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Pensions: automatic enrollment in 401(k)s pushed.

A program that many plan sponsors may be considering in the coming months is the notion of automatic enrollment in 401(K) plans--putting employees into managed accounts where they don't have to make investment choices and get the benefit of having someone else make portfolio decisions.

One company that recently went that route is Australia-based global mining giant BHP Billiton. Daniel Helman, team leader for retirement services, described the company's program in a recent Conference Board seminar in New York.

Billiton had closed a number of mines in the 1990s and the early years of this decade and was saddled with "a lot of legacy costs," Helman said. It elected to close out its defined-benefit pension plan, which it did in 2004, and roll out a new defined-contribution plan; that started with new employees, then 60-90 days later with the rest of the employee base.

Helman noted that employees range from Inuits and other native peoples who may not even read to Ph.D. scientists, so a plan had to work for everyone. Employees are now automatically enrolled at 6 percent of their salary to take advantage of a company match, and that rises by 1 percent a year until a 15 percent cap, he said. More than a third of employees choose to get additional investment information, which they get from The Vanguard Group, Billiton's fund provider, and investment counselor Financial Engines Inc.

Helman says Billiton is paying fees of only 35 basis points on assets in the managed accounts for new employees, which he said works out to $2 or $3 a month per employee, and is working to reduce that to 25 basis points.

Jeff Maggioncalda, president and CEO of Financial Engines, argued that too many 401(k) plans are aimed at the 10 to 20 percent of employees who are "do it yourselfers" actively engaged in their own investments. Yet 30 to 40 percent of workers fall into a passive "do it for me" category. "We need to focus more on help," he said. Automatic enrollment into managed accounts "represents a fundamental mindset shift," he said, to one where "those who do nothing can succeed."
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Author:Marshall, Jeffrey
Publication:Financial Executive
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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