Personalized Communications Key to Companies’ Attempts to Educate on Participants on Wider Range of Benefits

Plan sponsors are tailoring strategies to help employees get what they need from financial wellness offerings.

In September, every Delta Air Lines employee received a personal message in the mail outlining their own individual retirement readiness.


That snapshot included an explanation of the model that Fidelity Investments, the recordkeeper, uses to gauge personal progress. It involved comparing each individual’s balance and age to a figure that expanded, for instance, from one times the employee’s current salary for a 30-year-old, to 10 times salary for a 67-year-old, with various targets at milestones in between.


“The statements displayed individuals’ current balance and what the target balance is for their age,” according to Josh Jessup, manager for global retirement, financial wellbeing and mobility at Delta. “If their balance was below the target, the statements provided suggestions to get closer to the target; if above, [they] made suggestions to continue or even enhance their success.”


Such a personalized approach is just one component of an increasingly tailored communication strategy many companies, such as Delta, are adopting to spark greater interest among their employees in retirement planning. Plan sponsors and the consultants who assist them have new tools and methods to identify a range of different needs among their retirement plan participants that might vary by generation, retirement timing and even personal finance goals.


It marks a major change for some. Five years ago, all Delta employees received identical messages about their retirement plans. But today, Jessup, who is based in Atlanta, says the company can address a new range of needs across the company’s workforce.


“This is part of a broader effort to make employees more aware of how ready for retirement they are, based on their age and current 401(k) balance—understanding that is the first step to begin to take action,” Jessup says. “We have much more insight to send messaging that is relevant to the participants now. Now we can be much more intentional to meet more diverse needs.”


Making Far-Off Goals More Urgent


Recognizing the variety of different questions, goals and needs employees have is a key part of engaging retirement plan participants for Kelli B. Send, co-founder and senior vice president of participant services with Francis Investment Counsel LLC. Send, based in Milwaukee, says she sees employee groups’ interests divide depending on where they fall in their so-called ‘lifecycle.’ Those who are younger and just getting started are often interested in budgeting and emergency funds. But those who are older are typically juggling multiple needs saving for anything from retirement to kids’ college funds, while those approaching retirement want to know if they are ready to do so.


“Given that those are really different conversations and to-do lists, if you are looking to reach each of those different audiences, it goes back to, ideally, texting them and messaging them,” Send says. She emphasized that the chief concern should be bringing each person’s specific goals to the forefront of the conversation by asking: “How do you make that urgent?” she says.


Increasingly, Megan Yost, senior vice president and engagement strategist with Segal Benz, also finds the messaging that resonates most with employees depends on their life stage and current priorities. If an employee is still grappling with paying off student loan debt, for example, a communication focused solely on retirement may not capture their attention unless it also promotes student-debt related benefits, according to Yost, based in Boston.


“There’s been a huge proliferation in the benefits that are available to employees,” Yost says. “Organizations are really focused on trying to help people take advantage of those programs and appreciate them so if they can help individuals or cohorts of individuals better understand what’s relevant to them, it helps them realize these benefits are something that helps them in their everyday lives.”


When employees have a better understanding of how their benefits can support them, such as when to tap an emergency savings program or how to plan ahead for paying medical expenses with a health savings account, it can indirectly boost employees’ retirement planning, Yost says.


“A lot of people are most engaged around their benefits when they’re experiencing a transition or a personal change,” Yost said. “A lot of our clients have segmented content that you can fill in different scenarios and people can navigate to the content that’s relevant to them.”


Meeting Clients on Their Terms


Finding the best way to reach people who are most interested in specific topics may also depend on what their day-to-day job entails, Yost says. Some Segal Benz clients have a workforce with limited access to computers during the day. Reaching them may mean hanging posters in break rooms or locker rooms and including a QR code that employees can quickly scan with their cell phone to access information, Yost says. Direct communication is also effective when managers emphasize a key benefit, such as introducing an emergency savings program, during a morning meeting, Yost says.


“You really want to think about where your people are: Are they driving trucks? Are they sitting behind a desk? Are they in a manufacturing plant?” Yost says. “Then find ways to get that information to those individuals.”


Jessup also sees the need to vary messaging depending on the type of job each Delta employee has. For example, reservation and general office employees work at desks and have good access to computers, making email updates the ideal way to reach them, he says. But the company has better success employing face-to-face communication with flight attendants and airport customer service employees.


“Because of these differences and many more differences even within working groups, we leverage multiple channels such as email, internal social media, intranet pages, message boards throughout the operation and various face-to-face avenues to try to reach as broad a population as possible,” Jessup says.


Tracking the Process


Delta also uses different methods to measure whether the communication is reaching the employees it needs to, Jessup says. For example, Delta tracks open and click-through rates for emails, as well as web page views on intranet and social media sites, he says. But Jessup does not measure success solely by how widespread a particular campaign’s reach is.


“We don’t really look at any of our options as less effective, but rather as reaching an additional segment— if a communication type is reaching a small population that isn’t being reached by other means, it is a success,” Jessup says. “At the end of the day, our real measure of success is how we move the needle on metrics such as our participation in programs, positive actions in those programs and employee feedback through surveys and other means.”


Employee surveys have been an important part of understanding what is top of mind among the workforce at Organon & Co. in Jersey City, New Jersey. Organon faced an unusual dynamic as a newly formed company when it spun off from Merck & Co. Inc. in 2021, according to Natalia Sandoval, a senior benefits specialist in retirement focused on the U.S. and Puerto Rico.


“With Organon being a new company, we didn’t have a lot of data to go back and say, ‘This is working,’ or, ‘This isn’t working,’” Sandoval says.


Armed with information from surveys and following an ongoing educational communications campaign on retirement, including and webinars, Sandoval is now planning targeted communications and the chance to expand on different topics as the firm continues to gather data and feedback from employees, she says.


“We are constantly evaluating our communications approach to drive engagement,” Sandoval says.


The survey results also revealed a generational divide in participants’ financial focus. Younger generations were interested in financial wellness and topics like budgeting and coping with student debt, and they wanted answers to questions such as, “How can I be more investment-savvy and make the most of my retirement?” Sandoval says, adding that younger workers showed greater interest in checking in via apps and getting information 24/7.  Those closer to retirement want to know, “Do I have enough for my retirement, and how can I consolidate my money under one account?”


“We’re doing different things and we’re hoping to attract different groups,” Sandoval says. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data to do targeted communications, but as the company continues to grow, we will have more access and more information.”


Improving the User Experience


The Organon benefits team also relies on employee resource groups, which can help focus information on specific retirement plan features like loans or early retirement distributions and retirement contributions.


“The ERGs are great channels to gather feedback from employees around any topics or to promote new benefits,” Sandoval says.


Sandoval is also watching how other plan sponsors and plan administrators integrate financial wellness and react to the Secure 2.0 Act of 2022. There is a big opportunity to improve and integrate the user experience in recordkeeping and financial wellness services for participants, she says.


“This topic will have a significant impact on employees’ financial journeys and most likely will be key to a more digitized retirement space offering a more tailored and holistic approach, including financial advice, planning and coaching services to employees,” Sandoval says.


For Send, the most personal approach also involves working with a personal money coach or financial planner.


“Money is a topic that participants can easily not engage in: We like to avoid it, there’s never enough of it, maybe our parents fought about it, we don’t learn about it in schools,” she says. “It’s the whole idea of having someone walk alongside them and hold them accountable.”