Retirement plan sponsors have tried to make it easy for employees to participate in their plans and save enough for retirement and their efforts appear to be paying off.

Automatic enrollment, auto increase, the easing of restrictions on who can join a plan and when, immediate plan matching, managed accounts, fund rebalancing, individual counseling and mobile retirement apps have all contributed to higher retirement plan participation rates from 2013 to 2014.

Plan sponsor efforts, “supported by a stable, growing economy and steady job market, translated to positive trends in the defined contribution world,” said Deloitte in its 2015 Deloitte Defined Contribution Benchmarking Survey.

Also see: Are DB plans really more cost-effective than DC plans?

The majority of plan sponsors, 60%, believe that high plan participation is an indicator of the success of their retirement plan. Deloitte found that employee participation rates, while slightly lower than in 2013-2014, still remain fairly high at 75%.

Average account balances grew in 2015 to $99,011, up 4% from $95,227 in 2013-14, the Deloitte survey found.

Deferral percentages also went up this year. For non-highly compensated workers, the median actual deferral percentage was 5.9% compared to 5.2% last year. For highly compensated employees, the average deferral was 7% compared to 6.9% a year ago.

Deloitte chalked the advances up to a renewed employer focus on employee engagement.

“One clear message from surveys over the last several years is that there is no single answer to the employee engagement question. Aligned with this reality is the data point that 34% of employers view lack of awareness or understanding as the primary reason employees do not participate,” Deloitte said in its report.

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In the survey, plan sponsors resoundingly said that automatic enrollment has had a positive effect on the average contribution rate, plan participation rate and participant awareness.

Automatic escalation is also helping boost employee engagement, Deloitte found, with 62% of plans using the feature, up from 46% the prior year.

More plans have eliminated service requirements to allow more employees to take advantage of the retirement savings plan, with 66% saying they have no service requirements for plan entry compared to 62% last year. Forty-nine percent say they have no requirements, up from 42% last year.

 A higher percentage of plan sponsors are allowing employees to be fully vested in their employer match immediately upon joining the retirement plan, with 43% saying they allow full vesting up from 32% in 2013-14.

“It is clear that organizations are increasingly providing a valued incentive for newly hired employees, smoothing the path for getting them engaged in retirement savings,” Deloitte said.

Also see: Employer involvement in 401(k) drives employee engagement

Many employers are not comfortable with managing an investment portfolio so they have begun to offer some new options like managed accounts.

More than one-third of plans offered managed accounts, according to the survey, which allow employees “to choose a professional manager to take the driver’s seat and make investment decisions in line with the individual’s objectives and risk tolerance,” Deloitte found.

Fund rebalancing is another way in which employees can remain hands-off with their accounts. They can choose the investments they want and their accounts will automatically rebalance to the original investment percentages chosen by the plan participant as the market swings up or down.

Deloitte found that 72% of plan providers offer fund rebalancing, up from 67% in 2013-14.

Also see: Plan sponsors consider 401(k) reviews

Most employers participating in the survey don’t believe their employees are saving enough for retirement. With that in mind, 89% of employers said their top priority is providing the right investment options to help their employees achieve their retirement goals; 86% want to improve participant education; and 8% believe retirement readiness is the top priority.

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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