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COLLECTED WISDOM™ on 401k Automatic Enrollment of Employees and Other Automatic Plan Features

This is an archive of information related to automatic enrollment.

Automatic enrollment allows an employer to automatically deduct elective deferrals from an employee's wages unless the employee makes an election not to contribute or to contribute a different amount. Any 401k plan that allows elective salary deferrals can have this feature.

This archive contains not only the most current material on the topic, but also older items that are still relevant, provide background, perspective or are germane to the topic.

If you find a broken link or an items that you feel is outdate, irrelevant or no longer appropriate, please let us know.

Mindless Pitfalls: Don't Leave 401k Automatic Enrollment Plans Alone

Summary: The biggest advantage (and disadvantage) of automatic enrollment is that employees don't have to do anything. It's the essence of automatic enrollment. But it also makes people less responsible for their own retirement decisions. Punam Anand Keller, PhD, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth discusses barriers to automatic enrollment plans and the solutions to overcome them.

Source: Invesco.com , March 2015

Auto Enrollment - Unforeseen Admin Costs Attributable to Small Account Balances

Summary: An experience many plan sponsors encounter following the rollout of a 401k auto enrollment campaign is an increase in the number of non-participating individuals with relatively small account balances. These small accounts can significantly impact the costs of plan administration. With sufficient planning, auto enroll can be implemented without drastically altering costs, but what can be done when it's too late and the growth of small account balances begin costing you money?

Source: 5500audit.com, March 2015

The Effects of Automatic Enrollment - A Comprehensive View

Summary: Automatic enrollment is an optional plan feature in which participants are enrolled into their employer's plan as soon as they are eligible, with the option to opt out. Various studies have shown that automatic enrollment increases plan participation dramatically with very few participants choosing to opt out, but its effect on the plan overall is often overlooked.

Source: Ekonbenefits.com , March 2015

Most Employers Auto-Enroll 401k Participants

Summary: Most employers now offer automatic features in their 401k plans to ensure that workers are saving enough to receive full company matching contributions over time, according to a survey by the benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt.

Source: Businessmanagementdaily.com, March 2015

Researchers Find Little Cost Difference From Auto-Enrollment

Summary: Automatic enrollment is often expected to increase employer compensation costs as previously unenrolled workers start to receive matching retirement plan contributions, but researchers have found this not to be true.

Source: Planadviser.com, March 2015

Companies Are Improving Automatic Features in 401k Plans

Summary: To improve the long-term financial outlook for workers, a new survey from Aon Hewitt, reveals that the majority of companies now offer automatic features in their 401k plans to ensure that workers are saving enough to receive full company matching contributions over time.

Source: Wolterskluwerlb.com, February 2015

Getting Auto-Enrollment Implementation Right

Summary: Implementing automatic enrollment without thinking through plan design can result in compliance and administrative issues. Plan failures due to automatic enrollment, either breaking the law or operational failures, happen. So plan sponsors should put language in their plan document that is easy to follow and not burdensome to live with.

Source: Plansponsor.com, February 2015

Automatic Enrollment, Employer Match Rates and Employee Compensation in 401k Plans

Summary: This study examines the relationship between automatic enrollment and employee compensation. A significant negative correlation exists between the generosity of the employer match structure and the automatic enrollment provision. However, study finds no evidence that total compensation costs or DC costs differ between firms with and without automatic enrollment, and no evidence that DC costs crowd out other forms of compensation.

Source: Ssrn.com, February 2015

401k Automatic Enrollment - Things to Consider

Summary: At first glance, adding an auto enrollment feature to your Company's 401k Plan appears to be a simple way to increase Plan participation. In practice, there can be some unintended consequences in implementing auto enrollment. This article covers some potential hurdles and adjustments you may want to consider to get the desired effects.

Source: 5500audit.com, February 2015

401k Automation May Have Peaked

Summary: Automation is a hot topic in defined-contribution plans, but while there has been a steady increase in the adoption of features such as automatic re-enrollment and other automatic plan features, they still haven't reached ubiquity and might never get there. That is one conclusion that can be found in the Callan Investment Institute's "2015 Defined Contribution Trends" study.

Source: Benefitspro.com, January 2015

Automatic Enrollment: The Power of the Default

Summary: Sponsors can use the inertia inherent in participant retirement savings decisions to improve retirement outcomes in defined contribution plans. This 16 page report provides updated statistics drawn from Vanguard recordkeeping data of the effects of automatic enrollment on participants' saving and investing behaviors.

