In the aftermath of the Enron bankruptcy and the demise of so many investors' 401(k)s, some 401(k) plan providers are finding employers newly motivated to minimize blackout periods. These are the periods when a provider is transitioning to a new provider, when plan participants are unable to make any transactions in their accounts.

And providers are responding. Mellon Financial Corp. of Pittsburgh said it is working with its biggest new clients to reduce blackouts, and MassMutual Financial of Springfield, Mass., said employers have taken the initiative to ask about the speed of conversions. Since 1999, the 401(k) provider has offered zero-blackout and 24-hour-blackout service to sponsors with more than $20 million in plan assets, and this has become a selling point, a MassMutual executive said.

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