Defined Contribution Insights | American Funds

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Defined Contribution Insights



Defined Contribution Investment Perspectives

Make plan investment decisions that advance participant outcomes.



Is Your Defined Contribution Plan Successful?

Three key areas to promote successful participant outcomes.

Additional Insights

Resources to stay ahead in the defined contribution marketplace.


Does Your Target Date Series Have “Fantastic” Underlying Funds?

A target date series is only as good as its underlying funds. This infographic illustrates just how “Fantastic” the underlying funds of the American Funds Target Date Retirement Series℠ have been.

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September 2017
 |  FEATURING John Doyle

CE Credit Video Excerpt: Measuring Plan Investment Success

In this video clip from the Asset TV Masterclass Best Practices for Defined Contribution Plan Design, American Funds senior retirement strategist John Doyle discusses how to measure investment success for a defined contribution plan:

Watch the full Masterclass video on Asset TV and earn CE credit.

Watch Video (1:07)

August 2017
 |  FEATURING Joanna F. Jonsson

CE Credit Video Excerpt: Building and Protecting Wealth Through Retirement

In this Video from the AssetTV Masterclass, American Funds portfolio manager Jody Jonsson explains why it is important for a target date fund to be designed to build and protect wealth through retirement.

Watch the full “Masterclass” video on Asset TV and earn continuing education credit.

Watch Video (2:28)

July 2017
 |  FEATURING Craig Duglin , Wesley Phoa & Rich Lang

A Look Into the Target Date ProView® Tool

In its 2013 guidance on target date funds, the U.S. Department of Labor stressed the importance of thoroughly understanding a series’ asset allocation, fees and results. Yet evaluating target date funds can be complex given the diversity of offerings in the marketplace. An online tool, Target Date ProView, aims to make that process easier by providing insightful, objective data to compare target date series. In this video, Capital Group investment specialist Rich Lang and portfolio manager Wesley Phoa outline key criteria for evaluating target date funds and explain how Target Date ProView can help. Learn about:

  • Best practices for target date evaluation.
  • How ProView can help advisors and sponsors meet fiduciary responsibilities per the DOL tips.
  • The importance of analyzing the types of equities and bonds used in the glide path.
  • An insightful metric that can assess how well a series has held up in down markets.

Watch Video (8:30)

July 2017
 |  FEATURING Craig Duglin , James B. Lovelace & Rich Lang

A Different Way of Investing: What Makes American Funds Target Date Retirement Series Special

American Funds Target Date Retirement Series® celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year. In this video, Jim Lovelace, member of the Portfolio Oversight Committee, and Rich Lang, target date investment specialist, share their thoughts on:

  • Why the series was designed with above-average equity exposure.
  • The three-pronged approach to reducing market risk volatility.
  • How the role of the Portfolio Oversight Committee differs from a more traditional portfolio manager.
  • The funds’ asset class flexibility as market conditions change.
  • What investors might see over the next 10 years in financial markets.

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July 2017
 |  FEATURING Bradley J. Vogt & Craig Duglin

Target Date at 10 Years: What’s Worked in Target Date Funds

The Pension Protection Act took effect 10 years ago, leading to a surge of assets into target date funds. In this video, principal investment officer of American Funds Target Date Retirement Series® Brad Vogt shares his thoughts on what we’ve learned over the past 10 years, including:

  • The shift toward greater allocations to equity among many target date series. 
  • Why an unbalanced focus on fees can potentially be detrimental to participant outcomes. 
  • The benefits of having flexible global and multi-asset funds.
  • Managing investment risk in the years leading up to retirement.
  • What makes American Funds Target Date Series different and successful in the 10 years since its launch. 

Watch Video (6.53)


Ten Years on Target: What’s Worked in Target Date Funds

What have we learned about target date funds in the 10 years since the Pension Protection Act took effect, driving a surge in target date assets? Brad Vogt, principal investment officer of American Funds Target Date Retirement Series®, provides some insights to help plan sponsors and advisors evaluate target date funds. He discusses:

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Make DC Easy: Go Global

The Rise of Foreign Markets More than half of global market capitalization is non-U.S.

Sources: MSCI as of August 31, 2016. International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook April 2016.

Including global strategies in plan menus can increase diversification and investment opportunities.

Home bias (a significant over investment in one’s home country) has been a long-entrenched pattern in self-directed defined contribution (DC) plans. A decade of efforts by plan sponsors in the U.S., including the addition of international funds to retirement plan menus, has failed to successfully spur participants to increase their exposure to non-U.S. assets; the result is that participants are missing out on potentially attractive investment opportunities abroad, including in emerging markets. At the same time, plan sponsors are grappling with the phenomenon of choice overload, as more than a decade of behavioral finance research has shown that the expansion of menu options has proved overwhelming for participants, creating confusion and inertia.

