Lots of choice only sounds good. When faced with many options people tend to freeze up and do nothing—and that is especially true when it comes to workplace benefits and retirement plans.
Simple is best, employers are finding. That means adding automatic features to their 401(k) plan, including auto enrollment, auto investment in age-appropriate assets, and auto increase of employee contributions each year.
In the past two years, simplified enrollments resulted in 77% of new employees participating in their company’s 401(k) plan, compared with just 58% participating when confronted with a traditional set of choices, according to a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. New enrollments jumped 44% in the first half of 2015, based on an analysis of the 2.6 million employees in benefits programs under the bank’s administration.
Young workers especially want more support, and with millennials entering the workforce in big numbers and enrolling for the first time, employers are responding. The number of companies adopting simplified enrollment features jumped 65% during the first half of the year; nearly half now embrace auto enrollment. Of those, 78% feature auto increase of contributions, a number that is also up sharply compared with previous years.
Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of automatic features in helping workers save for retirement. In general, a fully automated program should have you start by contributing at least enough money to get the full employer match, and increase contributions 1% to 2% each year until you are saving 10% to 15% of pre-tax earnings. Often those contributions are placed in a target-date mutual fund with an asset mix broadly appropriate for your age. (If you are not in such a plan, you may be able to opt into these feature or manage to these guidelines yourself.)
Even though workers embrace simplified enrollments, they still want to understand their investment options. Online and mobile advice tools usage was up 7% in the first half of the year, the bank found. At the same time, attendance at one-on-one advice meetings with an adviser jumped nearly threefold—which goes to show that there may be no substitute for a good old-fashioned sit-down discussion.