US firms having to work hard to get people to sign up for pensions

Feb 02 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

The stubborn reluctance – or inability - of many Americans to put enough money aside for their retirement is forcing more employers to cajole and encourage workers into joining their company pension plans.

American workers remain wedded to a "live for today" mentality when it comes to retirement planning, in the process forcing employers into ever more drastic measures to get them to sign up to occupational pension plans.

A study by HR consultancy Hewitt Associates has found employers less confident than ever in the ability or willingness of their employees to save enough for their retirement.

As a result, many companies are taking a closer look at their retirement programmes this year, with many putting in place more "hand-holding" initiatives such as automatic enrolment, where an employee actively has to opt-out of a scheme rather than actively sign up.

Its poll of 146 large U.S companies reported that many were likely to reassess their retirement plans in the coming year, with almost four out of 10 looking at how competitive their programme was and more than a third re-assessing its design.

A key trend, Hewitt found, was companies having to becoming more proactive in their efforts to educate workers about the benefits of signing up for a pension in the first place.

More than half of the firms polled said they would be automatically enrolling employees into pension plans by the end of the year, and a third already linking, or set to link, automatic enrolment to escalating contributions.

More than half said they were also offering, or planning to offer, investment guidance to their workers, so giving them better direction on their investment decisions.

"Recent legislative and financial developments, coupled with rising cost pressures, are causing many employers to reassess their retirement programmes to ensure they are aligned with business objectives and have the appropriate impact on employee engagement and satisfaction, the ability to attract and retain new workers and on workforce productivity," said Pamela Hess, Hewitt Associates director of retirement research.

"At the same time, companies remain sceptical about employees' abilities to take accountability for their own retirement future, and as a result, they will continue to take more aggressive steps to equip workers with tools that help improve their saving and investing habits," she added.

Almost a fifth of those that already offered automatic enrolment said they planned to increase the default contribution rate.

A similar proportion planned to extend automatic enrolment to additional classifications of workers, the poll added