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‘Journey-based’ Web Designs Paying Off for Providers

Service Providers

Retirement plan providers are increasing their efforts to encourage saving by redesigning online participant experiences with simplicity and personalization in mind, according to a new report from Cerulli.   

In fact, plan providers are making sizable investments in digital technology to enhance their suite of online resources to improve the participant experiences and better connect with a younger generation entering the workforce, according to the Cerulli Edge—U.S. Retirement Edition, 2Q 2022 Issue.

As part of those investments, plan provider websites, financial wellness programs and employee engagement initiatives increasingly are incorporating education-oriented designs and targeted communications, powered by some of the latest technologies. Consequently, providers are using tailored messaging capable of being delivered via multiple digital channels to improve the participant experience. For instance, communications sent via email blasts and “nudges” can be sent to specifically targeted groups of participants using algorithms that determine who is most likely to benefit from certain recommended actions. 

Recordkeepers and third-party providers of financial wellness programs are also improving online interactions with participants by adopting “journey-based” website designs. Typically, financial wellness websites have been online libraries of videos and whitepapers that users can learn more about various financial topics, the report explains. 

In contrast, journey-based wellness programs have participants engage actively with educational content, providing guided experiences that help participants accomplish common online procedures, such as enrolling in the plan or making an initial investment selection, and improve the quality and relevance of financial education resources. Employees may already be benefitting from these efforts based on a comparison of survey results from this year with those from 2020, Cerulli notes. According to the firm’s research, 25% of plan participants now prefer to receive 401(k) account information via email, up from just 9% in 2020. 

In addition, 86% of participants now find savings tools and calculators on their 401(k) website very or somewhat helpful for retirement planning compared to 77% in 2020. What’s more, 72% express the same sentiment regarding the articles, videos and webinars offered online by their plan provider—a 20% jump from 2020 (52%), the report observes.  

The Challenges

One of the challenges, however, is that while these enhanced features are welcome developments, they fail to address other barriers that have kept participation rates low. Cerulli notes, for example, that these wellness programs still rely on participants making the effort to manually enter accurate information on their plan provider’s website. Moreover, beyond the investment of time and energy required to fully engage with these programs, some believe data privacy concerns also are a hurdle to participation, the report notes. 

As such, because financial education is lacking across much of the U.S. workforce and financial wellness providers have a captive audience within the retirement plans they serve, Cerulli recommends that providers continue their efforts. This includes efforts to not only improve both the experience and the educational content of their wellness offerings, but to also pair those efforts with data privacy policies to help ease the anxiety that may prevent employees from making full use of these programs.

According to Cerulli’s research, if participants are assured of privacy by their employer, they generally are comfortable sharing personal information with their retirement plan provider.

Social Media Platforms

Meanwhile, as part of their efforts to reach younger Generation Z workforce entrants, plan providers are also continuing to expand and improve their presence on social media platforms.  

Having grown up with social media, smartphones and texting, Gen Zers who participate in 401(k) plans show a greater preference for digital communications from their provider compared to participants overall, the report explains. The challenge, according to Cerulli, will be engaging young workers on the social media platforms, while also leveraging their online financial wellness resources to provide sound guidance at scale.

In this case, Cerulli recommends that providers consider developing social media presences that can complement their financial wellness educational resources. These platforms could be used to positively engage with both influencers and users to encourage their interest in investing while also offering professional guidance. 

“Building a positive and encouraging experience with a recordkeeper at this early stage in Gen Z participants’ financial lives may make them more likely to continue an investment relationship in future decades,” notes David Kennedy, senior analyst at Cerulli.