Source: Vanguard.com , January 2015

Auto Features Gain Ground With 401k Plan Sponsors

Summary: Employers are taking a more engaging and firm approach to making sure employees take retirement saving seriously, making use of automatic enrollment and escalation, as well as personalized tools. And both employers and retirement plan providers are noting changes in the savings attitudes of employees.

Source: Benefitnews.com, December 2014

Automatic Features in Defined Contribution Plans

Summary: Offered in conjunction with automatic escalation, automatic enrollment can positively impact participant behavior and improve retirement readiness. This article examines some best practices to be considered when implementing automatic features in DC plans that can produce greater results per dollar of employer cost.

Source: Strategicbenefitservices.com, September 2014

Pushing the Employee-Savings Envelope With Auto-Escalation

Summary: While the concept of automatically escalating 401k paycheck deductions annually may sound unappetizing to some HR leaders because of the added costs they can incur, the results of a recent survey indicate employees may be ready to dig in.

Source: Hreonline.com, August 2014

Can the Enrollment Experience Improve Participant Outcomes?

Summary: Although automatic enrollment has been a boon for plan participation and encourages steady savings habits, more needs to be done. Automatic enrollment may not be a universal answer. Fidelity embarked on extensive employee research and testing to determine if a simplified, streamlined enrollment process could improve participation outcomes. This 12 page paper reviews the results.

Source: Fidelity.com , August 2014

Execs Struggle With 401k Auto-Escalation Issue

Summary: DC plan executives are wrestling with ways to improve participants' savings through automatic escalation. The struggle is between two philosophies: the opt-in approach, which requires participants to make a commitment to automatically raise their savings rate annually; and the opt-out approach, which includes participants in auto escalation unless they tell plan administrators to remove them from the program.

Source: Pionline.com, July 2014

Understanding Re-Enrollment Benefits for Participants and Plan Sponsors

Summary: Despite participant education efforts and the availability of simplified investment decision-making options, there is a general lack of confidence that participants are appropriately diversified within their 401k plans. Conducting a re-enrollment not only helps get participants into a diversified portfolio, but also helps to ensure their asset allocation changes with them over time.

Source: Jpmorganfunds.com , July 2014

Using Re-enrollment to Improve Participant Investing and Provide Fiduciary Protections

Summary: There is tension in the world of 401k plans. Participants fret over the investment decisions they must make. Their employers worry about fiduciary liability for how the participants' accounts are invested. Fortunately, there is a straightforward strategy for dealing with this tension -- a strategy that dramatically improves the quality of participant investing while providing enhanced protections to the plan sponsors and committee members who manage those plans. This strategy is known as "re-enrollment."

Source: Jpmorganfunds.com , July 2014

401k's With 'Automatic' Steering Drive Savings Success

Summary: Prior to auto-features, workers had to make a lot of choices, such as enrollment, level of participation and investments. Decades of research on participant behavior in 401k plans showed that many participants don't like making these choices. Many workers chose not to participate over being faced with the myriad choices, even when employers promised matching contributions. But most people want to do the right thing, and auto-solutions help them do that.

Source: Workforce.com, July 2014

401k Plan Auto Enrollment Paying Off, Vanguard

Summary: Among 401k plans automatically enrolling employees, 69% now also automatically increase their contribution rate annually and invest their assets in a balanced investment option, setting up a growing number of employees -- especially low-income, young, and minority workers -- for healthier retirement savings, Vanguard researchers said.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, June 2014

Auto Enrollment Errors Are Expensive

Summary: Auto enrollment is becoming more popular with employers that sponsor DC plans. This feature can help increase plan participation, enhance retirement outcomes among participants, and improve discrimination testing results. On the other hand, administrative oversights can prove costly. This article identifies two common errors administrators commit related to auto enrollment.

Source: Retirementtownhall.com, May 2014

Seven Misconceptions About Retirement Plan Auto Features

Summary: The evidence is clear that automatic enrollment, in which employees are enrolled in their company plan unless they opt out, is very effective at increasing participation rates. In spite of how effective auto features are, many sponsors are still holding back from adopting them due to misconceptions. Here are seven common misconceptions plan sponsors have.

Source: Pension-Consultants.com, May 2014

BMO White Paper on Automatic Features

Summary: White paper examines the use of automatic features within a defined contribution plan. It notes that it is widely known that features such as auto-enrollment and auto-escalation typically increase employee participation, and are therefore likely to improve retirement readiness. In contrast, plan sponsors have not traditionally received guidance on how to implement these features effectively. The paper identifies the key questions that need to be addressed.

