The Letters Editor
While I normally enjoy Jason Zweig’s opinions about wealth management and investing, I take issue with Zweig’s February 10th column, “Forget the 401(k). Let’s Invent a New Retirement Plan”. Zweig’s suggestion of eliminating the current 401(k) system and reinventing it, ignores the incredible successes the system has produced for tens of millions of workers and retirees. In addition, Zweig ignores innovations in plan design, recent regulatory guidance, and the integration of new financial wellness tools into the private retirement system that address many of the shortfalls he sees with the current system.
For example, many of Zweig’s suggestions; portability, auto enroll, auto escalation, conversion of saving to regular income distributions and the creation of rainy-day accounts are excellent ideas and for the most part can be addressed today using the 401(k) plan and related financial wellness products in the marketplace. In addition, although slow at times, regulatory and legislative efforts are also underway to clear a few regulatory impediments that will allow the full expression and utilization of these features in the current workplace retirement savings system.
Furthermore, calling for a new 401k is essentially saying the existing system is a failure. This position devalues the mission driven efforts of the American Retirement Association and The Society of Professional Asset-Managers and Recordkeepers (who represent tens of thousands of highly dedicated pension plan professionals and enterprising companies in financial services). These organizations and their members are relentlessly focused on helping America’s workforce achieve a dignified retirement and their successes should be acknowledged. The proof is in the results. According to 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of workers have access to a retirement benefit plan and 77% of workers who have access, participate in a plan.
According to an EBRI survey more government intervention in the retirement system is strongly opposed by workers and those same workers also strongly believe the company sponsored retirement plan will effectively help them meet their retirement goals. EBRI states that Individuals are 12 times more likely to save when they have a workplace plan.
With these high marks for the value and success of the current 401k, we can expect that initiatives to tweak and enhance the current retirement plan product offerings, and the environment in which they operate, would lead to continued likelihood of greater active participation and savings. Contrary to Zweig’s suggestion, we do not need to throw away the system. What we need is the government to get out of the way of preventing these enhancements already sought by the Retirement Community.
I laud Mr. Zweig for thinking outside the box. But please, Mr. Zweig, you would do well to acknowledge the success of the existing private retirement system and the efforts of the professional retirement community and entrepreneurs who are improving on an existing system that is successful to begin with in many of the ways you mention.
Michael P. Zimmer
CEO & President
Michael Zimmer is president of Fluent Technologies, a technology solutions provider to the Retirement Community, a Board member to the SPARK Institute (Society of Professional Asset-managers and Record Keepers) and a Member to the ARA (the American Retirement Association). Fluent’s mission is to help the professional retirement community and employers provide benefits that help employees save money for retirement.