Number of UK workers saving soars with powerful and popular opt-out payroll savings, says Nest Insight

by | Sep 19, 2023

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  • Emergency savings participation rates jump by 50 percentage points, compared to opt-in approaches
  • Around 5 in 10 new workers at SUEZ are saving, and 7 in 10 new benefits app users at Co-op and Bupa, when opt-out approaches are used.
  • Compelling evidence presents opportunity to meaningfully improve financial resilience for millions more UK workers.

Today, compelling evidence has been published in Nest Insight’s new report, which supports the case for widespread use of opt-out payroll savings approaches in UK workplaces to help boost financial resilience.

A significant proportion of UK workers have little or no money put aside for emergencies. One quarter of adults in the UK have less than £100 in savings leaving them vulnerable to financial shocks. Some households are left with no choice but to turn to high-cost credit or loans.

In November 2021, with support from the BlackRock Foundation and the Money and Pensions Service, Nest Insight began trialling opt-out approaches to payroll-linked saving. The first real-world pilot was with UK employer SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and the credit union TransaveUK, and a further two trials followed with UK employers Bupa Care Services and Co-operative Group, and financial wellbeing provider Wagestream. 

 
 

In all three trials, the opt-out approach is dramatically boosting saving participation and workers say they like the scheme (>93%), whether or not they themselves choose to save. The nudge is both powerful and popular. This suggests that wider adoption of opt-out payroll autosave would help millions more to build a savings buffer.

Emma Stockdale, Research Trials Manager at Nest Insight, comments:

“The results of these trials are extraordinary. Savings participation is dramatically increased by using opt-out approaches, bringing it much more in line with the proportion of employees who say they want and need to save – somewhere between 40% and 70%, depending on the workplace context and provider. 

 
 

“People are building meaningful savings buffers over time, and they’re actively using their accounts by withdrawing money when they need it. Knowing that they’re saving also gives people greater peace of mind and confidence, supporting financial wellbeing to improve over time. 

“The current data from these trials give us no reason to believe other areas of people’s finances, including pension saving through auto enrolment, are negatively impacted. The results are really positive. People want to save, and many can save, it sometimes just takes a bit of help to get started.”

Commenting on the impact the savings approach has had for them, a trial participant explained: 

 
 

It makes me not worry as much because I know if something does happen with my car, even something as silly as my kettle, I know I need £20 to buy one – it’s just little things like that, that little peace of mind if something does happen I have got that to fall back on.”  

In an opt-out payroll savings model, employees automatically start saving into their own accessible savings account through regular payroll contributions unless they choose not to. If they want to start saving, they don’t need to do anything. Everything is done for them. Only people who don’t want to save have to take action. The approach preserves individual choice while also making it easier for people to get started with short-term saving.

Jo Phillips, Nest Insight’s Director of Research and Innovation, comments

 
 

“It’s clear from our research that opt-out payroll savings approaches have enormous potential to boost the financial resilience, mental health and productivity of millions of people. We have a huge opportunity here. For the most part these approaches are currently untapped. 

“Over the coming months, we’ll be bringing together industry and policymakers to explore how opt-out payroll savings approaches could be scaled. We’ll be considering how to increase access to workplace savings solutions, including to employees working for smaller organisations, how opt-out payroll savings approaches could be widely implemented, and whether there’s an opportunity to build emergency savings into the future evolution of pensions auto enrolment in the UK.” 

Gemma Gooch, Managing Director and Co-President of the BlackRock Foundation, said:

 
 

“When we launched BlackRock’s flagship Emergency Savings Initiative in 2019, we had the conviction that many workers, even those on lower and medium incomes, could save if they were provided with the appropriate products at the right time. This report reinforces that case and lays out a roadmap for employers and industry partners to help advance the financial well-being of workers across the UK.

“It is now time for employers across industries to build on the lessons shared in this report and provide emergency savings offerings to their employees at scale. This is good for the individual, good for businesses, and good for society at large.”

Michael Royce, Policy Lead for Nation of Savers at the Money and Pensions Service, said:

 
 

“The workplace is key to helping us increase by 2 million the number of working-age adults on low-to-modest incomes who are saving regularly. Nest Insight’s research, with funding from us, is resulting in groundbreaking findings.

“Applying these at scale, could support the financial resilience of millions of workers, helping the UK achieve the ambitions set out in in the 10-year UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing.”

Nick Speight, Culture & Colleague Experience Director at Co-op, said:

 
 

“The wellbeing of our colleagues is a key priority for us and we are committed to supporting their financial wellbeing to make Co-op a fairer place to work.

“Through listening to our colleagues, we knew that being able to regularly save money was really important for their overall financial wellbeing. We were keen to explore if autosave would be an effective way to help colleagues get started.

“By working with Nest Insight, Wagestream and Harvard to trial autosave with our colleagues we have been able to see that it is having a positive impact. We are pleased to have supported Nest Insight to build an important evidence base that other employers can look to when deciding the best ways to help people improve their financial wellbeing.”

 
 

Working with academics Sarah Holmes Berk, John Beshears, David Laibson and Jay Garg from Harvard University, and James Choi from Yale University, Nest Insight will continue to collect and analyse data from these trials for up to two years to track whether and how behaviours change over time.

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