J.P. Morgan Asset Management Research Continues to Confirm Defined Contribution Participant Behavior More Volatile than Some Target Date Fund Providers May Expect

Jan 28, 2016, 10:30 ET from J.P. Morgan Asset Management

NEW YORK, Jan. 28, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- J.P. Morgan Asset Management today released the latest installment of its Ready! Fire! Aim? research series, an ongoing study that was the first in the industry to examine how the relationship between target date fund glide paths and participant behavior might shape long-term defined contribution (DC) portfolio outcomes. Ready! Fire! Aim? now provides more than 10 years of data examining how participant behavior, such as the size and timing of portfolio cash flows, interacts with the size and timing of market returns.

"Our original research found that participant behavior was much more varied and volatile than many target date fund providers had assumed in their asset allocation models.  That led us to consider potentially significant ramifications for whether participants were likely to meet their retirement funding needs," said Dan Oldroyd, Portfolio Manager and Head of Target Date Strategies who oversees $69.7B in assets under management. "Subsequent studies continue to confirm that target date fund designs offering effective diversification and dynamic risk management appear to position the greatest number of participants for retirement income success."

Evaluating Participant Behavior Patterns

Ready! Fire! Aim? once again finds persistent and wide variations in saving and investing behavior, which often compromise the likelihood of long-term participant success. Key behavioral trends among participants in the latest analysis include:

  • Salary raise frequency seems to have stabilized, but average increases remain below pre-crisis levels. Salary is a crucial behavioral input because income levels influence contribution amounts, as well as the standard of living that needs to be replaced in retirement. The most recent study showed that average raise frequency declined to pre-crisis levels because, J.P. Morgan Asset Management believes, earlier increases were mainly caused by an apparent salary catch-up from the post-crisis slowdown. Average raise size declined somewhat, but still remained slightly above inflation, though this is a relatively low bar given persistently low inflation.
  • Average starting contribution rates continue to fall, with subsequent average increases rising much more slowly. The only way participants can be certain to achieve adequate income in retirement is to save enough during their working years. Disappointingly, average starting contributions remain at the lowest point since we began our research, and rise much more slowly than in the earlier studies.
  • A large number of participants continue to take sizable account loans. The percentage of participants tapping into retirement accounts pre-retirement has risen to the highest level since Ready! Fire! Aim? began tracking behavior, while the average percentage borrowed has modestly fallen, likely due to generally higher account balances after years of rising markets. This indicates that a sizable portion of participant assets are not actually invested in any given year. Many participants also stop making contributions while repaying loans.
  • Pre-retirement leakage remains unpredictable. The good news is that there appear to be fewer hardship withdrawals as the economy continues to stabilize, but there are also more loans and pre-retirement withdrawals, which could jeopardize long-term savings. Indeed, the percentage of working participants over age 59½ taking a portion of their account balance and the average percentage withdrawn have both risen to the highest levels in the past 14 years.
  • Most participants withdraw their entire account balances once they stop working, usually in a single withdrawal. J.P. Morgan Asset Management continues to see the majority of participants, nearly 70%, leaving their plans soon after retirement. However, in this latest study, the team observed that the percentage of participants staying in their plans almost doubled, from 17% post-2008 to 32% in recent years.1

"While most of the new data remained consistent with previous years, the steady increase of participants staying in plan upon leaving the workforce is quite significant," continued Mr. Oldroyd. "We will continue to monitor this data to determine if this is a cyclical or structural change in participant engagement, and any material and persistent changes will be incorporated into our glide path as appropriate."

Comparing Target Date Fund Design
As in past studies, J.P. Morgan Asset Management analyzes the behavioral findings in conjunction with four glide path models – broadly diversified, aggressive, concentrated and conservative – to project potential retirement outcomes utilizing a full range of potential behavioral and investment climates. These latest projections once again confirm that a broadly diversified glide path with a focus on dynamic risk management, such as the JPMorgan SmartRetirement glide path, continue to secure the greatest number of projected participant retirement funding successes.

"Overall, we still believe a well-designed target date fund program offers the greatest chance of retirement security for the vast majority of participants," concludes Mr. Oldroyd.  "When it comes to getting as many participants over the retirement finish line as safely as possible, a proactive plan design can be equally as important as investing and asset allocation. Ready! Fire! Aim? is designed to help plan sponsors and their advisors select the most prudent target date fund to meet a plan's specific objectives."

1To learn more about J.P. Morgan Asset Management's leading DC investment strategies, product innovations and resources for advisors and plan sponsors, please click here, or to view the full Ready! Fire! Aim? white paper, and full research methodology, please click here.

About J.P. Morgan Asset Management
J.P. Morgan Asset Management, with assets under management of $1.7 trillion, is a global leader in investment management. J.P. Morgan Asset Management's clients include institutions, retail investors and high net worth individuals in every major market throughout the world. J.P. Morgan Asset Management offers global investment management in equities, fixed income, real estate, hedge funds, private equity and liquidity. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), the parent company of J.P. Morgan Asset Management, is a leading global asset management firm with assets of approximately $2.4 trillion and operations in more than 60 countries. Information about JPMorgan Chase & Co. is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.  

J.P. Morgan Asset Management is the marketing name for the asset management businesses of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and its affiliates worldwide.

SOURCE J.P. Morgan Asset Management