Cost-related concerns continue to hamper the decision to offer retirement plans, especially among small businesses. According to a new Transamerica study, of the companies that currently don’t offer a retirement plan 74 percent indicate they’re “not at all likely” to offer a plan in the near future – a dramatic jump from 43 percent the prior year.

A positive, however, is that nearly half of employers (49 percent) that responded to the 11th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey expect their company’s financial situation to improve over the next 12 months, compared to only 29 percent in the year prior. More than 80 percent of companies reported they now offer a 401(k) or similar employee funded plan, up from 78 percent the previous year.

“Increasing access to a 401(k) or similar plan for workers, including small business and part-time workers, continues to be an area of major opportunity,” says Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Our corresponding study of workers clarifies the broader influence workplace retirement plans have on an employee’s overall retirement preparedness. Even just the presence of a basic plan can significantly impact savings. With the many cost effective options available to employers, it is imperative that all companies examine how they can offer these benefits to their employees.”

Adoption of key retirement plan features

Nearly half of employers expect their financial situation to improve within the next 12 months. However, the Transamerica study found employers are reluctant to make significant changes, like adding or enhancing key plans features.

Of those employers that offer a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, 27 percent made changes – a change in investment selections was the most common, and saw the most significant increase from the year prior (48 percent versus 38 percent previously).

However, adoption rates of some key plan features have stalled:

  • Auto-enrollment and escalation: Twenty-seven percent of employers automatically enroll employees into their company sponsored retirement plan, up slightly from 24 percent the previous year. Large companies (43 percent) remain much more likely than small companies (25 percent) to automatically enroll employees. Of employers that do not automatically enroll their employees, most (84 percent) do not plan to in the future.
  • Advice and Guidance: Nearly all employers (93 percent) believe they give employees the right information to make decisions about their retirement plan. However, there was no change in the percentage of employers offering investment advice/guidance (58 percent). Among those not offering advice, 88 percent do not plan to in the near future. Of note, significantly more employers are citing potential liability as a reason for not offering advice than the year prior (48 percent vs. 35 percent previously).
  • Roth 401(k): Nearly one-quarter of employers offer a Roth 401(k) or similar option, consistent with the previous year. Roth adoption also remains relatively equal among small and large employers. Almost 8 in 10 employers that don’t currently offer a Roth option don’t plan to in the near future, with more than one-third of those citing lack of employee interest.
  • An Annuity as a Distribution Option: Just over one-quarter (26 percent) of employers offer an income annuity as a distribution option for retiring employees in their plan, up slightly from 24 percent the prior year.

Confidence about workers’ ability to save is waning

Nearly four in five employers agree that the employees at their company do not know as much as they should about retirement investing, while fewer than half agree that their employees are very involved in monitoring and managing their retirement savings. Additionally, three-quarters of employers believe their employees could work until age 65 and still not have enough saved to meet their needs in retirement, while only 53 percent are confident in their employees’ ability to achieve a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.

“Most employers understand that these plans are important to their employees and are key retention tools,” says Collinson. “By adding a retirement plan – or enhancing existing retirement benefits with automatic features, investment advice, and retirement income options – employers can increase their impact in helping their employees prepare for a secure retirement.”