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Legal Insights: Passive Does Not Reduce Fiduciary Liability

Recent Department of Labor (DOL) emphasis on fees combined with numerous 401(k) plan fee-related lawsuits have led some plan fiduciaries to question whether offering actively managed funds is riskier than passive funds that are typically less expensive.

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Fixed Income Should Anchor a Target Date Glide Path

In this paper, we discuss our approach and philosophy to fixed income in American Funds Target Date Retirement Series®, which we would describe as prudent and measured in broad terms.

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Take a More Dynamic Approach to Managing Volatility in Target Date Funds

Equity Glide Path Moves to Emphasis on Income From Emphasis on Growth as Participants Age

Examples are hypothetical.

We believe that target date series should feature not only a gradual reduction in equities over time, but also a gradual shift in the nature of that equity exposure. This transition, which we call recharacterizing the equity exposure, effectively creates a “glide path within a glide path” that can help lower volatility.

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July 2016
 |  FEATURING Bradley J. Vogt

American Funds: Keep Target Date Funds on Target

American Funds portfolio manager Brad Vogt explains the importance of the right target date series to help investors pursue their retirement goals. Beyond the glide path, a good evaluation process should include an examination of the underlying funds and the purpose each serves over the long term.

Watch Video (2:22)


A Powerful New Approach to Target Date Fund Evaluation

Intermediaries have a new way to differentiate themselves and increase the value they deliver to their clients. The American Funds Target Date ProView® tool provides a fast, powerful online platform to analyze and compare target date fund series to help make an appropriate selection for a DC plan’s participants. 

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The Value of Time in 401(k) Plans

Exhibit 3: American Funds (R-3) vs. relevant index

*Some indexes do not have histories sufficient for comparison to the lifetime of certain funds. See General Methodology section below for details.

While sponsors should compare their plan’s investments at least once a year with the appropriate benchmarks and peer investments and over a series of different time horizons, the key question remains: How long should those time horizons be to ensure that the resulting decisions are prudent? 

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Participant Needs in Target Date Fund Evaluation

Meeting DOL Guidelines, Article 1 of 5

Help satisfy DOL guidelines with a participant-focused approach to evaluating target date funds.



Wesley Phoa, portfolio manager, target date and fixed-Income funds, 21 years of experience.

Jason Bortz, ERISA attorney, 17 years of experience.

Toni Brown, CFA senior defined contribution specialist, 25 years of experience.

John Doyle, senior defined contribution specialist, 28 years of experience.

Rich Lang, investment specialist, 21 years of experience.

Years of experience as of December 31, 2014.

Target date funds have enormous potential to make defined contribution plans more effective and straightforward for participants. But to capture the funds’ benefits — and to help meet fiduciary obligations — plan sponsors must implement thorough, well-documented evaluation procedures.

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A Closer Look at the American Funds Target Date Retirement Series® 

In these videos, portfolio managers Jim Lovelace, Wesley Phoa and Brad Vogt discuss the American Funds Target Date Retirement Series.

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Complementary Fixed Income and Equity in Target Date Funds

American Funds Target Date Retirement Series Glide Path

The target allocations shown are effective as of January 1, 2015, and are subject to the Portfolio Oversight Committee’s discretion. The funds’ investment adviser anticipates that the funds will invest their assets within a range that deviates no more than 10% above or below these allocations. For quarterly updates of fund allocations, visit

Glide Path Within a Glide Path: How Fixed Income and Equity Can Work Together to Help Improve Retirement Outcomes

All target date series feature glide paths that reduce equities and simultaneously increase fixed income over time. American Funds Target Date Retirement Series® is distinguished by also featuring shifts in the nature of both the equity and the fixed-income exposure.

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Emerging Markets Opportunities in DC Plans

Emerging Markets: Key Driver of Global Growth

Gross domestic product based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) valuation of country GDP. Source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2012

In today’s generally low-growth environment, we believe it is important that participants in defined contribution (DC) plans have access to what could be a meaningful source of return: emerging markets. In the 10 years through 2011, emerging markets’ GDP grew at an average annual rate of 6.5%, compared to just 1.6% for advanced economies. Although risks still exist, several factors make emerging markets attractive today for many DC plans. These include the countries’ favorable demographics and rising incomes, as well as their strong fiscal balances and current account surpluses. These trends have led to an improvement in credit quality. Emerging markets strategies are now commonly used in defined benefit plans. Isn’t it time for DC participants to have access to these opportunities? We believe that plan sponsors should consider including emerging markets in DC lineups as a standalone menu option or component of a custom target date fund. At Capital, we encourage sponsors to think broadly about emerging markets exposure, focusing not just on pure equity and debt strategies but also on strategies that combine both asset classes or that include a mix of developed- and developing-market companies that do substantial business in emerging markets.

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More plan sponsors are asking third parties — including you, as their plan’s financial advisor — for assistance when it comes to selecting and monitoring retirement plan investment menus. Whether you decide to be or not to be a fiduciary probably depends on several factors, not least of which is: Are you able or willing to serve as a fiduciary?

