On Wednesday, September 30th, the Women’s Institute For a Secure Retirement (WISER), in collaboration with Retirement Clearinghouse (RCH), hosts a Forum entitled The Leading Edge - Auto Portability: Solution to Prevent Cash Outs & Preserve 401(k) Assets.
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.
In his September 2nd, 2015 MarketWatch article One Solution to Three Costly Retirement-Saving Mistakes, RCH’s CEO Spencer Williams provides insight as to why a majority of Americans are not very confident in their retirement readiness. Three costly mistakes consistently plague retirement savers: 1) leaving 401(k) accounts behind when changing jobs, 2) prematurely cashing out and 3) not informing prior employers’ retirement plan record-keepers about address changes.
Give ‘Em What They Want—And Need!
Warren Cormier, CEO of Boston Research Technologies, recenty published a research study that revealed that a large majority of plan participants are receptive to consolidating their retirement savings accounts in their current plans.
The Case for Automatically Moving Mandatory Distributions Forward
The mandatory distribution-to-Safe Harbor IRA plan feature as commonly utilized today was conceived in 2001 and launched in 2005 with good intentions, and for valid reasons. A mobile workforce, combined with a lack of retirement savings portability, had created a burgeoning problem for plan sponsors: an explosion of small-balance (less than $5,000) accounts left “stranded” in-plan, resulting in rampant cashouts, missing participants, uncashed distribution checks and the like. These problems only accelerated with the widespread adoption of auto enrollment, beginning in 2009.
“Make the smart decision the easiest decision.”
This seems like an obvious goal for plan sponsors when designing participant directed retirement plans, and it’s certainly driven the rapid adoption of the autos – auto enrollment, auto deferral escalation and auto pilot investment options, such as target date funds.
Today, it’s a commonly-accepted practice for plan sponsors to focus on three major initiatives in order to promote retirement adequacy: participation, saving and diversification. While these concepts are proven, the emerging best practice is to incorporate the principle of consolidation, so that plan sponsors will begin to focus on participation, consolidation, saving and diversification.
Plan sponsors can help themselves and their participants over the long term by rolling balances of $5,000 or less from inactive participants into safe harbor IRAs. However, for various reasons discussed below, many safe harbor IRAs don’t live up to their name and could leave sponsors with unexpected fiduciary liability.
Mandatory distributions from employer-sponsored plans are a creation of regulation—specifically, a section of ERISA that allows plan sponsors to distribute accounts with less than $5,000 out of a qualified plan and into a safe harbor IRA. If plan sponsors follow the rules, they are protected from legal recourse, and the rules are simple: act in a fiduciary manner when choosing a provider for their program. However, that word—“fiduciary”—is often hard to define and can be interpreted in many ways, so it begs the question: “How does a sponsor best fulfill that responsibility in the context of a mandatory distribution program?”
How Job Changing Impacts Retirement Savings
In conjunction with Boston Research Technologies, RCH announced the findings of a groundbreaking research study on America’s mobile workforce, providing insights into participant behaviors regarding retirement savings portability. The study offers plan sponsors with strategies to stem cashouts and to improve retirement outcomes. On May 28th, RCH and Boston Research Technologies teamed with PLANSPONSOR to deliver a webcast, where attendees were presented the study’s key findings, implications and action items.
The Pension Protection Act of 2006 created a safe harbor for retirement plan sponsors to automatically enroll employees in their plans. This provision was designed to help plan sponsors and participants over the long term, and it has—but it also unintentionally fueled a surge in small accounts, hurting both constituencies.