Client Conversations

2020 DC Consultant Study—Retirement Environment

November 12 2020

T. Rowe Price, in partnership with Schaus Group, is delighted to share insights on the future of retirement from our inaugural survey of the nation’s 20 leading defined contribution consulting firms, representing over 5,500 plan sponsor clients and $3.9T of assets under advisement. Our objective was to understand the view of DC consultants related to retirement and DC matters driving their business, market trends, and plan sponsor decisions.

To develop a deep and broad look at the ever-changing retirement landscape, we’ve combined this body of work with T. Rowe Price’s long-standing proprietary retirement research on plan sponsor and participant views. These retirement-focused insights strengthen the growing resolve that DC is now central, and well positioned for traction beyond, a conventional savings plan. Upon review of the aggregation of findings, we summarized the following key themes. 

1. Evolution and turbulence—legislation, volatility, and shifting priorities drive change.

The retirement landscape has recently experienced seismic shifts in quick succession, shaking up a long run of slow-moving progress. The passage of the CARES Act and SECURE Act combined with market volatility related to the coronavirus pandemic have unsurprisingly resulted in a rapid pace of change and focus. The totality of these events has put plan sponsors on a whirlwind path of reorienting short- and long-term priorities. Our results show that consulting firms are rising to the challenge, including business model shifts, pursuit of efficiencies and scale, and expansion of services.

Key Findings

  • After passage of the SECURE Act, consultant respondents indicated highest anticipation for expansion of coverage for new sponsors to join MEPs and lowest anticipation of participants to use in-plan annuities.
  • After passage of the CARES Act, consultant respondents indicated high anticipation of adopting CARES Act features and developing communication campaigns to participants to stay the course.
  • 79% of our consultant respondents expect retirement income solution services to be the highest investment service growth area in the coming year.
  • 59% of our consultant respondents expect financial wellness programs to be the highest non-investment service growth area in the coming year.

Expected growth of investment and noninvestment services

2. Outcomes matter—longer time frames, risk perception, and retired participants inform decisions.

Consultants underscore the need to focus on outcomes. A successful path forward relies on designing DC plans to help participants meet future retirement income needs. This includes ideas for plan sponsors to more deeply evaluate key decision points, including the way they define risk, assess the QDIA, and determine their desired role in the retirement journey with participants. 

Key Findings

  • The majority of both plan sponsors and consultants rank longevity risk as either the #1 or #2 source of concern for participants in retirement planning. 
  • Our consultant respondents indicate that glide path evaluation has evolved to account for changing retirement needs, although 55% of plan sponsor respondents indicate they have consistently maintained their approach on glide path assessment or adapted their approach four or more years ago.
  • 62% of participants rely on workplace retirement plans for advice to achieve retirement goals.
  • 86% of plan sponsors think they should consider a participant’s entire journey (up to and into retirement) to better target desired outcomes.
  • Allowing for partial distributions or systematic withdrawals is the #1 tactic our consultant respondents suggest for plan sponsors to help participants through retirement.
  • We find that more participants are opting to stay in plan after retirement in recent years; our consultant respondents believe that building plan scale, lower fees, and greater plan sponsor focus on outcomes are the top reasons that drive participants to remain in the plan at retirement.
  • Participants across generations (81% millennials, 77% Generation X, and 70% baby boomers) say they would remain in plan if they were given offerings to generate income in retirement.
  • There continue to be hurdles to offer retirement income solutions: recordkeeping operations, costs, and litigation risks.

Opportunity for sponsors to revisit QDIA assessment?

3. Revisiting the core lineup—objectives, mission, goals modify approach to DC offerings.

In this environment, our consultant respondents also suggest plan sponsors revisit their core investment lineup for expanded opportunity, especially considering capital preservation and fixed income in a more opportunistic way. This includes leveraging both capital preservation and fixed income as retiree-focused options and separately considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) oriented investments with care and an eye toward evolution. Of note, since this work concluded, the Department of Labor released a proposed “New Investment Duties Rule” that is expected to result in a slowing of ESG pursuits in DC plans until conclusion of the proposed rule.3

Key Findings

  • Capital preservation is the top investment expected to undergo a due diligence review after the coronavirus pandemic and passage of the CARES Act.
  • Stable value is the most recommended capital preservation offering by consultants.
  • Stable value activity is expected to pick up, with key drivers being industry shifts requiring due diligence, desire to review the offering, and consideration of stable value as a retirement income tool.
  • Even before the DOL’s proposed ruling, while our consultant respondents were broadly supportive of ESG pursuits, many signaled a need for best practices to evolve.

Stable Value—Participant Use, Average Balance, and Allocation by Age

4. Beyond conventional DC—a holistic approach to a participant’s financial life.

Our findings tell us that plans aim to encompass the entire life cycle of participants and the many influences in their lives. Consultants revealed that they believe that thinking beyond the conventional DC plan is now a necessity, emphasizing that financial wellness is no longer just a “nice to have” and HSAs and student debt repayment programs will be increasingly considered. 

Key Findings

  • Financial wellness is a key offering, and measuring success is a critical part of the process.
  • The incidence of student debt between Gen X and millennial individuals has increased by over 10%, and 89.5% of consultants responded that they believe student debt repayment program features can be an attractive benefit.

Key takeaways

    Legislation Icon

    Consider revisiting strategic priorities relative to the SECURE Act and in the aftermath of the pandemic and the CARES Act. 

    Outcomes Icon

    Ensure the strategies used in your plan related to the QDIA and retirement income are aligned to goals connected to retirement outcomes for your participants.

    Evaluate Icon

    Evaluate core lineup offerings opportunistically based on your strategic goals.

    Explore Icon

    Explore beyond conventional DC plan strategies to set up your plan to help participants along the entire retirement planning journey.

The 2020 Defined Contribution Consultant Study was conducted by T. Rowe Price in partnership with Schaus Group. The survey population includes 20 defined contribution consulting firms responding to a total of 41 questions from January 7, 2020, through February 13, 2020, and April 8, 2020, through April 21, 2020. Participating firms also received a custom report comparing their firm’s responses with the aggregate responses.

View our Defined Contribution Insights to access additional T. Rowe Price proprietary retirement research. For access to the full Retirement Environment report, please contact your T. Rowe Price representative.


1 T. Rowe Price, 2020 Defined Contribution Consultant Study.
2 2019 An Informed, Research-Based Approach to Better Retirement Outcomes.
3 On the Web: dol.gov/newsroom/releases/ebsa/ebsa20200623.
4 T. Rowe Price, as of 12/31/2019. Based on data for all DC plan participants in retirement plans administered by T. Rowe Price Retirement Plan Services, Inc.

Important Information:

This material is provided for general and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, or investment advice. This material does not provide fiduciary recommendations concerning investments or investment management; it is not individualized to the needs of any specific benefit plan or retirement investor, nor is it directed to any recipient in connection with a specific investment or investment management decision. T. Rowe Price group of companies, including T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., and/or its affiliates, receive revenue from T. Rowe Price investment products and services. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of an investment and any income from it can go down as well as up. Investors may get back less than the amount invested.

The material does not constitute a distribution, an offer, an invitation, a personal or general recommendation, or a solicitation to sell or buy any securities in any jurisdiction or to conduct any particular investment activity. The material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in any jurisdiction.

Information and opinions presented have been obtained or derived from sources believed to be reliable and current; however, we cannot guarantee the sources’ accuracy or completeness. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. The views contained herein are as of the date noted on the material and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ from those of other T. Rowe Price group companies and/or associates. Under no circumstances should the material, in whole or in part, be copied or redistributed without consent from T. Rowe Price.

The material is not intended for use by persons in jurisdictions that prohibit or restrict the distribution of the material, and in certain countries the material is provided upon specific request.

The views contained herein are as of the date of this presentation and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ fromthose of other T. Rowe Price associates. Unless indicated otherwise, the source of all market data is T. Rowe Price.

Information and opinions, including forecasts and forward-looking statements, are derived from proprietary and nonproprietary sources deemed to be reliable; the accuracy of those sources is not guaranteed, and actual results may differ materially from expectations.

Issued in the USA by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., and T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc., 100 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, which are regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., respectively. For Institutional Investors only.

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