Retirement Income Participant Interest Surveys: A Contrarian View

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Retirement income products can serve an important purpose as a participant investment option for retirement plans. Surveys gauging participant interest in these options may be open to interpretation, especially when the survey is conducted by a retirement income vendor.

A survey conducted by the well-known and respected JP Morgan gauged participant interest for a retirement income product that could be meaningful to many retirement plan participants. Retirement income vendors have increased marketing efforts for their retirement income product bolstered in part by employee surveys affirming interest. It is prudent for plan sponsors to look critically at survey conclusions when evaluating potential benefits of any new product for your retirement plan participants.

The JP Morgan survey conclusions are similar to those of others.1

1. “There is notable variability in participants’ expected retirement age and style. The mean age when respondents expect to retire is 64.7, with 51% planning a gradual move into full retirement.”

“Notable variability” in participant expected retirement ages is not surprising. Many plans have average employee age well under 40. Younger employees may often hope to retire early without careful evaluation of financial planning targets. Some may have done considerable research while others may just be hoping or guessing. Plan sponsors may not find this particularly helpful. The mean expected retirement age of 64.7 is not surprising and not specifically supportive of annuitization.

2. “Most are concerned about outliving their money and unsure about how much they need to save for retirement. Nearly 7 out of 10 respondents are concerned about outliving their money in retirement.”

Again, this conclusion is expected and understandable as 7 out of 10 (at least) should be concerned about outliving their retirement. Also, there is little difference between uncertainty of how much they need to save for retirement in lump sum or lifetime income as an annuity can always be purchased at point of retirement, if they so choose. “Dollar cost averaging” into annuities (rather than a single sum purchase) however may be beneficial as annuity rates change over time as does life expectancy.

3. “Many would welcome a post-retirement income option in their plan. A large majority of respondents (85%) say that they would likely leave their balances in their plans post retirement if there was an option to help generate monthly retirement income.”

Again, no surprise here. Most participants would probably agree that a lifelong retirement income would be a good thing. Even assuming a relatively significant $1 million account balance, the typical retirement income fund would only generate $23,800 in annual income. (https://www.morningstar.com/articles/958275/what-are-retirement-income-funds-do-you-need-one)

At first glance the above survey conclusions may reflect an implied interest by participants for a retirement income option, however evidence of impending substantial deferral commitments is uncertain.

The question becomes how many participants would actually select to defer into a retirement income option, and at what percentage of their total deferral amount? Considering the proliferation of articles on plan interest in adopting retirement income options the actual adoption rate is not as high as expected, and little is available substantiating the significant utilization of these options by participants.

This does not mean that these options may not thrive in the future. On the contrary, they may certainly be appropriate for retirement plans. Consider the similarity with auto-enrollment, when first offered, was met with less than tepid acceptance and now it is ubiquitous among retirement plans. And for very good reason.

Sources

1Additional JP Morgan survey information can be found at https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/adv/insights/retirement-insights/defined-contribution/plan-participant-survey/post-retirement-plans