Source: Bmo.com , April 2014

Implementing Automatic Features in DC Plans -- Frequently Asked Questions

Summary: This Frequently Asked Questions resource is the third in a series on best practices in implementing automatic features in DC plans and seeks to provide clarification on common regulatory questions that plan sponsors and their advisors may have when putting auto features into practice. These FAQ's were developed by the Public Policy Committee of DCIIA and the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Source: Dciia.org , April 2014

Let the Questions Begin: Preparing for DC Plan Automation

Summary: Defined contribution plan changes can bring forth more questions than a typical 4-year-old asks -- lots of why's, what's and how's. When you've decided to tackle automation, be it auto enroll, auto escalation or even default investments, it's helpful to get prepared before you call the consultants, lawyers, and your service providers.

Source: Dciia.org, April 2014

Auto-Solutions Can More Than Double Retirement Savings

Summary: While some in the retirement industry say that auto-features are too expensive for many plan sponsors to consider, especially in a tough job market, New York Life has found a great reception for auto-solutions among its plan sponsor clients. Seventy percent of New York Life RPS' clients auto-enroll and of that number, half auto-enroll into managed savings. This infographic shows the value of 401k plan auto-features.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, February 2014

Sample Opt-Out Form: Automatic 403(b) Plans

Summary: If your vendor does not have a process in place for handling automatic enrollment opt-outs, you can provide this form to employees eligible for automatic enrollment.

Source: Retirementmadesimpler.org , January 2014

Overcoming Participant Inertia: Automatic Features That Improve Outcomes While Improving Your Plan's Bottom Line

Summary: This research report from Prudential Retirement indicates that the addition of auto-enrollment and auto-escalation features in defined contribution plans may produce markedly higher participation levels and deferral rates, significantly improving the likelihood of successful retirement outcomes.

Source: Prudential.com , December 2013

Retirement Plan Communication in an Auto Features World

Summary: Of primary interest to study sponsors was to what extent communication strategies changed, or are likely to change, as a result of the shift to automatic features. In short: Have communication strategies undergone an evolution similar to that of plan design?

Source: Retirementmadesimpler.org , September 2013.

Retirement Plan Communication in an Auto Features World

Summary: Of primary interest to study sponsors was to what extent communication strategies changed, or are likely to change, as a result of the shift to automatic features. In short: Have communication strategies undergone an evolution similar to that of plan design?

Source: Retirementmadesimpler.org , September 2013.

Lessons From First Implementers of Auto-Enrollment

Summary: Aon Hewitt has listed here the top five tips gleaned from organizations which had an early staging date for auto-enrollment and have completed the initial process.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, August 2013

Sample Automatic Enrollment and Default Investment Notice

Summary: Although this sample notice is designed for use in satisfying the QACA and EACA notice requirements, and the notice requirements under ERISA sections 404(c)(5) and 514(e)(3), plan sponsors may also find the sample notice to be helpful in drafting an employee explanation for an automatic contribution arrangement that is neither a QACA nor an EACA.

Source: IRS , July 2013

Best Practices When Implementing Auto Features in DC Plans

Summary: When it comes to designing automatic features for DC plans, employers should understand the importance of robust defaults for helping employees save for a secure retirement. A newly released DCIIA white paper explores how automatic features, such as auto enrollment and auto escalation, can be structured to help DC plan participants amass enough savings to reach an effective replacement ratio in retirement.

Source: Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association , June 2013

Managing Plan Costs in Automatic Programs

Summary: This white paper illustrate ways that costs can be managed when adopting automatic program features by altering plan design components, demonstrate how foundational plan design components and automatic programs can interact to drive success in achieving specific plan objectives, provide a decision-making guide for revisiting plan design elements, and designing a plan to optimize success within the budget available.

Source: Troweprice.com , June 2013

Advances in Automatic Savings Program Design

Summary: Early automatic programs are an important first step to overcoming employee inertia. The next step is to evolve these programs and combine them in ways that produce greater results per dollar of employer cost. This paper explores the merits of solutions that involve the following: Auto-enrollment for employees at higher initial default rates, auto-enrollment for employees who are not currently enrolled, auto-increases in deferral rates on an opt-out basis, and auto-investing in a qualified default investment alternative.

Source: Troweprice.com , June 2013

Mixed Bag for Auto-Enrollment

Summary: While the trend towards automatic enrollment of employees in 401k savings plans has boosted participation rates, new data confirms that it is also depressing savings rates. Among employees with salaries of $100,000 or more, those who are auto-enrolled save 9.7% of their salaries, on average, versus 10.7% for those in plans without auto-enrollment. Why?

