Early trial results suggest opt-out payroll saving approach could meaningfully boost employee financial resilience, says Nest Insight

  • Early data suggests 53% employee participation in emergency saving among those who experienced the autosave (opt-out) approach, compared to 1% among those who had to opt in to save.
  • Autosavers have an average balance of around £130 in savings after 4 months, compared with an average balance of around £29 amongst opt-in savers
  • No impact on pension saving participation

Read the report: Does payroll autosave support employees to get started with saving? Preliminary findings from a trial of an opt-out approach to workplace saving (PDF)

Nest Insight, the public benefit research and innovation centre, has today published very encouraging preliminary research findings from its trial of an opt-out, or ‘autosave’, approach to workplace emergency saving.

Launched in November 2021 in collaboration with employer SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK and credit union TransaveUK, the trial examines whether making payroll saving the default enables more workers who want to build up an emergency savings pot to get started. The approach preserves the choice not to save for those who don’t want to. The research programme is supported by the BlackRock Foundation and the Money and Pensions Service, and academics Sarah Holmes Berk, John Beshears, David Laibson and Jay Garg from Harvard University, and James Choi from Yale University, contributed to the research design and conducted the analysis.

In the UK, it is estimated that 11.6 million people have less than £100 of savings to fall back on if an unexpected expense arises.[1] For many, this problem will be being exacerbated by the current cost-of-living crisis, and in particular the rapid increases people are seeing in the cost of energy.

In this innovative trial, believed to be the first of its kind, new joiners to SUEZ are automatically signed up to save £40 per month unless they choose to opt-out. The approach preserves employees’ choice to decide what to do with their money, whilst removing the need for them to complete a full sign-up journey if they want to start saving. Employees can make changes to their saving amount, withdraw their money quickly and easily, and can stop saving at any point. Clear and transparent communications ensure employees have the information they need to make an informed decision about whether saving in this way is right for them[2] and opting out is quick and easy.

To analyse the impact, the trial compares new joiners to SUEZ who are offered payroll saving on an autosave basis, to a control group who continue to be offered payroll saving on an opt-in basis. Six months in, early results suggest that an autosave approach is an effective way to improve payroll saving participation among those who choose to save in this way, it also improves the amount saved and without any immediate detriment to pensions auto enrolment.

Significant increase in participation rates

In the first six months of the trial, participation in payroll saving was 1% in the opt-in group and 53% in the autosave group in tenure month four – a 50 percentage point increase in saving participation amongst employees who experienced the autosave approach.

More people saving and at higher rates

Early data suggests that not only do more people save when the autosave mechanism is applied, but they also save at higher rates. The average saving balances were over 100 times higher in the group of employees that experienced autosave (£68) than in the group of employees that had to opt in to saving via payroll (<£1).

When considering only those who participated in payroll saving, rather than the total sample population, the autosavers have an average balance of £129.99, compared with an average balance of £29.34 amongst the opt-in savers.

No impact on pension saving participation

Because autosave is being introduced at the same time as pensions auto enrolment in the SUEZ employee onboarding journey, it’s important to understand whether there are any adverse impacts on pension saving behaviours. In the preliminary data, there was no evidence that people opt out of their pension at higher rates when simultaneously offered payroll autosave compared to when offered opt-in payroll saving. The long-term impacts of payroll autosave on workplace pension saving will be explored in future analyses.

David Laibson, Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics at Harvard University, comments:

“In every country, families frequently struggle to pay for unpredictable (and even predictable) large expenditures, like a car repair or the cost of traveling to a family reunion. The type of savings generated in the SUEZ/TransaveUK/Nest Insight program should be scaled globally to reduce financial distress and related high-cost borrowing.”

Michelle Sutton, Head of Compensation and Reward for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said:

“We recognise that financial difficulties have the potential to affect both physical and mental wellbeing, and this trial was a great fit with our existing package of proactive, holistic wellbeing support for our employees that forms a key part of our People, Planet, Profit approach. Rising living costs have shone a light on financial resilience and we’re delighted that the early trial results show the scheme is helping more of our people build up a buffer to draw upon for unexpected outlays.”

Roger Shelton, Marketing and Business Development Manager at TransaveUK, said:

“This early evidence suggests that the Autosave approach to workplace emergency savings can have a hugely positive impact on both participation rates and behaviours. If this helps give more employers the confidence to adopt a similar approach going forward then it could become a real game-changer.”

