Plan sponsors intuitively know that an explosion of small-balance 401(k) accounts held by terminated participants can create problems. Unfortunately, few sponsors are clear on the factors that give rise to small accounts, and fewer still understand how they can utilize consolidation programs to solve the problem.
Consolidation Corner Blog
Consolidation Corner is the Retirement Clearinghouse (RCH) blog, and features the latest articles and bylines from our executives, addressing important retirement savings portability topics.
On May 22nd, at a Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) roundtable addressing strategies, choices and decisions for women’s retirement income, important new data was presented that highlights the challenges faced by women in preserving their 401(k) savings when changing jobs – particularly for women with balances less than $5,000.
Much has been written recently about the preponderance of lost and missing participants. This predicament, one of the many offshoots of the problem of too many small accounts, is an urgent one for sponsors to address given reports that the Department of Labor (DOL) is focusing on their ability to locate missing participants during plan audits.
When Ben Franklin coined the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” he wasn’t considering the problem of missing participants, but 401(k) plan sponsors would be wise to heed Ben’s sage advice.
Today, plan sponsors face an explosion of missing participants, driven by the ongoing adoption of auto enrollment and increasing workforce mobility. Their problems are further compounded by the administrative burden required to locate them, combined with a regulatory minefield that offers little guidance and is prone to taking inconsistent enforcement actions.
The top priorities for these plan sponsors in 2018, outlined in December 2017 by Mercer, include:
Following World War II, America saw the rise of a “throwaway” society – consuming, squandering and discarding vast quantities of national resources. Gradually, an awakening occurred as we realized that conservation was a more-sustainable path. Recycling models emerged, and once fully-adopted, they became deeply-ingrained in our psyches and formed a pillar of corporate social responsibility.
Over the past six years, there’s been a steady drumbeat pointing the way to increased portability and in-plan consolidation (“roll-ins”) as the next big strategic focus for defined contribution plans.
While this path may soon lead to the widespread adoption of auto portability, a process that automatically rolls in small balances into a participant's new-employer plan, many plan sponsors are already embracing programs that support roll-ins for all participants, regardless of balance size.
Today, Boston Research Technologies (BRT) and Retirement Clearinghouse (RCH) issued a joint press release announcing the key findings from a survey examining the retirement industry’s missing participant problem. The survey, The Mobile Workforce’s Missing Participant Problem, is the first to examine the problem from the perspective of the participant and offers unique insights into its various dimensions.
Despite differences big and small, all retirement plan sponsors and record-keepers experience at least one common problem—the seemingly intractable incidence of participants who have left behind small accounts in the plans sponsored by their former employers and failed to update their address when they subsequently change residence, a.k.a. missing participants.