Automatic rollovers of small, stranded 401(k) savings accounts are, on the surface, helpful for plan sponsors to keep their plans lean and healthy. However, “on the surface” is the key part of the previous sentence.
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.
With the announcement of the Department of Labor’s recent actions, auto portability has taken center stage in the retirement industry. While auto portability has been well-known to a relatively small group of industry insiders, its recent, widespread coverage in the media has many asking the question “what is auto portability?”
With so many different -- and important -- perspectives on the matter, the best answer will depend on who’s asking the question.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
For job-changing 401(k) participants with balances greater than $15,000, it was the spring of financial wellness, as the bulk of their retirement savings would remain intact. For less-aristocratic 401(k) savers with balances below $15,000, it was the winter of despair, as most of their savings would be lost on the cashout chopping block or forcibly exiled to a safe harbor IRA, where more savings would perish.
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.
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.
Beginning in 2000 and continuing for a decade, American consumers were overtaken by “bacon-mania” – an obsession with the tasty, fried cured-pork treat that included cookbooks, exotic new products and a catchy slogan: “Bacon Makes Everything Better.” Great all by itself, bacon was hailed as having the added virtue of improving the taste of almost any dish it was added to.
Two weeks ago, I authored an article applauding the American Benefits Council for their October 2nd, 2017 letter to the Department of Labor (DOL), which clearly identified the root causes of missing participants: a highly-mobile workforce and a lack of retirement savings portability. Extending the Council’s insight, I maintained that what’s really “missing” in our defined contribution system are initiatives that move retirement savings forward when participants change jobs, such as auto portability. When implemented, these initiatives could serve to dramatically decrease the overall incidence of missing participants.
On October 2nd, 2017, the American Benefits Council delivered a letter to the Department of Labor (DoL), urging the DoL to act on the problem of unresponsive or missing participants, an issue that has proven to be a significant point-of-pain for plan sponsors.
It’s generally accepted that the small-balance accounts of terminated 401(k) plan participants have been a problem for plan sponsors, resulting in increased plan costs, fiduciary risk and other ancillary problems, such as missing participants and uncashed distribution checks.
Now, based on new information from EBRI and other sources, we’re learning that small accounts are a large and growing problem for active participants as well.
As we enter the 4th quarter of 2017, many plan sponsors (as well as their advisors) will face the prospect of terminating a 401(k) plan. For most, this will be the first -- and only -- time that they’ll undertake this important initiative, typically without the benefit of prior experience.