As more employers offer customized portfolio advice, 401(k) owners may be asking, “Am I really all that different?”
Paralyzed by arguably too many choices (or not enough good choices), 401(k) owners increasingly say they want more than just a lineup of investments. They want someone to put together a portfolio just for them and manage it at a lower cost than hiring a dedicated, traditional financial adviser.
“We know that for about 70 percent of (retirement plan) participants, the 401(k) is their primary source of retirement funds, and 80 percent of all participants say they want personalized advice” in how to invest and manage the money, said Steve Anderson, executive vice president of Schwab Retirement Plan Services.
Through data firms such as Morningstar, Financial Engines and Guided Choice, providers of 401(k) plans are allocating investments based not just on age – as in the hugely popular target-date mutual fund category – but on gender, marital status, state of residence, individual savings rate, the level of assets outside a 401(k) plan, and other factors.
It turns out, these factors do, indeed, make you and your nest egg different, these data firms suggest.
Morningstar provided sample portfolios on 11 hypothetical 50-year-olds planning for retirement.
Their annual salaries ranged from $25,000 to $100,000. Their current 401(k) balances ranged from $50,000 to $500,000. They saved from 5 to 15 percent of their annual salaries.
Some, but not all, are also enrolled in traditional pension plans.
If the 50-year-olds put their retirement funds into off-the-shelf target-date retirement mutual funds, on average their stock holdings would account for 67 percent of their retirement savings, according to Morningstar.
But the range among providers is huge, from 41 to 84 percent.
Consider a worker making $50,000 a year, and saving 5 percent of it, with accumulated savings of $500,000.
That person might only need to put about 55 percent of the money into stocks in order to have a fairly high likelihood of being able to replace his pre-retirement income (minus taxes and savings) with portfolio withdrawals and Social Security, the data firm said.
Another 50-year-old making $50,000 a year and saving 10 percent but who has less saved today – $200,000 – might be advised to hold about 60 percent of the portfolio in stocks, according to Morningstar.
Add in the cushion of a $15,000-a-year pension, and the stock recommendation moves to 65 percent.
Or consider a couple of 60-year-olds getting closer to retirement.
One is single, the other married. In sample portfolios from Financial Engines, both might end up with 63 percent invested in stocks, said David Weiskopf, a company spokesman.
But the single employee might also have a penchant for putting 20 percent into company stock – the limit in Financial Engines’ managed portfolios – while the married worker might want 20 percent in cash.
With those parameters, the model might recommend the single worker put 43 percent of the portfolio into a broad mix of stocks and 37 percent in bonds. Meanwhile, the married worker might get a recommendation to allocate 63 percent of the portfolio to stocks and the remaining 17 percent into bonds, Weiskopf said.
And although both would end up with 63 percent in stocks, the worker with the large cash position might have a higher allocation to riskier shares of small and emerging-markets companies, compared with fewer for the saver with the big pot of company stock.
In the end, participants in retirement plans will decide whether these managed portfolios are worth their fees, which range by employer and plan provider.
“By definition, target-date funds are one size fits all,” said David Blanchett, head of retirement research for Morningstar. “We can make them more personalized, but it always comes back to cost. What is it worth to participants?”