Fiduciary Rule), plan sponsors can now avail themselves of new portability services offered by the private sector, typically requiring only modest modifications to plan design and straightforward service adoption.
If the Alight survey is any indication, that “shift” has already begun.