Assuming you’re able to serve as a fiduciary, you may wish to ask yourself if this is a service that:

  • All your plans will value and need?
  • Is scalable so you can continue to build your retirement plan practice efficiently?
  • You should spend your limited and highly valuable time on?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may make more sense to operate as a nonfiduciary and align with a third party to provide fiduciary investment selection and monitoring services. And since many advisors are turning in this direction, our industry has seen the rise of third-party fiduciaries willing to take on this role.

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Not All Fiduciary Services Are Created Equal

Both recent and anticipated retirement plan regulations have heightened plan sponsors’ concerns about their fiduciary responsibilities. Among their concerns is selecting and monitoring plan investment lineups.

As a plan fiduciary, you’re required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to act in the best interests of participants in your plan. This includes ensuring that your plan offers a lineup of investments from which participants have the potential to create a well-diversified portfolio, to help minimize the risk of larger losses.

Turning to Third Parties

Faced with these responsibilities and related potential liability, many plan sponsors are turning to third parties — financial professionals or independent third-party fiduciaries — for help with selecting and monitoring plan investments.

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Rethinking DC Plan Options: Embracing a Less U.S.-centric Approach

Aggregate Asset Mix of the Top 1,000 DC Plans as of September 30, 2011

Sources: Pensions & Investments, February 6, 2012; Rimes

Most defined contribution participants have minimal exposure to investments outside the U.S. and are not exposed to the long-term growth potential of some of the world’s most dynamic companies and industries. Just as defined benefit (DB) plans did in the 1990s, defined contribution (DC) plans should consider moving away from a largely U.S.-centric investment view to pursue potentially better absolute and risk-adjusted returns. Plan sponsors can encourage this by providing a balanced menu of investment choices that include international, global and even emerging markets equity options in their DC lineups.

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View fund expense ratios and returns. 

Investments are not FDIC-insured, nor are they deposits of or guaranteed by a bank or any other entity, so they may lose value.

This material is intended for use by financial professionals or in conjunction with the advice of a financial professional.

Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This and other important information is contained in the fund prospectuses and summary prospectuses, which can be obtained from a financial professional and should be read carefully before investing. 

Investing outside the United States involves risks, such as currency fluctuations, periods of illiquidity and price volatility, as more fully described in the prospectus. These risks may be heightened in connection with investments in developing countries. Small-company stocks entail additional risks, and they can fluctuate in price more than larger company stocks. 

The return of principal for bond funds and for funds with significant underlying bond holdings is not guaranteed. Fund shares are subject to the same interest rate, inflation and credit risks associated with the underlying bond holdings. Lower rated bonds are subject to greater fluctuations in value and risk of loss of income and principal than higher rated bonds. Investments in mortgage-related securities involve additional risks, such as prepayment risk, as more fully described in the prospectus. While not directly correlated to changes in interest rates, the values of inflation-linked bonds generally fluctuate in response to changes in real interest rates and may experience greater losses than other debt securities with similar durations. 

Each target date fund is composed of a mix of the American Funds and is subject to the risks and returns of the underlying funds. Underlying funds may be added or removed during the year. Although the target date funds are managed for investors on a projected retirement date time frame, the funds' allocation strategy does not guarantee that investors' retirement goals will be met. The target date is the year in which an investor is assumed to retire and begin taking withdrawals. American Funds investment professionals manage the target date fund's portfolio, moving it from a more growth-oriented strategy to a more income-oriented focus as the fund gets closer to its target date. Investment professionals continue to manage each fund for 30 years after it reaches its target date. 

Bond ratings, which typically range from AAA/Aaa (highest) to D (lowest), are assigned by credit rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's, Moody's and/or Fitch, as an indication of an issuer's creditworthiness.

Fund shares of U.S. Government Securities Fund are not guaranteed by the U.S. government.

There may have been periods when the fund has lagged the index or indexes. Certain market indexes are unmanaged and, therefore, have no expenses. Investors cannot invest directly in an index. 

Investment results assume all distributions are reinvested and reflect applicable fees and expenses. 

Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capital Group or its affiliates. This information is intended to highlight issues and not to be comprehensive or to provide advice. Investors should consult their tax or legal advisors. 

Expense ratios are as of each fund's prospectus. 

The American Funds are distributed by American Funds Distributors, Inc.

The Capital Group companies manage equity assets through three investment groups. These groups make investment and proxy voting decisions independently. Fixed income investment professionals provide fixed income research and investment management across the Capital organization; however, for securities with equity characteristics, they act solely on behalf of one of the three equity investment groups.

Allocation percentages and underlying funds are subject to the Portfolio Oversight Committee's discretion and will evolve over time. Underlying funds may be added or removed at any time.

Past results are not predictive of results in future periods.