Employers are taking a more active role in helping prepare their employees for retirement, boosting their 401(k) employer matches and default contribution savings rates for employees.
"With more workers falling short of their retirement savings needs, employers are being more aggressive about making plan design changes that will help workers close the savings gap," says Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt. "While these tweaks to the plan may seem small, they can have a profound impact on workers' ultimate retirement wealth."
Aon surveyed 360 employers, representing more than 10 million employees, to find out how seriously they are taking their workers’ retirement readiness.
Employers have upped their 401(k) match in the past two years, said Aon, with 42% of companies surveyed saying they match employee contributions dollar for dollar, up from 31% in 2013 and 25% in 2011. Before 2013, the average match formula was 50 cents on the dollar.
Automatic enrollment has received the bulk of the attention when it comes to what employers are doing to help workers save, and most companies are defaulting their employees in at a higher rate than they have in the past.
Aon’s survey found that 52% of employers automatically enroll workers at a savings rate of 4% or more, up from 39% in 2013. It also found that more than half of employers default workers at or above the company match threshold, nearly 10 percentage points higher than two years ago.
Most companies only use automatic enrollment for new hires, but Aon found that 16% of employers are back sweeping, or automatically enrolling employees who previously opted not to enroll in the plan. That is double the amount that implemented back sweeping in 2013.
Automatic escalation has also gained in popularity. In 2015, two-thirds of companies set the escalation rate at 10% or more, Aon found. In 2013, about half of companies escalated to 6% or less.
Retirement industry research shows that individuals need to save 10% to 15% of their salary a year to ensure a decent retirement, yet until a couple of years ago, companies were defaulting employees into their retirement plans at a mild 3% contribution rate.
Over the last two years, the percentage of companies who default at 6% has doubled from 14% to 27%, according to Aon. 72 percent of plans offer immediate eligibility for employee contributions, up from 51% in 2005, and 52% have immediate eligibility for the employer match, up from 38% in 2005.
Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.
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