How to Best Partner with Plan Sponsors as They Renew Focus on 401(k)s

April 15, 2021
Author: Sonia Davis

After a year spent riding out the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are awakening from a relatively quiet period of making changes and enhancements to their company’s retirement plans. As DC plan sponsors renew their attention to offering the most competitive 401(k)s, understanding their inner motivations and overall mindset has never been more critical. Luckily, with our 2021 Retirement Planscape report slated to release in May, Cogent Syndicated is ready to tackle your most pressing questions.

In fact, after hearing our clients struggle to figure out the best ways to support plan sponsors with normal in-person meetings on hold, this year we specifically asked:

“What is the best way for providers to demonstrate they care about your organization and its plan participants as the pandemic continues? Using your own words, please describe how firms can become better partners on a virtual basis.”

These plan sponsor verbatims will help providers better service existing clients and differentiate themselves in front of prospects, even if the final sales presentation is happening via Zoom.

In a refresh of the annual report we conducted in Q3 2020, we asked a smaller sample of plan sponsors what actions they had taken so far in response to the pandemic. Despite frequent discussions on the topic, only a small percentage of employers reduced or suspended their contribution matches at the aggregate level.

But how did plan sponsors adjust in the tumultuous fourth quarter as they entered yet another year of uncertainty? As we face continued disruption, this year’s study will continue to track the actions plan sponsors are taking as a result of the pandemic, including the types of information shared with participants (COVID-19 impacts, market updates and emergency savings resources) and sources plan sponsors rely on for guidance (plan advisors, provider reps and online resources). And we’ll provide an in-depth look at plan sponsors’ confidence in the global economy and outlook for the US economy.

The report also quantifies the myriad of changes made at the corporate level including the elimination of fees for hardship withdrawals and loans, salary reductions, suspension and reductions to the employer contribution match, as well as future plans to restore employer matching and/or make catch-up contributions.

We’ll highlight all the positive actions plan sponsors have taken to help participants weather the storm by tracking the expansion of financial wellness programs, increased access to different types of participant advice models (retirement plan advisors, company service reps, automated advice, etc.) and introduction of emergency savings accounts (ESAs) allowing automatic deposits through payroll deductions. Last year’s refresh found that to assuage widespread financial anxiety spurred by the pandemic, employers increased participant access to both investment advice and financial wellness programs. With the pandemic lingering far longer than any of us would like, are these offerings sustainable? Have plan sponsors adjusted or added to the support they’re giving to their participants?

We’re also excited to explore plan sponsor interest and motivations for joining multiple and pooled employer plans and to assess plan sponsor interest in the new, tax-free student loan benefit under the CARES Act.

Retirement Planscape tracks the competitive landscape; strengths and weaknesses in key brand equity metrics, perceptions, and loyalty; and satisfaction ratings for the leading 32 DC plan providers and 44 DC plan investment managers. Click below for more information.

Learn More

Sonia Davis
Senior Product Director, Cogent Syndicated

Sonia is a senior product director for Cogent Syndicated with more than 12 years of market research experience. She has managed numerous qualitative and quantitative studies in financial services industry research, as well as the hospitality, consumer packaged goods and retail sectors. Prior to Escalent, Sonia served as a community manager for C Space, a public relations specialist for Putnam Investments and as a staff reporter for Community Newspaper Company. Sonia earned an MBA from Boston University School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Simmons College. She’s a proud finisher of the rainiest Boston Marathon on record (2018), but truly enjoys triathlon training and outdoor adventures with her black lab.