But Plan Sponsors Are Concerned About Complexity, Costs, and Choice
WASHINGTON, DC (January 25, 2024) – Concerns about the impact of inflation on their retirement savings is raising fears among employer-sponsored retirement plan participants that they will run out of money in retirement, according to a new survey by Greenwald Research.
The great majority of plan participants – 83% – say their employers should offer in-plan retirement income options, and most believe there should be more than one choice.
The latest consumer and plan sponsor surveys in Greenwald’s In-Plan Insights Program found that more than four in five retirement plan participants are interested in options that provide guaranteed lifetime income, or GLI.
“This year’s survey finds participants prefer a retirement income option that can grow over time, even if the starting amounts are lower,” says Greenwald Research CEO Lisa Greenwald. “Inflation concerns seem to be driving this preference for participants, while sponsors are more torn between lower initial payments that increase with time versus somewhat higher payments that remain steady.
“Most plan sponsors believe income options with GLI would be best for participants,” Greenwald says, “but they have strong concerns about the complexity of those income options and the fees that come with them.”
The survey found that 59% of plan sponsors view in-plan retirement income options as too complex. Nearly one in three are concerned that associated fees will mean higher costs for their companies, while 30% are concerned about the additional administrative work that offering income options would require. Sponsors also remain concerned about ensuring that participants have enough choices of retirement income options on the menu.
Nevertheless, one in three plan sponsors claim they already offer income options, while another 37% say they’re considering offering retirement income options. Asked to explain what income options are available or being considered, sponsors’ responses are often not what the industry would consider a DC plan retirement income option. “While this underscores the need for continued, foundational education on the retirement income category, the interest and perceived need for this type of solution seems quite real,” says study director Eric Sondergeld.
One possible motivator: half of sponsors say they prefer that participants keep their money in their workplace retirement plan at retirement. The survey found that retirement income options make participants twice as likely to keep their money in the plan after they retire – 57%, compared to 28% who want to move their assets out of the plan when they stop working.
“Retirement Income Options” and “Guaranteed Income Options” tied as the top names for the DC income category among both participants and sponsors – emphasizing clarity and simplicity. The category name “In-Plan Annuity Options” ranked last among sponsors. Though 8 in 10 sponsors agree that annuities are an effective “paycheck replacement” in retirement, they speculate that participants will be hesitant due to their reputation. Indeed, half of participants are reluctant to consider annuities in their workplace retirement income plans.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however. Three in four participants and nine in ten sponsors find it compelling to know that annuities are the only way to generate GLI and that they have evolved in positive ways.
Other key findings of the latest In-Plan Insights Program consumer and plan sponsor surveys include:
- 90% of plan participants are concerned about the impact of inflation on their retirement income.
- Participants’ concern about running out of money in retirement has grown significantly – 76% of responding participants reported that concern this year, up from 70% a year ago.
- Fully half of plan participants say employers should take at least a moderate level of responsibility for employees’ retirement preparedness, financial security and creating retirement income. Another 47% think employers have some responsibility for the financial security of employees who have retired. Plan sponsors seem to agree – three in four say their company is responsible for helping employees prepare for and generate income in retirement. 68% say they have responsibility for the long-term financial security of retired employees.
- Almost all sponsors believe a comprehensive retirement income planning program would increase participants’ comfort level with income options, increase the amount participants are willing to contribute, and increase participant utilization of in-plan retirement income options. Three in four sponsors believe retirement income planning programs with access to a human advisor would have greater value than a strictly online planning program.
About the Research
Greenwald’s In-Plan Insights Program is designed to explore the changing landscape of retirement income options in defined contribution plans. The 2023 study included online surveys conducted from September 26 to October 23, 2023 of 1,003 plan participants aged 30-70, with at least half aged 50 or over. Respondents were employed full-time at a company with at least 50 employees, had a personal income of $50,000 or more, and are currently contributing to their employers’ retirement savings plan. It also included surveys of 503 plan sponsors with at least 50 employees. More than 100 of the responding sponsors have 1,000 or more employees. Plan sponsors were surveyed between October 4 and November 18, 2023.
The 2023 In-Plan Insights Program survey reports are available for purchase. Contact Greenwald Research at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
About Greenwald Research
Greenwald Research is a leading independent custom research and consulting partner to the health and wealth industries that applies creative quantitative and qualitative methods to produce knowledge that helps companies stay competitive and navigate industry change. Visit greenwaldresearch.com to learn more.