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Many 401k plan sponsors have opted to periodically re-enroll all their participants into the Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA) in their 401k plans. You may wish to re-enroll your participants since doing so benefits plan sponsors as well as participants. Re-enrolling participants:

1. Fixes poor investment selection at enrollment

Some participants spoke with aunts, uncles, brothers or sisters-in-law, spouses, dads or other “investment experts” when they set their investment elections at enrollment. As a result, some of their fund choices may not have been the best. According to a JP Morgan study, 75% of participants are not confident about making investment elections. When you re-enroll participants into the appropriate target date option they benefit from professional investment management and oversight of their account balance.

2. Diversifies appropriately when you re-enroll

One of the greatest concerns I have is for those retirement-eligible participants who have all or a majority of their account balance invested in one or a few funds (which are not target date or balanced funds). It seems that there are always a few participants who end up investing too heavily in the wrong funds at the wrong time. Proper diversification is achieved when you re-enroll these participants into the appropriate target date option.

3. Rebalances participant accounts

Participants should rebalance their accounts back to their initial allocation percentages at least once per year. If this is not done, they could end up taking too much risk as their equity allocation increases over time, due to rising markets. Many participants are not diligent about rebalancing their accounts. When was the last time you rebalanced yours? Target date fund managers adjust fixed-income and equity exposure as time goes by. This eliminates the need for participants to review and rebalance their accounts.

4. May reduce your fiduciary liability

It’s not uncommon to see lawsuits from participants who haven’t invested properly and end up at retirement with much less than they feel they need. Many of these lawsuits originate from participants who have concentrated their account balances in one or a few investment options and don’t have a balanced allocation. These participants often allege that they weren’t given enough guidance or education by their employer to make better choices. They say that their employer did not meet its fiduciary obligation to inform and educate. Re-enrollment into target date funds washes that argument away.

5. Addresses changes in the fund lineup

Over time a 401k plan’s fund lineup changes. New funds are added and poor-performing funds are deleted. Participants who are not diligent about reviewing their allocations could end up with balances that are too highly concentrated in a few funds or allocated into funds that they never selected (as a result of mapping).

6. Updates QDIA elections

Your plan may not have had a QDIA option until recently. As a result, some participants may have had their balances defaulted into pre-QDIA funds that are no longer appropriate.

7. Ensures age-appropriate investing

Many participants elected to allocate their contributions when they initially enrolled in the plan years ago. Unfortunately, they have not reviewed and adjusted their allocations as time has gone by. As a result, they may have contribution allocations or investment balance allocations that are too risky for their age.

On the other hand, there are participants in every 401k plan who don’t take enough risk with the investments they select to give them a shot at building an account balance big enough to fund their retirement. These participants often elect a more conservative path because they don’t understand investing or are afraid of taking risk.

The JP Morgan study showed that 88% of participants have the wrong level of equity exposure for their age. Re-enrollment in target date funds results in an appropriate level of risk-taking for a participant’s age.

If you have never re-enrolled all your participants into your QDIA default funds, seriously consider doing so this year. Keep in mind that if you decide to re-enroll your participants they are allowed to opt-out and choose a different investment mix. However, studies have shown that more than 80% choose to remain in the funds that their balances are allocated into.

Re-enrollment is another way of using participant inertia to their advantage and can be an important strategy in helping participants achieve retirement readiness. According to JP Morgan, 82% of participants support re-enrollment.

Talk with your investment advisor if you would like more information on whether to re-enroll your 401k participants.

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About the Author

Robert C. Lawton, AIF, CRPS is the founder and President of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC. Mr. Lawton is an award-winning 401(k) investment adviser with over 30 years of experience. He has consulted with many Fortune 500 companies, including: Aon Hewitt, Apple, AT&T, First Interstate Bank, Florida Power & Light, General Dynamics, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IBM, John Deere, Mazda Motor Corporation, Northwestern Mutual, Northern Trust Company, Trek Bikes, Tribune Company, Underwriters Labs and many others. Mr. Lawton may be contacted at (414) 828-4015 or bob@lawtonrpc.com.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to 401(k) plan sponsors. The firm currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than $400 million in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or bob@lawtonrpc.com or visit the firm’s website at: http://www.lawtonrpc.com. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice, and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.