Last year, more workers took advantage of the convenience of virtual and on-demand 401(k) educational sessions, and it appears this trend will continue even as workplaces move back to in-person work.
According to data from Schwab Retirement Plan Services, participant viewership for virtual live and on-demand sessions was up 33% year-over-year in 2021, while the number of onsite in-person meetings dropped to near zero because of the pandemic.
Of the workers who attended Schwab’s education sessions in 2021, 42% chose to watch via on-demand sessions instead of attending live virtual meetings, up from 33% in 2020. Cancellations and reschedules were also down significantly, decreasing 69% from 2019, when 76% of education sessions were delivered in person.
The decline in cancellations and increase in on-demand engagement has driven a sharp rise in efficiency, with 48% fewer meeting days scheduled by employers, while reaching 43% more participants in 2021 than in 2019, according to the firm’s data.
“The pandemic accelerated the migration to virtual education, but the trend has been building for several years as both workers and employers have discovered the advantages of digital delivery,” says Nathan Voris, Director of Investments, Insights and Consultant Services at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. “Increased attendance and fewer cancellations prove that a combination of virtual live and on-demand sessions is attractive to employees and allows employers to reach their workforce more efficiently and more effectively.”
Meanwhile, even as many employers began encouraging workers to return to the office in 2021, they saw the value in keeping education virtual rather than in person. Nearly 100% of education sessions for Schwab clients took place virtually in 2021, up from 82% in 2020 and 24% in 2019.
General retirement education and financial wellness sessions were particularly successful in the virtual format, the firm notes. Wellness-related topics like college savings and debt management garnered more than four times the attendance per session than topics focused on companies’ specific retirement plan features.
“Virtual meetings require fewer logistics, giving employers more time to thoughtfully plan content for workers,” notes Voris. “A successful virtual session can’t just use the same slides and voiceover from an in-person presentation. We construct virtual content differently, with shorter sessions that encourage interactivity through polling, links and personalized suggestions. Smart, consumable content encourages workers, who are already on their devices, to take action.”
In fact, in post-session surveys, 93% of respondents said they were better prepared to take their next financial step after attending virtual education meetings, and 95% were confident they knew where to find the resources they needed to take that step.
While virtual education appears here to stay, Schwab also notes that in-person meetings can still play an important role in participant education, especially when covering more complicated topics such as provider and plan design changes or introducing plan features that are more complex, Voris explains.
Moving the Needle
Schwab’s findings appear to be supported by a recent study by EBRI, which found that employees who utilize financial wellness webinars may make material changes in their 401(k) plan. The challenge, however, is persuading employees to utilize the webinars, as age and asset levels appear to be significant factors in predicting which employees attend.
Still, when estimating the impact of attending just one of the financial wellbeing webinars examined as part of the study, EBRI found that employee contributions increased between $649 and $988 depending on age and initial contribution level. EBRI’s study also included some unexpected findings, including that attending some webinars appeared to have resulted in changes that were not always in the positive direction.