Originally posted August 28, 2013 by Robert C. Lawton on https://ebn.benefitnews.com

Participants can be their own worst enemies. Shlomo Benartzi, a leading authority on behavioral finance, has identified the following three obstacles that plan sponsors need to overcome to propel participants successfully down the road to retirement readiness:

1. Inertia

Plan sponsors are probably most familiar with employee inertia. The incorporation of “auto” features — auto-enrollment, auto-escalation and auto re-enrollment — into 401(k) plans, along with the addition of professionally managed investment options like target-date funds, can successfully address employee inertia. Vanguard and The Newport Group report that approximately one-third of the 401(k) plans they administer have auto features. Experts believe that within three to five years the majority of 401(k) plans will adopt these plan design elements.

2. Loss aversion

Loss aversion may be characterized as valuing the avoidance of loss over the accrual of gains. In other words, participants are more afraid of losing money than they are of not having enough money (as a result of investing too conservatively). In order to overcome this obstacle plan sponsors need to offer target-date funds. Most experts believe that 75% to 85% of all plan participants should be invested in target-date funds. When left on their own, participants tend to invest too conservatively to keep pace with inflation, or they are prone to attempt to market time, resulting in significant losses.

Model or lifestyle portfolios aren’t a solution here since employee inertia comes into play. Both of these types of professionally managed investment options require a positive employee election to move to more conservative options over time. Target-date funds do not require any employee interaction since the investment manager adjusts the risk level of the portfolio as time goes by.

3. Myopia

Myopia is the hardest factor to overcome. Participants have a tendency to focus on immediate, short-term goals rather than planning for their future. Many participants view the process of saving as difficult and not worthwhile. For example, they may feel that they will be too old to ever enjoy their savings, or they may believe they will pass away before they are able to retire. Regardless of the reason, participants are not eager to fund a future they have a difficult time envisioning. Employee education is the only effective tool to fight myopia.

Plan sponsors who adopt these plan design, investment and employee education elements have a much better chance of seeing their participants achieve retirement readiness.