NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If only we could go back to the days of a retirement with a gold watch and a pension, right? We muddle through with our 401(k) as best we can, but having a company provide us with income for life after work – what could be better than that? It might even make us loyal to an employer and stick it out through thick or thin. Maybe.
While the pension is on the endangered species list, it’s not extinct yet. In fact, nearly one quarter of Fortune 500 companies still offer a defined benefit (DB), or pension plan of some sort or another to new hires. That’s down from 60% who did so back in 1998. Already seven employers have packed up their pension plans so far this year, no longer offering them to new workers. So yes, potential employers who will pay you in retirement are few, and becoming fewer.
Some government employees, ranging from federal to local municipalities, still offer pension plans, but private employers have embraced defined contribution (DC) plans, such as 401(k)s, and like a smothering aunt wearing too much Tocca Stella, just won’t let go.
“With DC plans steadily becoming the primary retirement vehicle for millions of workers, more responsibility and risk is being shifted to employees,” said Alan Glickstein, senior retirement consultant at global services company Towers Watson. “Employees must increasingly take ownership of managing their own contribution levels, investments and distributions. The move also carries risks for employers, such as having workers delay retirement when market performance is poor, which in turn can result in higher benefit costs and less mobility within their organizations.”
But nearly half of the companies in the insurance and utilities sectors offer pensions to new hires, according to a new analysis by Towers Watson. Two-thirds of insurance companies in the Fortune 500 offer defined-benefit plans and 59% of utilities do.
Towers Watson says insurance employees may be more inclined to understand and appreciate defined benefit plans than workers in other industries. And coincidentally or not, utility companies historically have had a lower employee turnover rate than other sectors.
More than 40% of energy and natural resources companies offer either a traditional pension plan or some hybrid – transportation companies are in the same ballpark. Employees of high-tech firms are going to have to rely on their stock options; pension plans have always been scarce in that industry. But pensions are all but nonexistent in retail and there’s no chance of finding a pension benefit of any flavor in the aerospace, property and construction business -- or tourism and leisure industries.
“It’s noteworthy that DB plans still serve certain industries and companies well, especially those with particular talent and retention needs,” said Kevin Wagner, senior retirement consultant at Towers Watson, in a release issued with the research. “At the same time, the broader shift from DB to DC is helping fuel growing concern over employees’ ability to retire comfortably. As a result, employers will need to carefully consider their overall retirement plan strategies to make sure whatever plans they offer new employees will help them with their retirement readiness efforts and align with their expectations.”
--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet