Health savings accounts (HSAs) are gaining acceptance among employers as a retirement planning tool, but not as much with benefit administrators, according to a survey by HSA provider HealthSavings Administrators.

An online survey of about 270 benefit professionals and employers in September found that only 16% of benefit professionals counsel their clients to invest their health benefit dollars in institutional-class fund shares so they can grow their savings tax-free.

Many of these professionals are not promoting them as an investment vehicle for retirement even though 90% said HSA account holders were somewhat or very knowledgeable about using health savings accounts as a way to save for retirement, according to the survey.

Respondents were divided over the goal of HSAs, as well as how to leverage them as part of a retirement strategy. One-third of benefit professionals (36%) said it was not important to focus on investing, rather than saving or spending, while 65% of employers disagreed.

Thirty percent of respondents said they did not know if their health savings accountholders were investing their HSA, and a majority of respondents (74%) said they encourage their accountholders to save, not invest.

More than half of employers and benefit professionals (58%) said they offered only one HSA option to clients. Those who did promote HSAs as an investment (40%) said they encouraged HSA account holders to do so as a retirement option.

Employers said that institutional-class share funds (69%) and funds with low expense ratios (56%) were important to their account holders when selecting an HSA. However, the majority of employers (51%) said they only contributed up to $500 to accountholders’ HSAs each year, compared with one-third (31%) who said they contributed $500 to $1,000 a year and just 17% who said they contributed more than $1,000 annually.

E. Craig Keohan, chief revenue officer at HealthSavings, said that benefit professionals, a critical bridge between employer and employee, haven’t yet grasped the value of a health savings account beyond a spend or save mentality.

“That approach can severely restrict the long-term potential for an accountholder’s HSA,” he said in a news release. “We know from our customer base that when given a health savings account that is optimized for investments, accountholders can build account balances five times the industry average.”

HealthSavings Administrators, headquartered in Richmond, Va., has provided health-care savings and investment products since 1997.