401(k) Plans: A Tale of Unrequited Love

The 401(k) plan has disappointed many largely because the financial industry has treated in like a cash cow rather than an employee benefit. The 401(k) plan can be very successful by treated it more like a pension fund. Allowing participants to choose their own investments without ehlp will lead to disaster. A prudent portfolio requires a strategy and discipline. Remember Wall Street makes money when people trade. They feed fear by marketing the next great product or asset class. Your portfolio is like a bar of soap the more you touch it the smaller it gets.

So, that should mean companies could score big wins in the areas of hiring and retention by giving employeesbetter-than-average retirement benefits. Right? “I don’t think so,” said Daniels. “Even though people often say retirement is important to them, they don’t attend to their accounts very well. They’re behaviorally wired that way. It’s this long-deferred event in the future. Immediate gratification seems to be the most important thing.”All of that seems on the money to me. But there are other opinions, such as that of Bill McClain, the lead 401(k) consultant at Towers Watson’s main competitor, Mercer. There is some evidence that when employees are worried about their finances, their engagement level, productivity, and loyalty to employer all decline, McClain told me. There’s also the issue of workforce management: People who can’t afford to retire cost the company money, because health-care expenses increase with age. Prudent succession planning might be affected as well.

Perhaps if there was a way to reward executives on long term results rather than this quarters financial statement retirement plans would be given their just due. A quality retirement plan can attract and retain top employees long term. This is true only is you communicate its value.

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