Tuesday, November 8, 2011

And the Survey Says ...

I read the results of a survey on defined contribution (DC) plans this morning. Among its findings was that participants understand what the number/date in the name of a target date fund (TDF) means. I don't want to call out the name or author of the survey here because it did have some good information. What I do want to cite is that the conclusions may not be as valid as the authors suggest.

I'll bet you want to know how I can say such a thing. Even if you don't, I am going to tell you. Roughly what happened was that survey participants were contacted by telephone and asked a series of questions. One of those questions was (approximately) asking what the 2030 means in the term Retirement 2030 Fund. Again, approximately, the choices were:

  1. The approximate date at which a participant expects to retire and begin drawing down the account balance for retirement income.
  2. The approximate date at which a participant expects to retire and roll over the account balance to an IRA.
  3. The approximate date at which the participant wants to spend the money freely.
  4. I don't know.
Frankly, two of these (1 and 2) sound like good choices. The other two do not. That person could somehow divine one of the two correct answers (1 and 2) from the four choices given does not suggest much about the person. The survey authors seem to think it does.

I think I could have authored the survey in a way that would have shown that nearly 100% of respondents understand what the 2030 means. That's right, nearly 100%. 

I want to change the choices. I'll keep #s 1 and 2 as they are. But, I am going to change #s 3 and 4 to be these:
  • The next year that the Cubs will win the World Series.
  • The next year that NBC will win the ratings battle against ABC, CBS, and Fox.
See how silly it can get. Everyone knows that the Cubs just don't get to win the World Series. There is a curse, and it is stronger than the one that plagued the Red Sox. And, clearly, NBC is more likely to finish 5th in a 4-horse race than it is to win the ratings battle. 

Or, I could make these choices 3 and 4:
  • The year at which a participant will have enough money in their account to retire comfortably.
  • The year at which the fund will convert from an account balance to a level annual retirement payout.
Now, my guess is that between 50% and 60% of respondents would get this one right. And, remember, if choices were chosen randomly, 50% would choose either 1 or 2. So, I don't think that respondents really get it.

There is much education still to be done.

No comments:

Post a Comment