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October 11, 2017
How the Big Firms Educate Employees About Retirement

We all want to see employees take the reins and drive their retirement accounts toward a successful finish. Some say educating is the key. But what kind of education, and in what format?

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Recently, Corporate Insight reviewed participant educational resources from some of the largest and best-known providers of retirement plan services. Their analysis, “Retiring in the Know: Analyzing Participant Site Retirement Educational Resources,” may help you decide how to best educate your own participants.

Proliferation of content, consistency in topics

The foremost trend among the firms studied is simply volume: 17 of the 18 firms discussed in the report have brought new retirement readiness resources to their participant education sites since the beginning of 2016, with 12 of them doing so in 2017.

Covered topics were fairly consistent. For example, all of the 18 service providers cover investment types. Nearly 9 out of 10 cover defined contribution plans and Social Security. And 83% cover investment styles/risk profiles, loans, rollovers and contribution basics. Other topics frequently addressed include Roth accounts, IRAs, retirement income needs, compounding and diversification.

While topics may be somewhat consistent from firm to firm, the way they are covered was more varied. “Many of the firms covered in this report now provide engaging resources across a variety of mediums that cover comprehensive selections of retirement topics,” the report states.

Address differences in how people learn

One key challenge inherent in educating employees on any topic, including retirement and investing, is the differing ways people learn. In this context, demographics cover a lot more territory than age, race and gender.

Consider the many different areas of our lives that may impact our interest and ability to learn about these issues:

  • Language. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2011 that one-in-five people in the United States who are over the age of 5 don’t speak English at home. While the Census Bureau doesn’t mention it, it’s likely that the number who speak “finance” is even smaller. Employers need to make sure non-English speakers as well as non-finance speakers understand how to meet their future financial needs.
  • Gender. Women and men often view money differently, and have traditionally had differing levels of success in saving—due in part at least to their jobs, family responsibilities, and other factors. It’s important to address the needs of both genders when educating on investing, saving, and other financial topics.
  • Geography. Whether employees work onsite, remotely, on the shop floor or in the C-Suite, they all need to understand how their financial behaviors today will impact their future. Give them resources they can access online, on paper, in person, and as many other ways as you can.
  • Age. Employees who are just beginning a career have different needs and interests than do those who are ready to retire. By understanding how to engage the different ages in your workforce, in terms of topics and delivery methods, you can make a greater impact on their future.

Interactivity and engagement

How can you address the varying needs of your employee population? According to the Corporate Insight report, the firms studied rely on a variety of formats. “It is important that firms offer educational resources in a wide variety of formats for multiple reasons,” the report says.

“First, people have a range of preferences when it comes to modes of learning so a range of mediums helps accommodate different learning preferences. Also, participants access educational resources with different acumen levels and goals, with some seeking quick answers to basic questions and others looking to invest time building a foundation of retirement knowledge.”

Written resources continue to play a role in employee education, but video and other interactive approaches have gained momentum. Along with retirement readiness (and other) calculators—which Corporate Insight will examine closely in a future report—firms are introducing or refining tools that seek to educate employees through engagement.

These include competitive games, multiple choice questions, trivia challenges, and more. Seeking to engage a younger audience, games may award points, badges, and other staples pulled directly from the online gaming world.

“Because different mediums inherently vary in terms of the level of content complexity and detail, format variety helps ensure participants have access to resources suitable to their varying knowledge levels and goals,” the report continues. “While there are a number of steps firms can take to make more traditional mediums more engaging, multimedia resources tend to be more interactive and engaging and provide higher quality educational experiences.”

Increase engagement in traditional communications

That doesn’t negate the impact of traditional communications. When using them, though, Corporate Insight recommends seeking maximum engagement. “Firms should strive to make more traditional mediums, particularly articles, studies and white papers as engaging as possible,” the report says.

How? “Incorporating narratives and real-life examples as well as visuals can help make content more relatable and digestible,” Corporate Insight advises. Offering content that is specific to particular demographics or life stages can help meet this goal.

The most common mode of education from the studied firms is video, with 89% using them. Half of the firms provide interactive lessons or tutorials, and 44% offer PDFs, studies and white papers as educational resources. Infographics are part of the educational process for 1/3 of the firms.

The efforts you make to educate employees may help them reach the goal of retirement success. There are many resources available to help you do that, no matter the make-up of your employee population. Contact your record keeper or other plan provider to see what’s available to you.

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