2016 PLANSPONSOR DC Survey: Plan Benchmarking

Published in PLANSPONSOR January 2017

Navigate Research

PLANSPONSOR DC Survey: Best and Worst Industries

The tables below highlight the five best- or worst-performing industries as measured by a collection of key plan metrics.Complete reports contain data on more than 50 plan design elements. A few of these metrics are presented below. For more about PLANSPONSOR Industry Reports, contact Brian O’Keefe at
Participation Rate
2Accounting/CPA firm89.2%
3Research and development89.0%
4Financial services87.0%
5Membership org/Industry association86.8%
44Automotive: Dealerships/Service63.5%
46Government: County/State/Federal62.4%
47Retail 60.5%
48Restaurants/Food service 57.2%
Average Deferral Rate
1Labor unions 8.7%
2Education: Higher ed7.7%
4Aerospace and defense7.6%
5Utilities 7.5%
45Health care: Not for profit5.6%
45Retail 5.6%
45Restaurants/Food service 5.6%
48Religious/Social services5.3%
Immediate Vesting
1Education: Higher ed66.2%
2Labor unions 62.5%
3Education: K–12, preschool 48.6%
4Oil and gas/Energy48.3%
45Automotive: Manufacturing20.8%
47Credit unions 17.5%
48Automotive: Dealerships/Service16.2%
Average Account Balance
1Law firms $210,385
2Utilities $133,820
4Oil and gas/Energy$112,193
44Health care: Not for profit$47,716
45Retail $46,231
46Restaurants/Food service $42,234
47Religious/Social services $39,276
48Education: K–12, preschool $35,871
Immediate Eligibility
1Government: County/State/Federal85.7%
2Education: K–12, preschool 77.8%
3Government: City/Municipal74.1%
4Health care: Not for profit73.4%
5Education: Higher ed72.9%
44Health care: For profit15.6%
45Equipment (sales/leasing/service)14.6%
46Automotive: Dealerships/Service11.3%
48Restaurants/Food service8.3%
Automatic Enrollment
1Research and development61.9%
3Aerospace and defense59.6%
4Automotive: Manufacturing and parts59.5%
45Government: City/Municipal29.6%
46Government: County/State/Federal28.2%
47Membership org/Industry association26.4%
48Education: K–12, preschool25.3%

Survey Intro

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Benchmarking, as a concept, depends on having two comparable sets of data that can then be used to identify differences. Although simple in some contexts, benchmarking your defined contribution (DC) plan can prove challenging—and costly—because of the difficulty in finding relevant data on plans similar to yours. And, as you know, it is critical to find a reliable and representative data source for your benchmarking efforts.
Fortunately, we can help. For almost 20 years, the annual PLANSPONSOR DC Survey has gathered plan design data from plans of all sizes—from those with less than $1 million in total plan assets to those with more than $1 billion—and representing a wide range of industries, geographies and providers. Stated differently, we believe it is one of the most flexible and trusted sources of benchmarking trend data in the industry.
While many different factors can influence plan design choices and outcomes, one of the most frequently cited is plan size. Larger plans frequently have more resources—e.g., staff and capital—to support more complex plan designs than their smaller peers. Therefore, larger plans tend to be harbingers of trends that eventually move down-market. For example, in 2008, about one-third (35.9%) of larger plans and about one-eighth (13.3%) of smaller plans offered automatic enrollment, but today both percentages have nearly doubled—to 67% and 27%, respectively.
Whether your plan is large or small or somewhere in between, the charts and tables on the following pages can help you understand how your plan design compares with thousands of others. The data highlights areas where adoption of a given plan feature is largely split between small plans (less than $10 million in plan assets) and large (more than $100 million in plan assets). We encourage you to use these survey results as a regular part of your plan evaluation process and hope you will gain a better understanding of industry trends. —Brian O’Keefe


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The data that follows summarizes the analysis of 4,218 qualified responses to the 2016 PLANSPONSOR Defined Contribution (DC) Survey. The survey was fielded between early July and mid-September 2016 and gathered data covering more than 50 aspects of plan design, investment offerings and participant/sponsor services. The results have been published in two parts: The DC provider ratings appeared in PLANSPONSOR this past November, and the plan benchmarking results appear here. Benchmarking is reported by total plan assets; further data is available and can be reported by industry and other asset ranges. Please contact Brian O’Keefe, at, for additional information and pricing.


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PLANSPONSOR's Defined Contribution Survey - Industry Trends gathers data from thousands of plan sponsors about their plan design and administration, providing industry benchmarks. The survey is a study in contrasts and a demonstration of some surprisingly striking similarities among plans of varying sizes.