I'm saving for retirement with 401(k) plans and IRAs. When possible, I choose plans that have low fees, but the choice is not always up to me. Employees may be able to choose from a selection of investments inside their 401(k) plan, employees can't choose their company's 401(k) administrator and broker without a coordinated effort among a large portion of employees. That would be nearly impossible in a large company. Unions are intended to solve some of these issues, but it can often reach the point where being a member of a large union is much like working for a large employer. The power of any individual is limited.

The 401(k) is ingenious for the financial industry, particularly now that it's automatic. In a perfect world, every single employee is enrolled in a 401(k) plan on their first day on their first job. The investments may not perform well over time, but that's not particularly relevant for the financial industry. As long as every American is investing a portion of their paycheck every week, two weeks, month, or other period, 401(k) administrators and brokers will continue to thrive. The employee probably benefits when retirement approaches, but that is by no means guaranteed. All you need to do is look at the portion of Americans who planned to retire in recent years but saw their nest eggs trampled on during the recession.

Investors bear the responsibility for changing their risk profile as they near their planned retirement, but there is a mixed message. The financial industry says you need to stay invested in stocks (highly volatile, highly risky) as you approach retirement because most people need their funds to last several decades throughout retirement while at the same time warning people to risk only what they can afford to lose. When people receive conflicting information, making decisions becomes more difficult. And when the conflicting information is coming from the same source - that is, the financial industry - the default reaction is the lack of trust.