Monitoring the Details Behind Retirement Plan Websites

Retirement plan sponsors need to make sure their participant websites are correct and relevant.

Retirement plan websites are an important part of retirement plan participants’ experience and engagement with their plans. However, puzzling industry terms, an absence of necessary links or even material typically found on these sites being incorrect can give even the most internet-savvy participant a headache.

And yet it’s not just those three errors that participants face when accessing retirement plan websites. Creating an engagement level and relatable content for participants is another feature plan sponsors will typically oversee, says Michael Webb, vice president of Cammack Retirement. Building simplified and relevant material, like integrating visuals, bold colors and easy-to-understand text could tackle overwhelming industry terms and language, he says.

“A properly structured retirement plan website is one of those things that brings the concept of retirement front and center to participants,” says Webb. “One of the big flaws of retirement plan websites is they’re simply not engaging and participants aren’t reading them.”

It’s details like these that have the power to push participant engagement and improve retirement readiness among workers. A 2016 Financial Finesse study found retirement projection tools played a sharp role in the improvement of the number of participants being on track for retirement, as 49% of employees reported using this feature.

Andrew Way, a senior analyst and manager of Retirement Research at Corporate Insight, who spearheads a team of analysts in judging highly-rated retirement features by surveying participants, lists projection tools as one of the most favorably used by participants, especially those in Generation X.

“It’s gotten to the point where we’ve actually had participants tell us they now view their income projection as a data point more than they do as a resource,” he says. ‘I’ve had a handful of people in that Gen X demographic tell me that when they go around to their site, they’re looking at their income projection before they’re looking at their account balance.”

The Corporate Insights analytics team, which produces an annual Retirement Plan Monitor awards system with participant responses, had surveyed 1,488 active defined contribution (DC) plan participants in their 2016 DC Plan Participant Survey.

For participants in the sandwich generation, Way says an income projection tool may be highly beneficial towards savings goals.

“For Gen Xers, they’re really in that spot where they’re 40 to 50 years old. They still have plenty of time to make changes if they really need to improve their scenario, but they’re still far enough away where the account balance isn’t the end-all, be-all,” he says.

NEXT: Websites vs. additional communications  


For some participants, the overall mobile experience is causing them stress. Studies have found that participants, especially Millennials, prefer utilizing apps over websites for retirement planning.  

In the 2017 PLANSPONSOR DC Survey, mobile offering websites were found to deliver the highest level of disappointment. Because mobile offerings have limited functionality, says Brian O’Keefe, director of Research and Surveys at Strategic Insight, participants are less satisfied with the delays when compared to online competitors.

In Corporate Insight’s DC Plan Participant Survey, 31% of respondents said they utilized a mobile device to go into their retirement accounts, a stark rise from 8% in 2013. Unsurprisingly, the survey found 39% of participants rated mobile access as “very important” or “extremely important.” In order to accommodate these needs, Corporate Insight suggested firms create apps that offer the same techniques as their websites.  

However, building apps is a costly decision and not quite feasible for small providers, says O’Keefe. In turn, these firms adopt the approach that “mobile optimized” websites are on the same level as apps.

Yet, among these different facets of technologies lies a continued interest in face-to-face interaction with advisers. In the 2016 PLANSPONSOR Participant Survey, respondents (28%) voted they would meet one-on-one with a financial adviser for 30 minutes. One in five of participants (20%) were favorable with  an interactive online library that allowed for self-pace learning. Therefore plan sponsors might benefit from applying  several channels of information.  

Source: 2017 PLANSPONSOR Participant Survey

Given this context, O’Keefe believes the relationship between face-to-face and online support has no choice but to coexist when it comes to retirement planning.

“In some ways, it could be argued that one-on-one meetings with participants can dilute the need for innovative technology, but even the best technology may fail to match the value of a personalized discussion,” he said.” That said, websites/apps are the cornerstone of the participant experience and support the majority of participant interactions, so it is only natural that they must continue to evolve and improve.”

Participants, in general, want to consume information in various formats, not just technology.  

If you are trying to change participant behavior, it is tempting to believe that more or better technology is the answer, but digital/print campaigns and in-person meetings or seminars target different audiences,” he said. “And our annual participant survey shows that no one communication channel is preferred by more than one in three people, so you need to support multiple channels.

NEXT: Incorporating recordkeepers for help  

So, while some providers lack apps, that isn’t an indicator to halt overall retirement website usage. In fact, recordkeepers deliver a pronounced help for plan sponsors searching to better their online platforms. Providers offer a great number of features—albeit not on the same personalized level—at no additional cost, says Way.  

“[The recordkeepers] have all these resources that they’ve developed,” he says. “If the participant takes times and sits down and goes through them—it can tell them a lot about their situation.”

The only problem? Some participants don’t realize this. Instead, Way finds many readers log into their account, check their balance and activity, and then leave. Therefore, it’s up to the plan sponsors and recordkeepers to specify and relay this information out to employees. The first step, he says, is to go that extra mile.  

“These resources can go a long way in helping people, but we would like to see better communication around it,” he says. “Sometimes that falls on the sponsor, sometimes that falls on the recordkeeper, in terms of just making people aware that these things are available to them for free, and they can help a lot.”

When it comes to defining industry language, incorporating a recordkeeper helps plan sponsors simplify terms often misunderstood. Describing and streamlining these industry terms is another way providers add assistance.  

“If I’m a fiduciary and I’m trying to manage the investments of a plan, and I don’t know anything about investments, what do I do? I hire a prudent expert,” Webb says. “Where all these plan sponsors kind of miss the boat is [providing] some of the language for these websites. And they can’t do that without having someone who is well-versed in retirement plans.”  

Although utilizing a provider in this capacity may still incur extra expenses, Webb says the amount of time saved from attempting to explain terminologies does outweigh the cost. Better yet, he mentions that if a sponsor has already engaged a website consultant or an adviser, that extra cost may be included in the service agreements.  

“It may not be all that much of an added expense, but just getting more of a bang for your buck out of your existing advisory and website consulting services,” he says.

Aside from graphics, income projection tools and consolidated education, participants are applying additional features to their retirement planning. Among a list of features workers anticipate are college planners, debt management tools, help on budgeting, online loan applications, account aggregation of outside accounts, foreign language translations, and even health care indicators. “We’ve seen a lot of leading recordkeepers develop tools on that topic, on how much might health care cost you in retirement, and how it will impact savings before retirement,” says Way.

And while a retirement plan website could host many retirement planning features, it’s always integral for plan sponsors to bear in mind its effectiveness with participants.

“You need to make any content you provide, whether it’s an education piece, retirement readiness, financial wellness; you need to provide it in multiple different contexts, and try to make it as relatable as possible,” says Way, echoing O’Keefe.

For if the content lacks resonation with workers, employee engagement just won’t follow.