Prudential Financial is advocating a retirement system that would allow small employers to join together to offer a single retirement program.

In a white paper released today, the Newark, N.J.,-based insurance and financial services company said nearly half of America's workforce-some 78 million workers-lacks access to a workplace-provided retirement savings plan. Of those, 30 million work for a business that has fewer than 100 employees.

A Multiple Small Employer Plan (MSEP) "would bring additional choice to the small-business end of the market, allowing small businesses to choose the option that best meets their objectives and the needs of their workforce," said Jamie Kalamarides, senior vice president, Retirement Solutions, at Prudential Retirement.

Groups of employers now can join a single 401(k) plan sponsored by an outside organization such as a chamber of commerce or association. An MSEP would allow small companies to pool their resources themselves to offer a retirement plan that also could include automatic enrollment and contribution escalation, investment defaults and investor education, Prudential says.

Prudential's white paper, Leveraging Multiple Small Employer Plans to Close the Retirement Coverage Gap, highlights the components of the proposed MSEP, discusses their potential for improving retirement plan access for employees of small employers, and outlines the legislative and regulatory actions required to facilitate adoption of MSEPs.