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Demand Rising for Virtual and Self-Service 401(k) Education

401(k) Education

The popularity of virtual and self-service 401(k) educational sessions has grown since the start of the pandemic, but apparently that trend was accelerating even before then.

According to new data from Schwab Retirement Plan Services, workers favored online retirement education in 2020 and were less likely to cancel attendance and more likely to choose on-demand sessions than in 2019. Additionally, one third of all participants in Schwab’s 2020 education sessions chose to view virtual material at a time of their choosing, rather than attending live online sessions, representing a 207% increase in attendance at on-demand sessions from 2019.

Demand for virtual sessions was clear even before the pandemic, the firm notes. “In 2019, we had three times higher attendance in virtual sessions than in-person on-site sessions, with the added flexibility for attendees to join the sessions either live online or later through an on-demand recording,” explains Nathan Voris, Senior Managing Director, Business Strategy at Schwab Workplace Financial Services. “And of course, those trends accelerated sharply in 2020 when the pandemic drove nearly all participant education into a virtual environment.”

At the same time, employers see value in virtual education as well, with the versatile online approach greatly simplifying delivery to the workforce, the firm suggests. “In-person sessions often require clients to set up multiple conference rooms and juggle peak workloads across different teams,” says Voris. “The virtual environment eliminates those challenges, and all the time and effort that comes with them.”

Here to Stay 

In another sign that employers benefited from the increased convenience of virtual sessions, meeting day cancellations and reschedules among Schwab plan sponsor clients declined 57% in 2020 compared with 2019. “Even when more people begin returning to their workplaces, we believe many will continue to prefer accessing financial education at their desks, at home or on their mobile devices, whether for a scheduled live event or an on-demand session,” Voris notes.  

Not surprisingly, compared with 2019, the number of on-site meeting days in 2020 dropped nearly 88% because of the pandemic and attendance at virtual education sessions increased 53%. Still, the firm suggests that on-site education meetings seem unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels. “In 2020, we saw a significant acceleration in the trend towards virtual delivery but the number of employees making this choice has been growing since at least 2018,” adds Voris.

Holistic Personal Finance Help

Increasingly, workers also have shown that they want information beyond plan-specific features, according to the firm’s data. Schwab notes that last year it saw a 54% increase in attendance for virtual sessions on holistic personal finance topics versus a 37% increase in attendance for virtual sessions on plan-specific topics compared to 2019. “It’s clear that the outlook for retirement education includes more focus on overall financial fitness and more options to let workers choose when and how they receive that education,” Voris suggests.