Source: Marketwatch.com, May 2013

401k Auto Features Shift Focus of Communications

Summary: Plan sponsors indicate a need to move away from process-focused messages (for example, how to enroll, plan mechanics, investment selection) to conversations around projected outcomes based on participants' savings behaviors and strategies (such as future monthly retirement income, spending power and retirement lifestyle). However, many have made only a few, necessary changes, without significantly revising their participant education offerings.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, March 2013

Adding Automatic Enrollment to Your 401k Plan

Summary: With more workers approaching retirement, saving is a high priority. Automatic enrollment 401k plans are an effective way to get employees to save now and to continue saving.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor , February 2013

To Auto-Enroll or Not to Auto-Enroll

Summary: Automatic enrollment does present some administrative burdens to defined contribution plan sponsors, however, the best argument for implementing auto-enrollment is that it works. Studies have shown it increases plan participation and opt-out rates for participants automatically enrolled are low. So, what do DC plan sponsors need to know when deciding whether to auto enroll?

Source: Plansponsor.com, November 2012

Automatic Enrollment, Employee Compensation, and Retirement Security

Summary: This study examines the impact of auto-enrollment on employee compensation. By boosting plan participation, automatic enrollment likely increases employer costs when previously unenrolled workers receive matching retirement plan contributions. Data show significant negative correlation between employer match rates and automatic enrollment provision. Study finds no evidence that total costs differ between firms with and without automatic enrollment, and no evidence that defined contribution costs crowd out other forms of compensation.

Source: Center for Retirement Research, October 2012

New Study Affirms Auto Solutions Boost Retirement Readiness

Summary: There is new hope that Americans will be better prepared for retirement, thanks to automatic features offered through employer-sponsored retirement plans, according to a study just released from Lincoln Financial Group and Retirement Made Simpler.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, July 2012

Employers Adding Automatic Enrollment to DC Plans

Summary: More employers intend to add automatic enrollment features to their 401k and other defined contribution plans, according to an Aon Hewitt survey. Under automatic enrollment, employees who don't respond to participation notices are enrolled automatically in a plan unless they notify their employers that they want to opt out.

Source: Workforce.com, January 2012.

Automatic Enrollment Boosts Participation for All Racial and Ethnic Groups

Summary: New Vanguard research on diversity and retirement plan saving and investing shows that automatic employee enrollment into company 401k plans raises participation--the critical first step in taking advantage of these plans--for all racial and ethnic groups. The increase is particularly notable for blacks and Hispanics, especially low earners.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, October 2011.

Are Automatic Enrollment Plans a Success?

Summary: The short answer to the question is yes. Many studies have indeed indicated that adding automatic enrollment features to a plan helps to facilitate participation rates going up significantly. From that perspective it is certainly a success. However, sponsors and their employees should not be lulled into a false sense of security.

Source: Milliman, April 2011.

Small Business Guide to Automatic Enrollment 401k Plans

Summary: Do you want a retirement plan that provides a high level of participation and makes it easy for you to withhold employee contributions and select the investments for those contributions? Then you may want to consider an automatic enrollment 401k plan. This tutorial provides an overview of such 401k plans.

Source: Learnthat.com, December 2010.

Raising the Bar: Pumping Up Retirement Savings

Summary: While progress has been made in helping people save, particularly via automatic enrollment and contribution escalation programs, this research report shows strong evidence that by adjusting the implementation of these features and influencing certain employee actions, plan sponsors can materially improve retirement outcomes for all employees.

Source: Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association , October 2010.

The Impact of Auto-enrollment and Automatic Contribution Escalation on Retirement Income Adequacy

Summary: This new study finds that auto-enrollment and auto-contribution escalation in 401k plans -- depending on how they're implemented and used -- can result in a big improvement in retirement savings, especially for low-income workers.

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute , October 2010.

Sample Plan Amendments for Adding 401k Automatic Contribution Features

Summary: The IRS has issued two sample plan amendments in IRS Notice 2009-65 that will enable employers to add automatic contribution features to their 401k plans. Sample Amendment One may be used to add an automatic contribution arrangement to a 401k plan. Sample Amendment Two may be used to add an eligible automatic contribution arrangement (authorizing withdrawals of elective deferrals) to a 401k plan.

Source: CCH, September 2009.

The Business Case for 401k Automatic Enrollment

Summary: Companies using automatic 401ks have seen employee participation rates soar (often to well above 90%) and especially among lower-income and minority workers who are too often left behind. They have found there are at least three sound business reasons for using automatic enrollment.

Source: Retirementmadesimpler.org, November 2008.

Proposed Rules and Sample Notice Regarding Automatic Enrollment Arrangements

Summary: An overview of these increasingly popular arrangements, as they helped employers increase participation in 401k plans and other programs, and provided a way to encourage employees to save for their retirement.

Source: Dechert LLP , December 2007.

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