Many providers of separately managed accounts are beginning to pitch their wares to 401(k) sponsors, touting their personalization as a way of boosting participation and savings rates. Don Salama, managing director of marketing and sales at NYLIM Retirement Plan Services, a division of New York Life Investment Management, noted that even though many 401(k)s offer online independent investment advice, only about 5% of participants use it. As a result, 401(k)s are underutilized, do-it-yourself vehicles--"a crisis in the making," he said.

Managed accounts pick up where 401(k) education has failed by inspiring investors to take control of their 401(k) investments and automatically increasing their savings rates, Salama said, predicting the popularity of managed accounts in retirement accounts will skyrocket in the next five years. "It is the future of 401(k) plan management," he said.

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