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5 Savvy Strategies for Getting Your Employees to Contribute More to Their 401(k)s

Kris Dunn Benefits Communication, Financial Guidance

5 Savvy 401k Strategies 2 copyIt’s a dance as old as time itself. Your company works hard to provide a set of benefits that not only satisfy the needs of your employees but provides for them as well.

You’ve seen your leadership team fight hard to minimize cutting benefits in face of escalating costs in areas like healthcare. They really do care about providing a great value proposition to the people who work at your company. There’s just one little catch: Some benefits require voluntary participation on the part of the employee to unlock maximum value. Point in case: your 401(k) plan.

Having a generous 401(k) benefit looks great on paper, but nothing good happens unless your employees act–specifically, enrolling in the plan, maximizing their contribution level and yes, actually moving the money to something other than the money market fund.

So what do you do if your 401(k) looks great in the recruiting brochure but participation is lagging?

Whether your concern is simply getting more people to enroll, or boosting your average contribution rate, or just getting employees to start thinking about retirement earlier, here are five ideas I’ve used in the past that have helped create real change.

#1. The Free Money Argument. You know this one all too well. Your company provides a match, however small or large, but employees are missing out on the available retirement funding because they aren’t participating in the plan at all. So, you remind them that by not participating, they’re missing out on ‘free money’. This is 401(k) marketing 101.

#2. The Promotion/Raise Call To Action. This is a more sophisticated take on the free money argument. Whenever an employee gets a promotion and/or a raise (whether it’s a big one or a standard merit raise) why not slip them a 401(k) brochure and 401(k) enrollment forms when you give them the news? That moment is the perfect time to remind them they could put a portion (if not all) of that raise towards the future. (Bonus points if you also share data that shows how much interest a small added contribution now could generate over ten years.)

#3. The Loop in the Partner Play. Say your employee Bobby just had his first kid. He’s not currently enrolled in the 401(k) and let’s face it, Bobby’s the kind of guy that’s probably not about to sign up anytime soon. Even if you send him a personal note suggesting he do so. But! What if you involved his wife, the mother of the new baby in your pitch? Suddenly, your odds are considerably better. Send an email or actual letter addressed to both parents congratulating them on their new addition, then make your plug for starting a 401(k) and the magic of compounding interest. Might seem pushy to some, but I don’t see it that way: you’re actually doing them a big favor.

#4. Case Studies for $400, Alex. The case study play goes like this: you think about the type of people you most want to reach to enroll in a 401(k) or increase contributions, then create fictional profiles of those people and tell the story of how starting/increasing 401k contributions can or did impact their life. Once those are ready to go, send your employees the case study most relevant to them.

#5. Portfolio/LifeStage Features. Some people are intimidated by the sheer amount of investment options. So for these people de-mystify the process and recommend ‘life stage funds.’ Telling them that financial experts have done the heavy lifting for them by creating funds based on their age and expected retirement is a great way to reduce fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Even better, profile a life stage fund and send it to all non-enrollees that fall in that age bracket.

Anyway, these are a few tactics I’ve had success within the past. Whatever you decide to do, however, just remember that not only is it okay to put on your marketing hat when it comes to maximizing participation and contributions…you absolutely should. Because the more successful you are selling your benefits, the better lifetime results your employees get. And that’s a huge win.