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Auto Portability's Foundational Research
Auto portability is supported by a broad base of empirical research that clearly demonstrates the problems facing American workers (job-changing, systemic friction and 401k cashout leakage) as well as the solution: moving retirement savings forward when participants change jobs.
PLANSPONSOR's Remy Samuels reviews new research from Alight Solutions, which outlines ways employers "can make retirement savings more accessible for workers from racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, all of whom have historically fallen behind in saving for retirement." Recapping Alight's research, Samuels highlights five key ways plan sponsors can accomplish these goals, including facilitating auto portability, which advocates "working with recordkeepers in Retirement Clearinghouse’s Portability Services Network—a consortium of retirement plan service providers seeking to help workers transfer low account balances from one employer plan to the next."
Alight Solutions, one of the nation's largest defined contribution recordkeepers and a founding owner member of the Portability Services Network (PSN), released their 2023 Universe Benchmarks report -- the latest in a long line of annual reports that illustrate how workers are saving and investing in defined contribution (DC) plans. The report notes that cashout leakage increased in 2022, where 45% of participants cashed out, compared to 39% in 2021, while adding that the highest leakage levels were observed "almost always [in] small balances." Under the heading of trending topics and considerations, Alight also suggests that plans "add auto-portability" as it can "easily help transfer balances into the plan for new hires."
PLANSPONSOR's Remy Samuels examined recent research on 401(k) cashout leakage, published in Marketing Science and the Harvard Business Journal, and turns to co-author John G. Lynch, Jr., who provides his support for both auto portability and the Portability Services Network. Samuels writes that Lynch "encourages more recordkeepers to join the Portability Services Network, which would enable employees with smaller balances to roll over 401(k), 401(a), 403(b) and 457 accounts to a new employer’s plans as they change jobs." Referencing plan sponsors, Lynch also pointedly adds: “if the employer really cares about their employees, they should care about them when they’re on the way out the door as well.”
NAPA Net's John Sullivan delves into recent cashout leakage research that finds a correlation between more-generous employer matching contributions and higher incidences of leakage. Sullivan also examines auto portability, turning to RCH president & CEO Spencer Williams, who addresses the Portability Services Network (PSN), a newly-formed "independent entity that acts as a utility" to foster adoption of the new automatic feature. Williams provides updates on PSN's recordkeeper membership, and states: "[w]e expect to have the beginnings of reportable activity by the end of the year.”
InsuranceNewsNet's Ayo Mseka recaps a recent EBRI webinar, where Mike Shamrell, V.P. of Fidelity’s workplace investing thought leadership, presented cashout leakage data garnered from Fidelity’s defined contribution plans. Shamrell's data included extensive breakdowns of cashout leakage data, including an analysis by generational cohort, where the 'danger zone' was identified as participants between the ages of 30 and 39. According to Mseka, Shamrell cited auto portability as one of several solutions to leakage, which could also serve to "reduce the costs and burden of terminated participants."
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, a research team comprised of academics John G. Lynch, Yanwen Wang, and Muxin Zhai described their findings on the problem of 401(k) cashout leakage. The study (Cashing Out Retirement Savings at Job Separation) lines up with previous research, determining that 41.4% of participants prematurely cashed out their retirement savings after exiting a job, paying taxes and penalties. The team also observed that, following a job change, former employees face bureaucratic and psychological challenges, receiving form letters that effectively "turn psychologically illiquid retirement savings into a source of ready cash." Finally, the team commended the "new auto portability initiative by Retirement Clearinghouse" for plan sponsors "served by major financial services firms like Vanguard, Alight, and Fidelity."
On June 7th, Vanguard released the newest edition of How America Saves, the firm’s seminal report on 401(k) plan design and retirement savings habits. Through its annual, comprehensive analysis of nearly five million 401(k) accounts recordkept at Vanguard, the report reveals additional plan design opportunities employers can address to further improve workers’ retirement readiness. In the release, under key findings, Vanguard notes that "cash outs disproportionately impact younger, low-balance participants" and adds that "[a]uto portability services and revisions to minimum balance rules can help decrease cash out rates."
Writing in 401k Specialist, RCH's Tom Hawkins examines the experience of a very large (250,000+ participants) 401(k) plan sponsor that has been highly successful in delivering improved participant outcomes by incrementally adopting a full program of retirement savings portability. Looking at four distinct five-year periods that coincided with increasing levels of portability and improved participant outcomes, Hawkins writes that "there’s no finer example of those [improved] outcomes than the multi-year, real-world experience of this plan sponsor, where thousands of participants increased their prospects for a timely and comfortable retirement."