Opposing Views on Automated Features By: Gabriel PotterMBA, AIFA®

This issue of Confero focuses on the advantages of automated features. It would be remiss of us not to include at least some mention of the costs or potential disadvantages of automated features for a retirement plan. We have heard from a few consultants and plan sponsors that have had a less than ideal experience using automated plan features. We would like to share a recent Q & A session with consultant John Edwards working at Ivy Wealth Management. The conversation highlights the risk of using substandard service providers when adopting automatic features.

Q: Thanks for letting us speak with you and get an opposing viewpoint.

A: No problem. I would just like to state for the record that I am neither for nor against auto-enrollment. I think it depends on the situation and the company demographics.

Q: Tell us the story. You’ve had some bad experiences with auto-enrollment. Can you tell us about it? 

A: Sure, it was a startup plan that happened to be with one of the payroll providers. I think it came down to their process [the payroll provider] not being as good as it could have been. The person who worked for the original payroll provider who was supposed to be receiving the enrollment forms and a lot of these were supposed to be negative-election enrollment forms because of the demographics of the employee base. We were sending the forms to him, and that person left, his boss left, and it all happened during the enrollment period. We were stuck with a lot of people that were automatically enrolled in the plan who didn’t want to be. 

I guess in my experience, it really depends on the demographics of the employee group and what they look like, if they’re going to participate. It created that much more of a nightmare over the course of the next six months as people realized they were automatically enrolled into the plan, and they wanted their money out. 

Q: Was there something special about this demographic group and the committee should have known they wouldn’t be as interested in retirement?

A: It was a lot of younger employees with a high turnover. 

Q: Do think engaging the younger demographics to think about retirement would have helped? Or do you think that there’s no way to have engaged them, even if auto-enroll been in the employees’ best interest?

A: It’s very tough to engage these guys. A handful do get it – the ones who ask questions when you go out to do education and positively enroll during the enrollment process. But everyone else, because of the wage-scale they’re on – I think for a lot of them, it’s one of their first jobs out of college – they don’t fully understand what they should be doing. 

Maybe part of that goes back to the fact, when I went through college, that there were zero courses taught on money, planning, personal finance, or how to deal with any of that. I think it’s just part of people growing up and unfortunately they have to teach themselves rather than get taught.

Q: So, what happened? Did the plan sponsor turn off auto-enrollment? 

A: No, they still have it. Some of the younger employees have set their contribution rate to 0%. Some of them actually, during that 60 day window they had, pulled their retirement contributions out. Since then, we haven’t had a whole lot of new employees that have been auto-enrolled.

Q: How is the plan sponsor addressing this for new employees?

A: Part of the hiring process now is informing everyone about the auto-enrollment form and they take care of it. The plan sponsor has also since changed their payroll provider too.

Q: Maybe a takeaway idea: if we’re going to use auto-enroll, the extra education needs to be there for the younger demographics to tell them, “this is happening and it’s in your best interest”.

A: Everyone understood what was supposed to happen. It’s just that the original payroll provider dropped the ball - big time.

Gabriel Potter

Gabriel is a Senior Investment Research Associate at Westminster Consulting, where he is responsible for designing strategic asset allocations and conducts proprietary market research.

An avid writer, Gabriel manages the firm’s blog and has been published in the Journal of Compensation and Benefits,...

More about Gabriel Potter
Sign up for our Newsletter

More Articles From This Issue

Sign up for our Newsletter