Motive and Opportunity

By Nevin Adams, EBRI



At some point in just about every police drama, potential suspects are vetted against the following criteria: Did they have the motive to commit the crime, and did they have the opportunity? Those who lack either are generally quickly dismissed as suspects because it is assumed that, lacking those two essential elements, they simply couldn’t—or wouldn’t—have done the crime.

While it’s not generally couched in such terms, the focus on remedying retirement savings shortfalls often turns on those elements as well. Granted, most individuals would concede they have a motive for saving for retirement. After all, how many of us would consciously embrace the notion of a less-than-financially secure retirement, given a choice?

Opportunity is another matter. We know that, given the opportunity to save in a workplace retirement plan, most do. However, we also know that, outside those workplace programs—despite a wide-range of available alternatives—the vast majority do not.

Not surprisingly, this “coverage gap”—between those who have access to a retirement savings plan at work and those who don’t—has been a focus of regulators and policymakers, with some looking for ways to encourage more employers to provide access to such plans, and others looking to expand access through approaches like “automatic” IRAs.

When it comes to evaluating criminal suspects, there is a third criterion applied, and one that is often the final determinant in deciding whether to charge the individual: Did they have the MEANS to commit the crime? The rationale is simple: While one can have both the motive to injure someone and the opportunity to do so, if you lack the physical means to commit the crime—well, then, even if you had the inclination and the chance, you lacked the physical wherewithal to do so. And means is, of course, also a critical consideration in the calculus of retirement savings, certainly among lower-income workers.

On October 16, the American Savings Education Council (ASEC) Partners’ Meeting will focus on these issues and more—the obstacles to retirement savings, as well as possible solutions. We’ll hear from industry experts, learn about some new research and, perhaps most importantly, share ideas among a group with a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and expertise as we consider the role of innovation in designing more effective programs for retirement savings, the application of behavioral economics to encourage individuals to take greater responsibility for retirement planning, and the opportunities for public-private partnerships in promoting greater financial literacy.

You’ve got the motive and the means—take advantage of the opportunity.

It’s not too late to register. The event is free. The experience could be priceless. Join us.

The agenda for the Fall 2013 ASEC Partners’ Meeting is available online here.


The American Savings Education Council, or ASEC, is a national coalition of public- and private-sector institutions committed to making saving and retirement planning a priority for all Americans, which it does through resources such as the Ballpark E$timate. ASEC is a program of the Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF), a 501©(3) non-profit organization.  More information is available at

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