A 401(k) plan sponsor or a financial advisor who has been following our blog series, understands these best practices: 1) offering managed risk equities within the investment fund options, and 2) providing a lifelong asset allocation tool with explicit, age-appropriate risk management. In addition, the plan sponsor as fiduciary must monitor fund performance and expenses on behalf of the participants. With all of this in place, why would you encourage retirees to exit the 401(k) plan right when they need these services the most? Isn’t the point of all of this to provide a sustainable income stream for participants embarking on their retirement journey?
As a third best practice, we would suggest that plan sponsors include an installment payment provision in their plan documents that allows retirees to use their account balance as a source of retirement income. Generally, participants are encouraged to roll their account balances into retail IRAs, or perhaps to purchase some form of annuity to guarantee a minimum income level needed to support their living expenses. However, the employer sponsored retirement plan offers significant benefits some other options cannot. First, it provides a seamless approach for their preretirement and postretirement investment strategy. The retiree continues to access a familiar website and call center and there are no new, complex insurance contracts to understand or purchase. The retiree retains flexibility and the control of his or her own assets, and does so with institutional investment expenses, which are generally lower. Finally, the entire account balance passes to the designated beneficiary upon the death of the retiree.
This solution offers benefits to the plan sponsor as well. Additional assets remaining in the plan provide economies of scale for investment and administration costs, and any additional costs may be borne by the retiree accounts. And, in a way, this feature facilitates an experience similar to defined benefit (DB) retirees, which may be especially meaningful when a plan sponsor freezes and/or terminates a pension plan in favor of an enhanced 401(k) or defined contribution (DC) program.
We cannot forget about the 401(k) providers, like the recordkeeper and the investment advisor. Servicing retirees through the plan can be a win for them as well, since the relationship with the participants continues, as do the economies of scale that keep plan expenses down. This opens the opportunity to expand the services specifically aimed at retirees, such as:
• Targeted education and communications focused on retiree needs
• Direct interaction with retirees for change of name, address, benefit amount, and status
• Expanded website tools and call center services to provide broader services
• Assistance with projections of sustainable withdrawal rates and probability of success
• Final account settlement services upon the passing of the retiree
Offering an installment payment provision in the 401(k) plan and continuing to fully service the retirees through the plan offers a win-win-win solution for participants, plan sponsors, and providers. That is Step 3 for a winning retirement solution.