My kids are typical little ones — giant bundles of id who want everything they lay their eyes on. Usually toys and candy. Occasionally though, they’ll ask for something they’ll never, ever use.

Once, my son asked me to buy him a container that keeps marshmallows fresh. (Yes, they really make those; and yes, he really asked.)

I thought of this when I read just released survey results from Charles Schwab that show despite 401(k) participants’ consistent clamoring for investment advice, fewer than one in 10 actually use it when it’s available to them.

Although 74% of Schwab’s plan sponsor clients currently offer 401(k) participants access to investment advice — a number that’s grown considerably from 42% in 2005 — and 55% of participants say they would use free, personalized advice if their employer made it available, less than 10% of people with access to advice actively use it.

Ironically, 53% of respondents say they find retirement benefits more confusing than health benefits.

Even more puzzling were respondents’ reasons for not taking advantage of free advice:

* 23% don’t think they have saved enough money to warrant spending time to get help.
* 49% want to have more than $100,000 saved before taking the time to get advice.

Worse, the majority of survey respondents cited “approaching retirement” as the top reason to seek help with planning — when it can be too late to maximize the potential savings in a 401(k) plan.

So, it seems participants want to wait until they’re older and richer to get advice — when they likely won’t need it, and even if they do, it may be too late for it to be effective.

I wonder if these folks also have marshmallow fresheners.

On Tuesday, I spoke to Catherine Golladay, VP of 401(k) education and advice for Charles Schwab, to get her thoughts on these results.

"For some reason, participants are thinking [of advice] as ‘not something that applies to me,’” she said.  “Since 401(k) plans are employees main or only source of retirement income, employers have an important role to play in changing that perception."

Funnily enough, Golladay said sticking with offering free, personalized investment advice is actually the way to go about changing that perception, despite participants’ sluggish adoption rates.

Among Schwab’s other findings, among investors who received advice in the last two years, 52% are confident in making investment choices, versus 35% who want advice but haven’t received any.

"For all the money we spend on glossy education materials, I wonder if we’re getting our money’s worth,” Golladay said. “I think those have their place and can be helpful, but if you’re looking at where money is best spent, I wouldn’t shortchange that one-on-one advice."

So, where will you be spending your money? On glossy education materials? Personalized investment advice? Perhaps marshmallow fresheners? What do you think of participants’ perception that advice is only for older, richer people?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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