Four trends in group retirement, investment programs

The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting many trends in group retirement and investment programs, pushing the industry to be flexible and quick with some of the newer offerings.

As plan sponsors review their group retirement plans in the coming months, they may want to consider some, or all, of these four trends.

1. Financial wellness becoming a must.

A survey published by Manulife earlier this month found 80 per cent of U.S.-based employers are planning to offer a financial wellness program by 2023. Currently, fewer than half of these employers said they have a financial wellness program.

Read: How RBC is fitting debt payment into employees’ financial journeys

Employees are becoming more interested in employer assistance with their current financial situations as well as long-term retirement planning. In the short term, student debt is on the minds of many young employees. Manulife estimated about 40 per cent of students will have difficulty saving for retirement because of debt payments. Some record keepers are now offering plans that assist in paying down debt while contributing to group retirement at the same time.

Plan members are also asking about registered education savings plans offered through the workplace. Typically, insurance companies weren’t willing to offer a group RESP because of heavy administration. But recently, some have been able to overcome these hurdles and offer the option.

2. Investment choice assistance prevalent in these uncertain times.

Many plan members are uneasy about the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus. They’d like to speak directly with an advisor and appreciate feedback about risk tolerance and asset mix. This can be done alongside a review of investments in an employer-sponsored plan, which is available to most plan sponsors via their advisor or plan provider.

3. Virtual offerings are a requirement during social distancing.

Virtual platforms have gained much traction over the last few months. During the pandemic, face-to-face meetings and member education sessions have been replaced by webinars, voiceovers and links to educational websites. In the recent past, many of these meetings were conducted in person out of respect and courtesy. But where it may have been an insult in the past to conduct a Skype meeting, the virtual mode is now preferred.

4. The rise of socially responsible investments.

With social issues at the forefront of our minds and demographic changes in the workforce, we’re seeing a rise in the demand for socially responsible investments in fund lineups. Some insurance companies have started developing their own socially responsible pooled funds, as well as adopting third-party funds to fill the needs of contemporary investors. For many, the rate of return is no longer the only issue of interest; they are interested in how those investments reflect the values of current societal pushes.

Read: Most pension funds barely scratching surface on sustainable investment

The development and adoption of some of the above offerings is accelerating due to the current extraordinary social climate. While many of these offerings have been available for some time, they weren’t being offered by plan sponsors as quickly as the market thought they might be. But that’s now changing and I’d encourage plan sponsors to consider these industry trends.