Participation, contributions climb in 403(b) plans

Survey also finds growing interest in financial wellness programs.

Organizations that sponsor 403(b) plans reported growth in plan participation and contribution rates, according to the 11th annual 403(b) plan survey from the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA). The survey, which is sponsored by Principal Financial Group®, reported increased contributions by both participants and organizations continued to have a positive impact on retirement readiness. Supporting those developments, the survey found a strong interest in financial wellness programs.

“These 403(b) programs are offered by an exceptionally diverse group of employers, both in size and workforce composition, and this year’s survey reflects both the diversity in designs alongside a number of consistent encouraging trends to help workers prepare for a successful retirement,” notes Hattie Greenan, director of research and communications at PSCA.

PSCA’s 2019 403(b) Plan Survey, based on responses from nearly 600 non-profit organizations across the U.S., is the only independent 403(b) research report that delivers actionable data on trends among plan sponsors in the non-profit sector.

Top trends

  • Increased average contributions promoting retirement readiness  
    • Plan sponsor contributions up to 5.5%, from 4.7%
    • Participants now contribute 6.6% of pay, up from 6.3%
  • Retirement advisors needed
    • Nearly half (46.6%) don’t currently work with one
  • Financial wellness programs gaining momentum
    • A quarter (26.7%) already have a formal plan in place; nearly half (47%) have plans or interest in implementing one

Higher, better participation

Plan sponsor contribution rates rose in the last year to an average of 5.5% of pay (up from 4.7% a year ago), and more workers benefited sooner from those contributions as the number of organizations offering immediate eligibility also rose. The survey also found an increase in participant contributions, now an average of 6.6% of pay, and responding employers noted a remarkably robust 81% rate of participation. Combined, employer and employee contributions average over 12% of pay. Plan design features like automatic enrollment, currently in place at 1 in 5 (21.8%) responding organizations, encourage higher participation and contributions. More than a third of those plans (37.7%) use a default deferral rate higher than 3%.

“It’s encouraging to see the increased engagement evidenced by higher contribution and participation rates,” said Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and income solutions at Principal. “Plan sponsors have taken the lead by increasing contributions and adapting plan designs to encourage more participation, which not only improves retirement readiness but also serves as a differentiator in a tight labor market.”

Fiduciary focus

The survey, which has previously noted an increased emphasis on fiduciary responsibility by plan sponsors, found that a growing number rely on the use of an investment policy statement (IPS). More than 60% of plans have one in place, a 40% increase over the past decade.

“An investment policy statement is one of the best ways to demonstrate the related fiduciary responsibility which has become increasingly important in the current heightened regulatory environment,” said Vandermillen. “Working with a financial advisor or consultant who specializes in retirement plans can have a big impact on putting the right documentation in place, overcoming fiduciary concerns and helping ensure the plan and participants achieve goals.” 

Yet, nearly half of the organizations surveyed do not currently work with a retirement plan advisor. Another 4 in 10 indicate they aren’t yet evaluating whether their plan is meeting its goals, an area where advisors and consultants can help. 

Healthy interest in financial wellness programs

Responding to a new question in this year’s survey, a quarter of organizations already have a financial wellness program in place and nearly half (47%) have plans or interest in implementing one in the future.

“While workers in the non-profit sector have always had a strong commitment to their profession and its mission, it’s exciting to see growing interest by their employers in helping those workers take better care of their financial well-being,” notes Greenan.  “It’s an emerging best practice, and one that stands to benefit both workers and their employers.”

News Release Contact

Retirement Plans

Hillary Carlson, 515-878-1460
Lonnetta Ragland, 515-878-1504

About the PSCA 403(b) Plan Sponsor Survey

PSCA, part of the American Retirement Association, conducted its tenth annual survey of 403(b) plan sponsors in the spring of 2019. The survey received responses from 580 non-profit organizations that currently sponsor a 403(b) plan for employees and range in size and industry from small community-based organizations to large hospital and university systems. For more information, visit 2019 403(b) Survey Report

About the Plan Sponsor Council of America

The Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) is a diverse, collaborative community of employee benefit plan sponsors, working together on behalf of millions of employees to solve real problems, create positive change, and expand on the success of the employer-sponsored retirement system. With members representing employers of all sizes, we offer a forum for comprehensive dialogue. By sharing our collective knowledge and experience as plan sponsors, PSCA also serves as a resource to policymakers, the media and other stakeholders as part of our commitment to improving retirement security for millions of Americans.

About Principal®

Principal helps people and companies around the world build, protect and advance their financial well-being through retirement, insurance and asset management solutions that fit their lives. Our employees are passionate about helping clients of all income and portfolio sizes achieve their goals—offering innovative ideas, investment expertise and real-life solutions to make financial progress possible. To find out more, visit us at principal.com.

Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Co. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., 800-547-7754, member SIPC and/or independent broker-dealers. Principal Life, and Principal Securities are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, Iowa 50392.

PSCA is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group.

Principal, Principal and symbol design and Principal Financial Group are trademarks and service marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a member of the Principal Financial Group.