Nearly half of Americans surveyed say they will pursue new investment strategies if their retirement account balances are lower at the end of 2001 than they were in January. But as consumers struggle to cope with the economic downturn, employers say they're unprepared to provide the retirement-planning information employees need to make informed decisions.

These were among the findings of the " Workplace Report on Retirement Planning," two separate surveys commissioned by CIGNA Retirement & Investment Services during the last two weeks in September. One poll was of 1,000 consumers; the other was of 504 human resource executives involved in the administration of their companies' retirement plans.

Forty-seven percent of consumers surveyed said they will make changes to their retirement account if their balance is lower at the end of 2001 than it was in January. Seventeen percent said they'll invest in more conservative assets; 15% said they'll save a higher percentage of their salary; 10% said they'll invest in more aggressive assets; and 5% will stop contributing. Another 7% don't know what they'll do.

The good news, according to the surveys, is that while most Americans are concerned, they are keeping faith in their 401(k)s despite the recent volatility of stock portfolios in most retirement plans. Those looking to make changes are interested in reallocating their portfolios or increasing their contribution levels, as made possible by recent pension reform.

The unsettling news is that nearly half of HR executives (47%) say they are unprepared to provide retirement planning advice to employees. In fact, HR executives say that educating their workforce about retirement benefits is their biggest challenge, and employees give them low marks -- the equivalent of a "C" -- for their efforts. Moreover, fewer than one-third of companies (30%) have taken action to promote awareness about enhanced retirement savings options available under pension reform legislation that takes effect in January.

"These are difficult times, and employees clearly are looking for help in managing their 401(k) portfolios. Employers are struggling to meet this need," said Tom Jones, president of CIGNA Retirement & Investment Services. "Retirement planning is a critical workplace education and retention issue, and the gap between what employees need and what employers are providing is startling. They're not just on different pages, they're on different planets."

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.