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Calling All Investment Advisors: What Does Retirement Plan Participation Really Mean?

November 25, 2016

In the retirement industry, the terms access and participation are tossed around interchangeably. However, they have separate meanings. The term take-up is not as commonly heard, but is just as important to know.

We want to ensure that these terms are clearly understood so you can give your firm a competitive advantage. To illustrate these concepts, we have gathered data with a focus on the educational services industry.

Educational Services

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), there is a total of 3,543,200 employees within this industry as of September 2016. Businesses that fall under this category include:

  • Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
  • Technical and Trade Schools


Access refers to the percentage of all employees in an industry who are offered a company-sponsored retirement plan.


Out of the 3,543,200 educational services employees, 61% (2,161,352 employees) are offered a plan. The remaining 39% are not offered a retirement savings plan.


When an employee contributes to their plan, or puts money into it, this is the act of participation. What is alarming is that this statistic takes everyone into account, including those NOT offered a plan.


This refers to the percentage of employees with access to a company-sponsored defined contribution plan who are actually participating. This statistic is the one that RIAs need to pay the most attention to.


From the above chart, let's take out just the 61% of employees that are offered a retirement plan, known as access.


Let's give this 61% (2,161,352 employees) their own pie chart. In other words, this chart represents all of the employees within the industry that are offered a retirement plan.

Now, if we took these employees that are offered a plan and looked at the ones that actually contribute to it, this would be the breakdown.

educational services take up1.png

According to the BLS, out of the 2,161,352 employees in this industry who are offered a retirement savings plan, about 1,772,309 (82%) contribute to it.

Take-up is calculated by taking participation and dividing by access. The reason why we need participation is because it is part of the calculation to determine take-up.

Why does this matter?

Using this information, Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) can get an idea of how profitable an industry will be for them.

It is important to look at which industries have employees that are most likely to contribute. If an industry has high participation and/or take-up rates, this means that employees in that industry are more likely to contribute to their plan. For example, the BLS shows that 89% of all employees in the Finance & Insurance industry who are offered retirement benefits contribute to their plan.

Read more about industry data we have gathered here.

Furthermore, if an industry has low access, it may be overlooked or resistant to Defined Contribution (DC) plans. If an industry is overlooked, the industry is generally underserved. This presents an opportunity for the advisor to expand their marketing and sales. If the industry is resistant, employees are not engaged with retirement plans, and advisors can prioritize other industries.

Industries and employees with higher participation and/or take-up rates are generally more likely to have long-term workers. These workers tend to stay with a plan longer than part-timers or lower skilled employees.

For more tips and information regarding retirement plans, contact us.

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