It may not have made its way to your desk calendar like Grandparents' Day or Administrative Professionals' Day but ... today is indeed National 401(k) Day.
But rather than a Times Square tickertape parade or a Ryan Seacrest-hosted live TV extravaganza, the celebrations for this industry inspired and by all accounts low-key ceremonial day are the kinds of things retirement advisors and plan sponsors should be doing every working day of the year. The Plan Sponsor Council of America even has its own website and domain for the day, www.401kday.org.
2012 has certainly been one of the most high-profile years in history for the humble 401(k), with news of the new fee disclosures even making it to the mainstream media, but today and every day should be an opporunity to reinforce those messages and help participants understand the value of actively taking part in their own retirement.
Because, as we've seen in a few years of rollercoaster investment values, a continued low-speed economic recovery and the ongoing freezing of DB plans as a steadfast option for American workers - not to mention the cloudy picture for Social Security's long-term viability - getting workers to get involved in their 401(k) or 403(b) will be crucial to their long-term success.
The fee disclosure angle has certainly created a bit of extra buzz for the whole notion of defined contribution workplace retirement savings plans, but everyone is aware - employees especially - that simply offering a 401(k) or similar program at a workplace and then not saying anything about it or doing anything to encourage participants to be actively involved, does little to further employee participation.
The upside to fee disclosure may in fact be a moment, probably later this fall, where employees at long last actually open their 401(k) statements and ponder the costs associated with their accounts.
Depending on the expression on their faces, it's also the moment when the retirement community can get involved - you'll either be hearing from human resources managers beset by angry participants, or you might get a proactive inquiry from those who are interested in looking for new and better opportunities for helping their participants make better returns.
There may also be some folks who are now genuinely interested in actively managing the money in their accounts - this year's returns haven't been great, but they're not the horrorshow of two or three years ago - and that's a great opportunity to provide education and encouragement.
The latter is the most important. For many employees - I consider myself among this group - the 401(k) option exists but is given the same weight at a workplace as group life insurance or that Worker's Comp placard in the lunchroom. You know it's there, you understand it might be important at some point, but you mostly ignore it.
Sadly, as federal-level retirement benefits are most assuredly not going to cover anything but the most basic of needs for Americans 20 or 30 years down the road, employees who are indifferent to their own retirement savings will be very unhappy about that in the future. Contributing more than just a little (or getting the contributions started again if they've held off during hard times) is indeed very important, but if nobody's telling them that, the concept is not going anywhere.
You know the drill. In the meantime, a variety of insurers and organizations have done the homework for you and can provide a pile of resources to try to bang that message home, today or ... every day in the future.
Both ING and Principal Financial Group have developed some of their own materials; any carrier you work with will have plenty of additional, standalone material that will be appropriate for any participant group.