Note: Data was updated on April 24, 2020.

Have you ever had data that was misinterpreted or even overwhelming at times? I’m sure the intent is always good, but it can lead to meaning many different things, and, without the right expertise, could result in making misinformed decisions.

That’s where my advanced analytics team, which is part of Strategic Retirement Consulting (SRC), plays an important role in helping plan sponsors. We specialize not just in gathering data about retirement plans and the industry, through our annual How America Saves publication, but also in interpreting that data and sharing actionable information with our clients. Really, when I think of my team’s function and how we use participant and industry data to help plan sponsors achieve their goals, I think, as I often do, of the game I love—golf. 

I can’t help it as I feel the parallels are unmistakable. 

To take it a step further, I like to think of myself, and our group, as professional caddies for our clients. Caddies have all the experience, knowledge, and data about a given course. They know where the golfer needs to hit the ball, how far, what type of shot, when it’s time to go for a birdie, and when it’s time to play conservatively. They feed this information to the golfer so they can make the best decision to set themselves up for success. 

We act in a similar fashion for our clients. We go beyond looking at historical data. We can use client data to provide predictive analytics. Rather than stopping at what the data says, we dive deeper. Using Vanguard Plan Assessment for Retirement Readiness (VPARR), we show clients how many of their employees will be ready for retirement and which populations could be off track. Then we take it a step further. We provide recommendations based on what we know about the client’s plan and share changes to their plan design that could increase the number of employees on track for retirement. 

Helping plan sponsors sink the big putts 

A recent success story our group had was with a large health care provider. We analyzed industry data, client data from the Vanguard Plan Effectiveness Index™ (VPEI), and client data from VPARR, and found two areas where changes to plan design could benefit employees’ retirement goals. 





We shared this information with the client and recommended that they increase “undersavers” to the employer match rate and sweep participants earning more than $50,000 into an annual 1% automatic increase. More specifically, we found that if the targeted participants were autoenrolled or swept to 5%, and implemented 1% annual autoincrease until a deferred rate of 10%, the replacement ratio for the plan could jump from 63% to 69%. Replacement ratio is the projected percentage of expected pre-retirement income that participants will replace based on plan savings, additional Vanguard assets, Social Security, and other customized data. We’ve set the target replacement ratio at 75% because people in general need less income in retirement. 

Because of our strong relationship with the client, the data, and the knowledge to provide thoughtful recommendations, the client is going to implement our recommendations and help set their employees up for success. 

Trusted partner in difficult times 

Like any great caddie, we are there for you in good times and difficult times. The recent market volatility and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is one of those difficult times. But again, using the rigorous data and consultants with thorough subject matter expertise, we have been able to steer plan sponsors in the right direction. By analyzing Vanguard client and industry real-time data, we identified trends in trading levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and have helped our clients make informed decisions for their plans.  

Through April 17, trading increased, but remained relatively low with only 4.2% of all of our participants trading. Furthermore, only 1.3% of our pure target-date fund (TDF) participants have initiated a trade, underscoring how our TDFs are enduring solutions for the long term.

Figure 1. Percentage of Vanguard participants trading has risen in response to COVID-19

Note: Data are from February 18, 2020, through April 17, 2020.

Source: Vanguard, 2020.

It’s moments like these when I’m most proud of not only our team at Vanguard, but also plan sponsors. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones making the final decisions and taking action to help their employees.  

Specialists for all aspects of a plan 

I have to admit, there is one part of my golf analogy that is a bit of a stretch. In golf, you get one caddie. When plan sponsors partner with SRC, they get a whole team of caddies who specialize in different areas of the plan. We have consultants equipped to help plan sponsors with ERISA standards, employee benefits and communication strategies, fiduciary best practices, and more. The equivalent in golf would be if you had a caddie and a coach for every part of your game walking the course with you. When it comes to retirement plans, it’s a best practice. 


  • All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest. 
  • Investments in target-date funds are subject to the risks of their underlying funds. The year in the fund name refers to the approximate year (the target date) when an investor in the fund would retire and leave the workforce. The fund will gradually shift its emphasis from more aggressive investments to more conservative ones based on its target date. An investment in target-date funds is not guaranteed at any time, including on or after the target date.