What Can We Learn From a List of the Best 401(k) Plans?

Funny, this chart from Bloomberg on the top rated 401(k) plans in the country, taken from the BrightScope data. When I first discovered BrightScope’s beta site and blogged on it, I was struck by the fact that if you want a good retirement, you should go to work for the Saudi Arabian oil company. This chart highlights that this advice, cheap and useless though it is, is still sound. But what’s not a throwaway comment about this chart is this: take a look a this list of the best 401(k) plans, and then look at the companies. It’s a cross sample of some of the most successful companies in America. So what comes first? Does the success breed large account balances? Or do employees who feel the company has their back on benefit plans, such as 401(k) plans, build a better company? My gut instinct from a lifetime of work and a professional career working on benefit and plan disputes is that the answer to both is yes, in that it is a self-reinforcing cycle. Properly treated employees build a better and wealthier company, which in turns leads to larger account balances in 401(k) plans (because of employer matching, because employees have more income to invest, and because employees think they will be there long enough for it to be a worthwhile undertaking), which in turn leads to more highly motivated employees, which in turn leads to a more successful company, which in turn . . . Well, you get the picture.