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Employers and CalSavers—How Are They Responding?

CalSavers, the program in the Golden State that provides retirement plan coverage for those whose employers do not, has been in operation for three years now. Employers have a key role in how the program works; how are they responding?

CalSavers was launched in 2019, and the first of three waves of employers had to register by Sept. 30, 2020. The groups of employers and the dates by which they are required to register are as follows: 

  • Wave 1: Employers with more than 100 employees had to register by Sept. 30, 2020. 
  • Wave 2: Employers with 51-100 or more employers had to register by June 30, 2021.
  • Wave 3: Employers with five or more employees must register by June 30, 2022. 

According to the CalSavers Retirement Savings Board, as of Jan. 31, 2022, registrations and responses by wave were as follows: 

Wave Registered Employers Exempted Employers Employers that Responded Total Estimated Mandated Employers Response Rate
Wave 1        1,696      5,442     7,138        7,833 91.13%
Wave 2        3,580      5,203     8,783      11,283 77.84%
Wave 3      21,772    49,200   70,972    267,982 26.48%
Total      27,048    59,845   86,893    287,098 30.27%


The number of registered employers tripled in 2021, says the Board. “CalSavers has created a lot of urgency from employers in California,” said Kristen Carlisle, General Manager of Betterment at Work, in response to questions from ASPPA Net. 

But that urgency has not only concerned registering with the program—it also entails establishing a retirement plan of their own, which is an alternative to registering with CalSavers. “We’ve seen a lot of inbound interest to adopt a 401(k) program. In many cases, these are employers who have not had a retirement program in place and are making moves to institute one now,” said Carlisle. She added, “In 2021, Betterment at Work saw a 76% year-over-year increase in California companies adopting low-cost, accessible retirement plans, which we credit in part to an increased interest from employers in finding high-quality retirement plan options as the CalSavers deadline approached.”

And employers in California are motivated by more than simply the need to comply with the requirement that they register or start a program, Carlisle indicated. “At this point, a retirement solution is table stakes when it comes to offering benefits in a tight labor market. Beyond retirement plans, employees are looking for benefits from employers that will support their entire financial journey, including wellness stipends, employer–sponsored emergency savings funds, etc. Interestingly enough, we’re seeing interest in these types of benefits from small employers trying to stay competitive in the hiring and talent retention market,” she said.

The smallest of employers are under the gun now, Carlisle reminds: “If you’re a small business owner with five or more employees, you don’t have a lot of time on your hands to comply with this mandate before the deadline hits on June 30th. To set up a new 401(k), you typically need at least 30 days due to employee notice requirements, so it’s critical to get started right away if you’re thinking about a 401(k) solution.