Opt-out payroll saving trials

In the UK, auto enrolment has made a huge difference to participation rates for workplace pension saving, helping millions of people overcome inertia to get started with pension saving if they didn’t choose to opt out. Our opt-out payroll saving trials are exploring whether a similar opt-out joining mechanism could be facilitated by employers and providers that want to support people to get started with emergency saving. The aim of this approach is to increase participation among people who want to save through payroll for the shorter-term but don’t get around to it, whilst also preserving the choice not to save for those who don’t want to or can’t.

The research builds on results from our sidecar savings trial which find that support for workplace emergency saving is high amongst both employers and employees, but employee sign-up levels are currently low – in line with those of other voluntary payroll saving tools. Our research shows that inertia – people’s tendency to keep doing what they’re already doing – is a strong barrier to participation. At one employer for example, 98% of people who say they think the savings tool will help them have not yet signed up. The opt-out mechanism changes this, supporting people who want to save but don’t around to signing up to do so, without restricting the choice of anyone to ultimately decide what to do with their money.

We’re also testing an active choice mechanism where people are prompted to make an active decision for the question: ‘do you want to save?’: ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Active choice is arguably easier to implement than opt-out payroll saving under the current regulatory frameworks, and has shown promise in the pensions context, but does it increase the number of people saving for the short term?

About the trials

We’re currently running three live trials: one with UK employer SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and the credit union TransaveUK, and another with two large UK employers, Bupa and The Co-operative Group, and the financial wellbeing provider Wagestream.

These trials are supported by the BlackRock Foundation and the Money and Pensions Service (MaPs). The research is being led by Nest Insight together with academics Sarah Holmes Berk, John Beshears, Jay Garg and David Laibson from Harvard University, and James Choi from Yale University.

Interested in taking part?

Employers, and the payroll mechanism, can play a role in employee financial wellbeing. We’re interested in talking to employers and providers implementing, or thinking about implementing, tools, benefits and solutions to support employees’ financial wellbeing. If your organisation is interested in taking part in future research, or wants to find out more about our current programme, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us: insight@nestcorporation.org.uk

Programme partners


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 wellbeing. BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative is made possible through philanthropic support from the BlackRock Foundation and the BlackRock Charitable Gift Fund. 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 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 

• To understand if an opt-out autosave approach can improve financial resilience and wellbeing through greater levels of payroll saving, compared to an opt-in approach.
• To compare the opt-out autosave approach to active choice.
• To explore the different implementation approaches to offering payroll autosave, and identify the benefits and barriers to these different approaches.

Each of our trials has a different research methodology.

The trial with SUEZ and TransaveUK changes the ‘business as usual’ default for payroll saving from opt in to opt-out for all new joiners. We compare those who previously experienced opt in to those currently experiencing the opt-out approach to see how behaviours change. In addition to the administrative data, we are also running surveys with employees to get a better idea of how payroll autosave affects wellbeing over the longer term.

In the trials with Wagestream, we’re running a randomised controlled trial where new joiners are randomly allocated to either the opt in, opt-out or active choice user journeys.

In all of the trials we are using interviews and focus groups with employees to understand how saving feels for employees and what they think of opt in, opt-out, and active choice approaches to saving.