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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.
Alight Solutions has released updated research (The impact of small amount cash-outs on retirement income) that addresses the impact of small-balance 401(k) cashout leakage. For those with balances less than $1,000, the study finds that 80% cash out, and with balances between $1,000 and $5,000, nearly two-thirds cash out. The study also observes that "new and innovative ideas, such as auto portability, can help curb this leakage and preserve retirement assets."
Writing in 401k Specialist Magazine, RCH's Tom Hawkins recaps a 9/13/21 Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) webinar (The Impact of Proposed Legislative Changes on Retirement Income Adequacy). In the webinar, EBRI Research Director Jack VanDerhei presented an analysis of pending legislative changes, including automatic contribution plans and arrangements (ACPAs), paired with a refundable saver’s credit. Unsurprisingly, the benefits for these policy initiatives were quite large. However, what was truly surprising was the sheer magnitude of incremental benefits delivered by the addition of auto portability, significantly paring retirement shortfalls for 35–39-year-olds, across all race and ethnicity categories.
Writing in 401k Specialist Magazine, RCH’s Tom Hawkins examines a retirement savings leakage study from the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan committee of the United States Congress. Released with little fanfare on 4/26/21, the study confirms the findings of earlier research on cashout leakage – namely, that cashout leakage is a big problem, is driven by job changing, and is exacerbated by "forced distributions and [a lack of] portability of plans.”
EBRI CEO Lori Lucas, testifying on retirement security before the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on 5/13/21, targets "reducing plan leakage" as a key policy initiative, and identifies auto portability as a solution that could dramatically lower cashout leakage levels. Lucas points to EBRI research that quantifies 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 its ability to significantly boost the benefits of other policy initiatives, such as open MEPs.
Reporting on EBRI's release of their 31st Annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), BenefitsPRO's Alan Goforth highlights the survey's key finding that "nearly nine in 10 employees with access to an employer-sponsored defined contribution plan consider auto-portability to be a valuable benefit" while observing that "those participants who stand to benefit the most from auto-portability — including minorities, younger participants and lower-income workers — want it most." Goforth quotes RCH founder, president and CEO Spencer Williams, as well as EBRI president and CEO Lori Lucas.
On 4/26/21, The Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan committee of the United States Congress, released the report "Estimating Leakage from Retirement Savings Accounts." Taking a novel approach, the report examines tax data to calculate a "leakage ratio" that represents the ratio of net distributions to net contributions for participants 50 or younger. The study clearly identified job-changing as the chief cause of leakage, finding that the leakage ratio is 26% in the "year of the event" but remaining high in years 2-5 that follow. The report further concludes that the use of "forced distributions and portability of plans likely affect leakage."
With the 4/22/21 release of EBRI's 31st annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the case for auto portability just became a whole lot stronger. Why? RCH's Tom Hawkins, writing in 401k Specialist, points readers to the RCS finding that nearly 9 in 10 participants believe that auto portability would be a valuable plan feature. Even more impressive than the overall response, the survey also found that specific demographic segments that benefit the most from auto portability want it even more -- including minorities, younger age groups and lower income segments. Hawkins' piece also includes a link to a new video, The Case for Auto Portability.
The case for auto portability, the new 401(k) plan default feature that automatically transfers small-balance retirement savings when participants change jobs, has always been strong. Now, with the April 22nd release of EBRI’s 31st Annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the case has grown even stronger. with nearly 9 in 10 plan participants expressing their preference for the auto portability feature.