Defined contribution sponsors enter 2020 seeking to take more action to ease participants' financial concerns of today so they can adequately plan for tomorrow.
Some are augmenting standard financial wellness programs and services with more aggressive efforts.
These advances are new and rare — such as offering a 401(k) contribution to participants who pay down student debt each year or creating a system by which a portion of a participant's 401(k) contribution is put into an emergency savings account.
These practices represent some sponsors' willingness to stick their necks out in an industry characterized by caution.
"There is not an overwhelming consensus to move from providing education to (providing) tools and solutions to (contributing) actual dollars," said Alison Borland, the San Francisco-based executive vice president of wealth solutions for Alight Solutions.
"Risk aversion is rampant," Ms. Borland added. "To be first or an innovator can be perceived as risky or intimidating."
Still, Ms. Borland said student loan assistance and emergency savings programs are "emerging topics" of discussion — and perhaps action — among sponsors.
When contemplating new responses to today's financial dilemmas for participants, sponsors are weighing costs vs. prospective benefits while also navigating the thicket of federal regulations to avoid running afoul of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
"Retirement is important, but there are other things that are important, too," said Neil Lloyd, partner and head of U.S. DC and financial wellness research for Mercer, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
If employers can help workers with immediate issues like student loans, "maybe employees will contribute more down the road" for retirement accounts, Mr. Lloyd added.