Jo Phillips, Director of Research and Innovation at Nest Insight, added:

“We are very excited by these early trial results, which indicate the effectiveness of autosave as a way of supporting payroll saving among employees who may need it most. Those least likely to have savings tend to also be those least likely to make active choices, due to limited bandwidth and lower levels of financial confidence. In an autosave model, however, the need for an active decision falls to those who know they don’t need or want to save; a group more likely to be financially confident and to be saving elsewhere.

“As the cost of living continues to rise and impact households across the UK and beyond, employers may be looking for affordable ways to enhance support for employee financial resilience. An accessible savings pot can be thought of as a self-funded insurance policy, allowing an individual to pay for unexpected expenses without having to turn to expensive forms of credit. We’ve also seen from our wider programme of work that emergency savings accounts can be used to manage expenditure across a pay period; a strategy that could be really helpful in the context of rising costs.”

Together with the academic team, Nest Insight will continue to assess the effectiveness of the approach until the end of 2023 to understand the long-term impact on participation rates, balances, pension saving participation and the impact on financial wellbeing amongst a larger population of employees. The overall trial will compare around 600 SUEZ new-joiners who are offered payroll saving on an opt-out basis, to a control group who will continue to be offered payroll saving on an opt-in basis.


[1] Money and Pensions Service (2021) Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey 2021: Technical Report

[2] Nest Insight (2022) ‘What do employees think about payroll autosave and how it should be communicated?’ nestinsight.org.uk/practical_guide_to_communicating_opt_out_payroll_saving/

Notes to editors

Further information about the trial and the preliminary results can be found in Nest Insight’s research report: Does payroll autosave support employees to get started with saving? Preliminary findings from a trial of an opt-out approach to workplace saving (PDF)

About Nest Insight’s workplace emergency savings programme

Our workplace emergency savings research programme currently includes:

  • The sidecar savings trial: testing the effectiveness and impact of a hybrid workplace savings tool called Jars that’s designed to help people build up emergency savings and, once a savings target has been reached, to put more aside for retirement on top of their normal auto enrolment pension contributions. This savings tool is offered on an opt-in basis at participating workplaces. The trial is ongoing, and Nest Insight expect to publish the final results from this trial in spring 2023.
  • Opt-out, or ‘autosave’, payroll savings trial: testing whether an opt-out joining mechanism could enable many more people who want to save through payroll for the shorter-term to get started. Nest Insight will continue to collect data on new joiners to the trial until December 2022 and will then continue to track those who experienced autosave and those in the control opt-in group for a further 12 months to examine how saving behaviour changes over time.

For further information, visit: nestinsight.org.uk/research-projects/workplace-emergency-savings/

About Nest Insight

Nest Insight is a public-benefit research and innovation centre. Our mission is to find ways to support people to be financially secure, both today and into retirement. We conduct rigorous, cutting-edge research, working collaboratively with industry and academic partners to understand the financial challenges facing low- and moderate-income households. We use these data-driven insights to identify and test practical, real-world solutions. Our findings are shared widely and freely so that people around the world can benefit from our work. For more information visit nestinsight.org.uk

About our programme partners

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) vision is: ‘everyone making the most of their money and pensions’. MaPS is an arm’s-length body committed to providing access to the information and guidance people across the UK need to make effective financial decisions over their lifetimes. For more information, visit: maps.org.uk

BlackRock is a global investment manager serving the UK market for more than 30 years with a purpose to help more and more people experience financial well-being. BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative is made possible through philanthropic support from the BlackRock Foundation. The initiative brings together partner companies and non-profit financial health experts to make saving easier and more accessible for low- to moderate-income people across the US and UK, ultimately helping more people to establish an important financial safety net. For more information, visit: blackrock.com/corporate/about-us/social-impact.

The work of Nest Insight is made possible by support from its strategic partners, BlackRock and Invesco

Invesco is an independent investment management firm dedicated to delivering an investment experience that helps people get more out of life. Building on its strong track record in defined contribution research, and its existing partnership with the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Invesco partnered with Nest Insight to support their ambitious programme of research, publications and events. For more information visit invesco.co.uk NYSE: IVZ