As employers increasingly focus on how to make benefit plans more effective and getemployees to participate, some best practices could offeropportunities to do just that.

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That’s according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Plan WellnessScorecard, a semiannual report that looks at trends in employeebehaviors and employers’ adoption of plan features.

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Among the trends identified in the latest study is growth inboth pretax (401(k) and health savings accounts) and Roth 401(k)accounts, with Roths reaping “particularly strong growth.” Thenumber of contributors to the latter, the study said, increased by38 percent while total contributions were up by 32 percent.

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HSA enrollment is growing as well, with the number of accountsup by 47 percent in 2015, total assets under management also up 47percent and average cash balances up 42 percent.

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What may be most important to employers are the best practices thatare successful in driving employee participation and contributionrates. Here’s a look at the 7 best practices the reportidentified.

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Photo: Getty

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Enrolling all employees, rather than just new hires, isimportant (photo: Getty)

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1. Enrollment of all employees.

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Companies are increasingly turning to enrollment of allemployees, . In 2015, automatic enrollment of all employees was uprather than just catching new hires as they enter the companyby 24percent.

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That’s certainly a step in the right direction, since someexperts are calling for auto-enrollment in a workplace retirementplan to be made mandatory.

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Photo: AP

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Don't make employees stumble over retirement plan decisions(photo: AP)

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2. Make enrollment easier.

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One reason people simply don’t follow through on enrollment in aretirement plan can be all those decisions they have tomake—everything from how much to save to how to invest themoney.

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The National Bureau of Economic Research has suggestedthat one stumbling block to people’s participation in retirementplans is the enrollment process itself, where a “menu of investmentoptions” can be “so complicated as to discourage enrollment.”

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BAML reported that its own simplified enrollment solution,Express Enrollment, “showed an employee enrollment rate of 76percent, compared to 53 percent that enrolled through a traditionalmethod.”

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Photo: Getty

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Automatic enrollment and automatic escalation can help savemore Benjamins (photo: Getty)

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3. Combine automatic features.

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If they work well alone, they could work better together:building on automatic enrollment by adding in automatic escalationof contribution can result in participants saving more moneywithout having to think about it.

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This is particularly important since many who are auto-enrollednever bother to increase their contributions—and the default rateis not high enough to prepare employees for retirement. Butmany plan sponsors feel thatauto-escalation will make plans more expensive to run—and ratherthan plan for it, they opt not to incur the potential extraexpense.

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The study found, however, that of the 47 percent of plans nowusing auto-enrollment, 85 percent do combine it withauto-escalation. That combination approach was up 39 percent in2015 from 2014.

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Photo: Getty

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Higher default contribution rates will help employees in thelong run (photo: Getty)

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4. Increase default contribution rates.

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Automatic enrollment plans with higher default contributionrates, the survey found, saw higher rates of participation,reaching as high as 88 percent for plans with a 10 percent defaultrate in 2015.

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And that’s good news, since if people start saving more earlier,they’ll be better prepared when retirement day comes.

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Photo: Getty

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Employers with many younger workers might want to add a Roth401(k) option (photo: Getty)

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5. Add a Roth 401(k) offering.

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This could work particularly well for companies with a largeconcentration of younger workers, since the study found that whilethe Roth option appeals to employees of all ages, it’s particularlyattractive to those in their 40s and younger who may be looking todiversify their retirement savings from a tax perspective.

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More than half (52 percent) of Roth contributors also madepretax contributions.

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Photo: Getty

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Everyone's mobile these days, so investing and planning forretirement must be available on the go (photo:Getty)

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6. Get mobile.

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Again, younger workers prefer to handle such mundane activitiesas investing via mobile devices; witness the rise ofrobo-advisors.

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That carries over into retirement preparation, too, andcompanies are jumping on the bandwagon to provide low-cost appsthat can allow workers to take care of benefits via the mediathey’re most comfortable with: smartphones and tablets.

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BAML reported that growth in mobile use of its Benefits OnLinesite is on the increase, with unique visitors to the siteincreasing by 57 percent for 2015.

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Photo: Getty

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Even people who like robo-advisors still want to have ahuman to help them with investing (photo: Getty)

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7. Don’t forget the personal touch.

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Robo-advisors may be the flavor of the month for younger workersin particular, but that doesn’t mean people don’t want somepersonal interaction with the people who handle their retirementaccounts.

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The report said that workplace seminars to discuss plan featuresand provide broader financial education to support optimal savingsbehaviors are increasingly popular, with group seminar meetingattendance increasing 43 percent from 2014 to 2015. One-on-one waseven more popular, with the number of such meetings increasing 152percent.

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