Bank of America Merrill Lynch Report Shows Significant Growth in Employer-offered Financial Benefit Plans

Millennial Generation Prioritizing Health Savings, Accounting for One-third of Health Savings Account Enrollment

Thursday, December 10, 2015 10:00 am EST

Today, new data released by Bank of America Merrill Lynch reveals that more employees are enrolling in their workplace benefit plans and looking to their employers for more access to information, education and assistance in managing their finances. In the first six months of 2015, employee workplace engagement was on the rise with a 44 percent1 increase in the number of employees who enrolled for the first time in their employer’s 401(k) plan, according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Plan Wellness Scorecard.2

The report, which reveals trends in employee behaviors and employers’ adoption of plan features during the first half of 2015, found that 401(k) plans aren’t the only employer-offered vehicles seeing significant growth. As more companies offer high-deductible health plans, health savings account (HSA) usage grew by 42 percent compared to the same period last year. While baby boomers have the highest HSA balances and the fastest balance growth, millennials now account for 33 percent of overall HSA enrollment, up from 9 percent in 2010. Roth accounts also saw a notable increase during this time period, with a 21 percent increase in the total number of contributors and a 20 percent increase in the average contribution amount.

“We are pleased to see employees, particularly in the younger generations, become more engaged with their employer-offered benefits year after year,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Employers play an integral role in the financial wellness of their employees. Strategic plan design, including diversification, automation and simplification, can make a tremendous impact in overall employee participation and engagement.”

Simplified design and automated features spur plan engagement

As companies aim to help employees make more informed financial decisions, the report found that automated and simplified enrollment features continue to gain momentum. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Express Enrollment program, which minimizes the upfront choices employees must make to enroll, saw a 65 percent increase in employer adoption year over year, and more than 25,000 employees enrolled during the first six months of 2015. Over the past two years, the rate of successful enrollment is nearly 20 percent higher through a simplified process, with 77 percent of employees enrolling after entering through Express Enrollment versus 58 percent through a traditional path.

Overall, nearly half (47.5 percent) of employer plans are now using automatic enrollment. Plans offering voluntary automatic increase grew 36 percent in the 12 months ending in June 30, and employees are responding, with 24 percent more scheduling automatic increases. Many employers are combining automatic features to lead to more effective savings outcomes. During the first half of 2015, the number of 401(k) plans combining auto enrollment and auto increase saw a 40 percent increase.

Mobile and in-person financial guidance resources in demand

Whether accessing via mobile phones or in-person meetings, employees are turning to plan resources for financial guidance. Unique visitors to the mobile site grew by 77 percent. Of all visits to Merrill Lynch’s Benefits Online (BOL) web portal, mobile access now accounts for 19 percent of participant usage.

The number of employers offering Advice Access3, a professional saving and investment advice service tailored to the employee’s individual situation, increased by 7 percent year over year, with 57 percent of all plans now featuring the service.

A recently launched Retirement Income Estimate4 tool, which helps plan participants forecast retirement income based upon their current savings, age and contribution rates, was used by more than 38,000 employees in the first six weeks, and 7 percent of all BOL sessions click through to the new tool.

Despite the uptick in mobile and online traffic, employees are still seeking opportunities to connect about their personal situations in person. In the first six months of 2015, sign-up and attendance at one-on-one meetings increased by 192 percent and group meetings by 93 percent, compared to the same time period in 2014.

This semiannual report reveals trends in the behaviors of 2.6 million employees at companies with financial benefit plans serviced by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. To access the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Plan Wellness Scorecard, click here.

1 160,707 new enrollments in the first six months of 2015, up from 111,413 new enrollments in the first six months of 2014

2 The Plan Wellness Scorecard is based on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch proprietary 401(k) business, which comprises $136.3 billion in total client plan assets and 2.6 million total plan participants as of June 30, 2015. Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Retirement and Benefit Plan Services (Retirement and Benefit Plan Services) is part of Global Wealth and Investment Management (GWIM), the wealth and investment management division of Bank of America Corporation. As of June 30, 2015, Retirement and Benefit Plan Services had client balances of $136.3 billion. Client Balances consists of assets under management, client brokerage assets and deposits of GWIM retirement plan participants held at Bank of America, N.A. and affiliated banks.

3 The Advice Access service uses a probabilistic approach to determine the likelihood that participants in the service may be able to achieve their stated goal and/or to identify a potential wealth outcome that could be realized. Additionally, the recommendations provided by Advice Access may include a higher level of investment risk than a participant may be personally comfortable with. Participants are strongly advised to consider their personal goals, overall risk tolerance, and retirement horizon before accepting any recommendations made by Advice Access. Participants should carefully review the explanation of the methodology used, including key assumptions and limitations, which is provided in the Advice Access disclosure statement. It can be obtained through Benefits Online or through your representative.

IMPORTANT: The projections or other information shown in the Advice Access service regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results and are not guarantees of future results. Results may vary with each use and over time.

4 IMPORTANT: The projections or other information generated by the Retirement Income Estimate regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results and are not guarantees of future results. Results may vary with each use over time.

The estimates being shown are for illustrative purposes only, and the information in Retirement Income Estimate is not meant to represent the past or future performance of any specific investment vehicle. The estimates and information were calculated by forecasting the potential growth of a participant’s account balance based on the historical performance of broad-based market indices that have been selected to represent the different asset classes. The validity of the analysis contained in the Retirement Income Estimate is dependent upon the accuracy and completeness of the information provided by the plan sponsor and participant. Changes to the information will yield different results. Participants are encouraged to review and update any needed changes in personal and/or financial information to ensure the results are based on the most current information.

Plan participants should carefully review the explanation of the methodology used, including key assumptions and limitations, which is provided in the Retirement Income Estimate tool description.

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