There has been plenty to worry about over the past year-and-a-half. With the virus, the lockdowns, the economy, and all the illness, it is not surprising that many have placed 401(k) plans and retirement savings on the sidelines until things calm down.
While the pandemic is still in the news, the economy is moving forward again as businesses regain their traction, so this fall may be a good time to either dust off those existing retirement plans or to consider establishing one. After all, employers are going to need them if they want to keep employees and recruit new ones in today’s tight labor market.
If there is one thing that I have missed the most during the pandemic, it has been getting out and talking with employees and employers about their plans. I love to educate employees about why retirement savings is so vital, and I like to encourage businesses to establish plans and to make 401(k) education a priority.
For employers, retirement plans are living, breathing entities that require continuous maintenance and management. While retirement plans hold vast savings opportunity for employees, there are many options and important decisions to be made, even for those with existing accounts.
Many successful retirement plans are managed through a team of partners composed of company representatives along with an independent fiduciary adviser, and an investment platform provider, such as Fidelity or Empower. Some teams also have an independent third-party administrator.
And once the team is up and running, its members must be in continuous communication to ensure that no aspect of the plan gets overlooked or is mismanaged, creating a system of checks and balances that protect employees and employers.
If it’s been a few years since you had your plan design reviewed, now may be a good time to go through the process. Businesses should look at features such as auto-enroll and Roth contributions. They might also consider a safe-harbor match, which is a form of mandatory employer contribution to employee retirement accounts.
Next, employers should consider forming a retirement plan committee, consisting of a few C-level executives, a manager or two, and a general employee. These committees meet to consider employee concerns and feedback, review their investment policy, and manage other internal functions.
Employees who have never had a 401(k) plan should remember to start small and build from there, and they should make sure they understand the company match, if it is offered. When companies match contributions, it can be a tremendous benefit, so employees should contribute enough to earn the full match.
For those who already have a 401(k) plan, there may still be work to do. They should consider signing up for the auto-increase feature, which automatically increases an employee’s annual contribution by a specific percentage point. For example, an employee could have their contribution increased by 1% on Jan. 1 of every year.
For employees who are novice investors or are simply too busy to keep up with the day-to-day dynamics of the financial markets, there is an array of target-date funds available to help keep retirement investors on track. These funds consider the investor’s age and years until retirement, and they adjust their asset mix over time, moving into less risky asset classes as retirement nears.
So, as the storm clouds of 2020 clear, it may be time to refocus on the future of our businesses, the future of our employees and to remember that retirement savings programs deliver solid returns for both.