International Business Machines is changing how it makes matching contributions to employee 401(k) plans. THe company will still contribute about 6 to 10 percent of an employee's salary but starting next year, instead of making matching contributions throughout the year, the firm will make a single lump-sum contribution at the end of the year.
The move is expected to save IBM millions but would ultimately mean a reduction in employee benefits as employees won't get the dollar-cost averaging. Benefits experts say the move by IBM, widely considered a leader in employee benefits, could prompt other companies to follow suit.
"This change reflects our continuing commitment to invest in our employee 401(k) plans while maintaining business competitiveness in a challenging economic environment," IBM said in a statement.
Aside from employees missing out on longer-term gains, the plan also penalizes employees with shorter tenures, according to Brigitte Madrian of Harvard Kennedy School of Management.
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"They could reduce match expenses in one of two ways," she told CNBC on Friday. "They could reduce the matching contribution a little bit for all employees or what they've done is to reduce contributions for employees that are leaving the company."
Aon Hewitt's Alison Borland, vice president of retirement solutions and strategies, told CNBC that IBM's plan makes sense.
"If a plan sponsor has to reduce costs, they have to focus those dollars on the employees that matter most," Borland said. "So they're rewarding employees who are remaining with the company through the end of the year."
She does concede that it is ultimately a reduction in employee benefits. "But in the grand scheme of things, however, with all of the changes we've seen over the year's this is a smaller incremental change," she told CNBC's "Closing Bell."