A Failure to Communicate?

A new study looks at the current media of participant communication – and while it seems to be getting through, there does appear to be some room for improvement.

In Corporate Insights’ 2016 DC Plan Participant Survey, respondents were asked how often they receive communication: 67% hear from their providers at least quarterly – 17 percentage points below 2013’s findings. This year, respondents were also a little less likely to say that they receive the right amount of correspondence from their retirement plan providers, though it still stood at 79% (versus 86%). This six-percentage-point difference is divided equally between those saying communication is too frequent and those saying they do not receive enough communication, according to the report.

Mail Drop?

While participants primarily receive communication through email and mail, they are as likely to receive email today as in 2013 (69%), though mail is decreasing (57% today versus 68% in 2013). The report’s authors say this could signal a move toward environmental sustainability on the part of DC plan providers through paperless delivery options, though participants could also be embracing this option more than in the past. All communication types – from statements to transaction-related correspondence to fee notices – are delivered primarily via email, followed by mail.

Older participants are more likely to be satisfied with the communication they receive and to prefer traditional modes of communication relative to Millennials and Gen Xers.

When it comes to communication from retirement plan providers, Millennial and Gen X plan participants appear to be generally satisfied with the frequency of contact they receive. Seventy-two percent of Millennials and 79% of Gen Xers stated that they receive the right amount of correspondence. While objectively high ratings, the report authors caution that these are lower than what Baby Boomers (85%) and members of the Silent Generation (89%) report.

For all communication types, at least three-quarters of Millennials prefer to receive email. Gen Xers feel similarly, though they are a little more open to receiving mail. With Boomers and the Silent Generation, email and mail are more closely tied, though even here email prevails in most cases. The only exception is statements, where Silent Generation participants prefer mail. Specifically, 63% chose mail and 50% chose email as their statement delivery preference. The report notes that It appears that the oldest respondents are still most comfortable with more traditional communication methods when it comes to their most important correspondence.

Don’t Text Me

Less traditional communication modes, such as text message and social media, are still vastly unpopular, according to the report. Nine percent of Millennials who receive correspondence from their providers say they receive it through text message – a relatively low percentage compared to the other modes of communication, yet significantly higher than the percentages of Gen Xers (4%), Baby Boomers (3%) and the Silent Generation (1%) that report receiving text messages from their plan providers.

One case where Millennials find text messaging appropriate is time-sensitive correspondence, like security notices (14%), fee notices (12%) and transaction-related alerts (11%). According to the report’s authors, this represents a departure from the findings of their 2013 DC Plan Participant survey, in which text messaging did not crack the double digits for any message types. However, in one finding that is consistent with 2013, they found that no age group shows much interest in social media communication from their plan providers.

Ultimately, the report authors say that providers should make it as easy as possible for participants to receive communication from them. Providers should be mindful of new communication methods, like video conferencing and live chat, that other financial services verticals are exploring.

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