Beyond Bulls & Bears


Navigating the next normal in the retirement industry

The needs of retirement plan sponsors and savers are changing, and advisors may want to consider a value proposition for the “next normal” in the shifting retirement landscape, according to Mike Dullaghan, Retirement Strategist at Franklin Templeton.

Coming out of a transformative event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people may look for a “new normal.” At the same time, the pace of change we all face may lead to a series of “next normals” vs. a singular new normal. In this article, we consider: What will the series of next normals be for the retirement plan industry?

The needs of plan sponsors and savers are changing, and that means advisors may want to view their services differently, too. A next normal value proposition needs to look beyond the “three Fs” of funds, fees and fiduciary to include customized plan design and robust client engagement.

Enhancing retirement readiness

Customized plan design seeks to optimize participant outcomes and income replacement through tools like auto enrollment, auto escalation and stretch matches. Additionally, intentional engagement focuses on addressing holistic needs, including financial planning, budgeting, emergency savings and overall wellness.

Employers and workers are already signaling change. We observe an example of the next normal in the participant’s view around saving and finance.  Our 2024 Voice of the American Workplace Survey indicates the importance of financial wellbeing is rising among workers. Two-thirds of workers surveyed (65%) said they have overhauled their relationship with money.

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With the convergence of state mandates to offer workplace savings plans and SECURE Act provisions that cover many fees associated with new plan establishment, interest in workplace savings plans is growing. At the same time, there is a heightened focus on customization and employee engagement. New plans can be well designed from the start, while existing plans may benefit from a thoughtful redesign.

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As demands increase for customization, so does the adoption of automatic features. Features like auto enrollment and auto escalation take advantage of a principle James Clear wrote about in his book Atomic Habits. The “automatically in unless you opt out” nature of these design features makes it “require more work to get out of the good habit than to get started on it.”1

Turn insights into action

Here are three steps for retirement plan advisors to consider:

1. Learn Request For Proposal (RFP) systems: Become familiar with electronic proposal systems that seek to streamline and facilitate the RFP process.

2. Maximize practice efficiency: Investigate what role structured solutions—plans that have preselected fiduciary services and line ups—may play in maximizing the efficiency of your practice.

3. Optimize your client’s plan: Conduct plan reviews to ensure design innovation is providing a benefit for your existing clients as well as for new plans being formed. In other words, it seems prudent to put all existing plans through a review to determine whether the plan design is optimized.

As you consider the steps above, power your practice through partnership. Ask yourself, which partners actively work to make your practice more efficient? Which partners are your first call when you want to enhance what is working or overcome challenges?

Our retirement sales team is dedicated to walking with you to our next normal and the one after that. If thoughts like, “Change Has Never Been This Fast. It Will Never Be This Slow Again”2 are intimidating, recognize you have partners to help guide you. In particular, our Business Development Directors’ mission is to be your first call as you work on the initiatives outlined in this article.

For additional information, please contact the Franklin Templeton Retirement Sales Department at (800) 530-2432.

The Voice of the American Employer Survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Franklin Templeton from November 6th to November 17th, 2023. All 1,000 respondents, based in the United States, are classified as employers, defined as having at least some influence over company benefits and/or hiring at organizations with over 100 employees. Respondents represent a mix of industries, company size, role, age, and race.

This presentation also references a qualitative study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Franklin Templeton from August 15th to August 25th, 2023, among 15 American employers. All interviewees were full-time employees working in human resources, who have influence over employee benefits, and included those with titles such as HR Manager, HR Director or HR Vice President, among others.

This was a blind study, as Franklin Templeton was not mentioned in order to avoid bias.

The Voice of the American Worker Survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Franklin Templeton from November 9th to November 21st, 2023, among 2,001 employed US adults. All respondents had some form of retirement savings. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Findings from 2020 reference a study of a similar nature that was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Franklin Templeton from October 16 to 28, 2020, among 1,007 employed US adults, study from 2021 also references a similar survey conducted among 1,005 employed adults from October 28th to November 15th, and a study from 2022 also references a similar survey conducted among 1,000 employed adults from October 17th to October 27th.

Franklin Templeton is not affiliated with The Harris Poll, Harris Insights & Analytics, a Stagwell LLC Company.


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1. Source: James Clear. Atomic Habits. Chapter 14. 2018.

2. Change Has Never Been This Fast. It Will Never Be This Slow Again (, December 31, 2019.

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