In the US, the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) has warned defined contribution (DC) plans are inherently more vulnerable to economic hardship and deliver significantly less secure retirement benefits than defined benefit (DB) schemes.
"We found some very troubling evidence that many Americans are looking at a pretty gloomy future for their retirement years. They won't have the resources they need to be self sufficient."
She said one of the more worrying trends was the ability to tap into funds from 401(k) and IRA savings accounts before retirement, in times of need or economic hardship.
"Looking at the issue in the context of the current business cycle here in the US we know that this problem of leakage from 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts is a big issue," she said.
"When people get into tough financial times, for example when gas costs $4 a gallon and the economy isn't going too well, they have to make tough decisions."
Just under 90% of 401(k) plans allow members to withdraw savings, representing a significant potential drawdown on funds. According to research published by NIRS, 10% of DC assets usually end up being withdrawn before retirement.
Keith Brainard, research director, National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA), agreed with the findings: "DC plans are far leakier than DB plans. A dollar paid into a DB scheme is far more likely to end up paying for retirement benefits than a dollar in a DC plan."
Almeida said that tapping into retirement savings was an understandable decision, albeit one not to be taken lightly.
She said: "Although they're doing it for goods reasons today - such as mortgage payments or a child's [college] tuition, or even just filling up the gas tank to get to work - the problem is that when it comes time for those for workers to retire, those funds won't be there.
"It's short changing tomorrow for pressing needs today," she added.
This week's edition of Professional Pensions is out now.
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