Getting small business employees to save more for retirement

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AARP usually can be found on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum when it comes to retirement policy. The two Washington advocacy powerhouses have often been at loggerheads on key policy fights, such as Social Security and Medicare reform.

But these strange bedfellows teamed up last week to sponsor a half-day seminar on a major challenge: improving access to workplace retirement plans and boosting participation and saving rates.

The two groups are not teaming up to sing “Kumbaya” just yet, but several panels of plan sponsors, financial services and human resources executives and policy experts did identify a range of reasonable, ideologically moderate ideas for tweaking and improving the current system.

And the system could stand some improvement. Just 72 percent of working Americans say their employer offers them a retirement plan, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey.

The key to boosting that figure is getting more small businesses involved. Just 14 percent of businesses with fewer than 100 workers sponsor any type of retirement savings plan, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office study.

Here’s a look at some reasonable, middle-ground ideas for improving the system that surfaced at last week’s event.