Workplace retirement savings vehicles, such as defined contribution (DC) plans, are one of the most common ways that American workers save for retirement. DC plan programs in the United States totaled $9.6 trillion in assets as of Q3 2023, representing 22% of total retirement assets in the country.[1] This creates tremendous responsibility for plan sponsors in providing and managing retirement benefits on behalf of their employees. To help plan sponsors, we curated seven topics that we believe are top priorities for retirement programs in 2024. 

1. Complete a Comprehensive Target Date Fund Review

Target date funds (TDFs) are a distinguishing feature of defined contribution plans, with 85% of plan sponsors offering TDFs.[2] These funds automatically rebalance to become more conservative as participants near retirement. For this reason, TDFs are not only attractive to participants seeking a hands-off approach to managing their retirement savings, but also to plan sponsors that use these types of funds as the plan’s qualified default investment alternative (QDIA). In fact, of the 80% of plans that use a QDIA, 86% of them use a TDF.[2] As a result, it is common that participants have their entire account balances invested in a TDF. This increases the importance of a strong selection process and being diligent with ongoing monitoring. The Department of Labor’s guidance, Target Date Retirement Funds – TIPS for ERISA Plan Fiduciaries, outlines seven best practices for TDF selection.[3] While it is important to review the complete guidance before evaluating your TDFs, we believe three key questions can be a litmus test to determine if a review is warranted sooner than later:

  • Did the initial analysis of investment options consider your company-specific workforce demographics?
  • Did your initial analysis include an evaluation of multiple TDFs?
  • Have you reviewed your TDF selection, beyond normal performance monitoring, within the last three years?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it may be helpful to prioritize a TDF review in 2024. 

2. Trending and Trendy vs. Beneficial and Necessary

It is easy to be caught up in or distracted by popular headlines, articles, conference sessions, and webinars about new ideas to make defined contribution plans “better.” This content often blurs the line between marketing and thought leadership. A recent example that comes to mind is lifetime income products.

Historically, the majority of retirement planning communications have focused on accumulation. In the past two years, that conversation has expanded to “decumulation” strategies, focusing on the period following retirement. This has created a wave of sponsored content discussing in-plan annuity or “lifetime income products.” Despite the sheer number of articles citing their popularity, only 9.9% of plans offer these types of products to participants inside their plans.[2]

The industry is in a period of rapid innovation in reaction to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) 2.0 Act of 2022, increased industry competition among service and product providers and other secular trends. Innovation and new developments can be exciting and ultimately may prove to be appropriate and valuable to plan participants. However, it’s important plan sponsors maintain discipline and a holistic, goals based approach when evaluating trending products, features, or solutions for defined contribution plans.

3. Offer Comprehensive Employee Financial Education Resources 

To recruit and retain top talent, it is critical for plan sponsors to customize their financial education strategy to the needs of a diverse workforce. Different generations of workers engage with educational content in different ways: some prefer in person meetings, some learn best through videos and articles and some through 1-on-1 sessions. The messaging that resonates with someone at the start of their career may differ from someone nearing the end of their career. As a result, education methods need to be targeted, differentiated and varied to be effective in engaging your entire workforce.

Retirement plans that offer a well-managed plan supplemented with comprehensive financial education resources can be a key recruiting and retention tool. We’ve seen the greatest client success when our employee education consultants work with our retirement plan advisors to build annual education campaigns that incorporate the various needs of a given workforce into an executable plan. We have found that a little bit of planning can go a long way in improving participation engagement, deferral rates and other key metrics. 

4. Focus on Holistic Financial Wellness

In 2023, inflation and the possibility of a pending recession were on the minds of many Americans. PNC conducted a Financial Wellness in the Workplace Study that surveyed 500 organizations with revenue of at least $5 million and 1,000 of their employees to better understand how financial wellness is being prioritized and addressed in the workplace. Three key statistics from the survey are particularly relevant: [4]

  • Seven in ten employees reported being under financial pressure and it negatively impacting their work.
  • 75% of employers reported that employees’ financial stress impacts operations, including reduced productivity, lower morale and performance.
  • 23% of individuals have spoken with a financial advisor in the last three years.

Plan sponsors can help employees with their financial well-being by making their retirement plans more than just a vehicle for saving. A holistic focus on financial wellness can not only help employees improve their financial well-being, but it can also lead to greater productivity and may result in increased talent retention. Effective methods include providing access to group education sessions during the workday, encouraging use of online recordkeeper tools, such as calculators, and facilitating individual consultations with financial educators.

5. Evaluate Your Recordkeeper

The recordkeeper industry is going through rapid consolidation while tackling continuous product investment to keep up with a highly active regulatory environment. While some recordkeepers are stepping up to the challenge, others might be struggling to meet the demand. Part of a plan sponsor’s duty as a fiduciary is to regularly evaluate providers on two key dimensions: services/products and fees. 

  • Service and product evaluation involves analyzing a list of the services provided and determining if they are going well or if they need improvement. For products, such as a recordkeeper’s participant website, it might be important to survey participants or even evaluate personal experience, if applicable. This evaluation should be documented as part of review meetings at least annually and saved in a fiduciary file for future reference.
  • A good fee evaluation process should compare plan fees with other plans of similar size and number of participants who are receiving similar services. The fees should be reasonable for the services rendered. We use an independent fee benchmarking service to provide fee benchmarking information for our clients that they can save in their fiduciary file.

If your recordkeeping relationship is not meeting your standards, it is worth exploring if other providers on the market would be a better fit for your retirement plan.

6. Defend Cybersecurity

As cyberattacks continue to rise, organizations are taking steps to ensure they are educated in the battle against fraud. Last year, 88.2% of DC plans initiated cybersecurity actions.[2] Staying up to date on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) guidance on cybersecurity for plan sponsors and participants is necessary. The DOL’s Cybersecurity Program Best Practices is a helpful starting point for plan sponsors.[5]

One of the key aspects identified by the DOL’s guidance is related to plan data. We highly encourage plan sponsors to evaluate internal best practices and those of key plan vendors, such as recordkeepers.

Making an annual note to ask key providers for information related to their cybersecurity practices, reviewing the information and documenting it in your fiduciary file is an easy best practice to implement. To take it one step further, consider working with your recordkeeper to distribute participant-focused communications that help improve cyber-hygiene. We’ve found that this encouragement to improve cybersecurity practices can provide the additional benefit of causing participants, who might not otherwise have logged in to their accounts, to log in and engage with their retirement plans. 

7. Governance and Compliance Re-focus

Plenty of articles, webinars and other sources covered the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 in endless detail in 2023. Fortunately or unfortunately, this consumed a significant amount of attention and bandwidth through the year – sometimes at the expense of other projects and best practices. Things like evaluating the recordkeeping landscape, conducting a target date fund review, analyzing plan design for competitiveness against key competitors, and more were postponed.  

The good news is that it is easy to get back on track. Plan sponsors should make plans and set deadlines to hold themselves accountable to key objectives and priorities. We recommend working with your advisor to build a checklist for 2024 and to start working on items as expeditiously as possible. 


Plan sponsors take on tremendous responsibility in helping to manage retirement programs in a way that helps create positive retirement outcomes for participants. We believe these seven priorities can help to focus efforts on areas with the potential to create an outsized impact. For more information or to continue the discussion, please reach out to your PNC Representative.