Retirement plan participants are calming down, according to a Mass Mutual analysis of its plans.

Only 4% of participants made changes to their 401(k) allocations in the second quarter, despite volatile a S&P 500 Index, which fell 11.4% over that time period.

Mass Mutual administers accounts for one million participants in 6,000 plans.

“While I can't speak to the behavior of all investors, I believe that MassMutual participants are holding steady because we have been aggressively communicating with them on the importance of saving consistently and adhering to a long-term investment strategy,” explains Heather Smiley, chief marketing officer for Mass Mutual’s Retirement Services Division. “Our second quarter communications focused on increasing retirement savings and, in fact, among participants over age 50, those who did increase their savings rate did so by an average of 5.43% which I think is an excellent result.”

The fund company notes that plan participants’ account balances fell only 3.3% in the second quarter, beating the S&P by more than 8%. Mass Mutual says this lesser drop is due to more plan participants investing in stable value (26.3% to 28.4%) and bond funds (7.6% to 8.6%). Equity allocations fell from 41.1% to 38.4% during the second quarter.

However, at some point too much safety can be dangerous. “The continuing uncertainty in our economy seems to be driving some investors towards stable value investments,” Smiley says. “I think safety becomes dangerous when participants are invested so conservatively that they will run the risk of outliving their retirement savings. We have seen this with some female participants who tend to invest more conservatively than their male counterparts. The average account balances for females are approximately 40% lower than males, due in part to being more conservative in their investments.”

Deferral percentages are highest for participants closest to retirement with participants over age 60 contributing at 7.2%, roughly double the rate of participants under age 30.


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