Defined contribution plan record keepers continued their focus on employee engagement and financial wellness in 2017, as assets rose nearly 15% during the year.
Record-keeper assets hit $6.9 trillion for the year ended Sept. 30, 2017, according to the latest Pensions & Investments survey of the largest record keepers.
The total is a 26.2% increase from the $5.47 trillion reported the year before, and a 14.9% increase when omitting fifth-ranked Alight Solutions and ninth-ranked Transamerica Retirement Solutions, which did not participate in last year's survey.
The number of participants among survey respondents increased 12.6% to 97.53 million from 86.63 million as of Sept. 30, 2016, including about 4.7 million participants each for Alight and Transamerica.
Forty-three record keepers participated in this year's survey, the same as last year.
In terms of rankings by assets, Fidelity Investments was again at the top for DC record keepers, with $1.877 trillion as of Sept. 30, up 16.9% from the previous year and more than three times the assets of the next record keeper. Fidelity also led in number of participants, with 20.854 million, up 5.8% from the previous year. That number was more than 12 million more than the second-highest record keeper.
"I think a lot of what we're doing is making sure that the foundation of our business is solid," said Robert Salerno, senior vice president of relationship management at Fidelity Investments, Boston, in a telephone interview. "We've got a tremendous amount of scale, and we have a huge responsibility with the clients and participants we serve today."
TIAA-CREF, New York, ranked second for the third year in a row with $607 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, up 32% from the previous year. The significant increase, much higher than the other top record keepers, was due in part to a change in reporting methodology by TIAA, and prior years' assets were not updated.
Among record keepers' priorities in the past year, consultants agree, was a continuing focus on employee engagement.
"I think that what we're seeing, there's still a focus on engagement, I think that will always be there," said Amy Reynolds, Richmond, Va.-based partner at Mercer, in a telephone interview. "There's increased utilization of mobile and the emergence of mobile as an engagement channel."
Of the 43 record keepers surveyed, 38 use mobile applications for communication, the same as the previous year.
"Now (plan sponsors) have an additional tool to tap into so they're looking for how their partners can help them in that regard," Ms. Reynolds said.
Engagement means more than making sure participants receive and respond to communications, said Jeri Savage, Norwalk, Conn.-based partner, defined contribution research, at Rocaton Investment Advisors LLC, in a telephone interview.
"That concept of engagement is not only the participants' participation in the plan but having a good investment structure and helping them make smart decisions once they're in the plan," Ms. Savage said.