SURVEY SAYS: Participant Education Topics

July 15, 2013 ( - Many years ago, retirement plan participant education only included information about the plan features and maybe a couple of illustrations of typical asset allocations for individuals based on age.

However, as investment menus have become more complex-and after a couple of recessions-more plan sponsors are realizing participants need more investment education, and education about finances in general. Last week, I asked NewsDash readers: What topics do you cover in participant education?

Other than information about plan investments (96.6%) and information about plan features (93.1%), the two most covered topics cited by responding readers are basic investing concepts (79.3%) and how to calculate how much retirement income is needed (69%). Nearly half (48.3%) cover appropriate savings rates and investments and more than one-third (34.5%) cover information about creating retirement income.

Thirty-one percent offer ideas for changing spending habits, 24.1% discuss how to create a budget and 20.7% cover debt reduction. Only one-in-ten responding readers (10.3%) indicated they cover when and how to claim Social Security, and 3.4% include education about how Medicare works.

One responding reader said participant education included “the difference between saving for retirement and eating cat food.”

Keeping education simple was a theme among the few responding readers who made verbatim comments. Some shared education ideas. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who entertained me with song:  “Still in the shallow end of the education pool…leery of 1-800-Call-Shark. So, we’re; ABC, easy as 1-2-3, simple as do-re-mi, protectin’ the com-pan-y So, ABC is all you’ll see, yeah.”

We appreciate all the readers who responded to the survey!


Retirement is not all 'about the money'. We (HR maybe) need to provide ways for individuals to discover meaningful activity for the last 1/3 of life, and it could very well include a career switch. The endless weekend concept is literally a killer.

workshops offered throughout year on variety of topics as well as educational pieces in payroll inserts and educational articles in newsletters and via email blasts

how to get in the plan, how to get out of the plan, and how to invest -- the simpler the better

The budgeting, reducing debt, and spending habits are handled in separate employee financial education programs - not within the retirement education.

In the past year we have brought in Attorneys, investment people and Retirement Planners to provide information to all of our Staff. We have videotaped their presentations and have put those videos on our intranet.

Need to get them to understand the earlier they start putting in the better and with pre tax deferrals they may not be losing out of each paycheck as much as they think they are basically paying themselves first Uncle Sam second!

We are spending much more time starting with the end in mind. We use on line tools to show them what percent of pay they really need to be doing to have their idea of a comfortable retirement. We don't spend much time on the investment options as we have found that people are not as concerned about how they get there, they just want to get there. I use an analogy about my car saying "I don't really care about how the engine works, i just want it to go when i push the button." We are leaning more and more on TDF and auto enroll and spending more time helping them focus on where they want to go and how they get there.

Still in the shallow end of the education pool...leery of 1-800-Call-Shark. So, we're; ABC, easy as 1-2-3, simple as do-re-mi, protectin' the com-pan-y So, ABC is all you'll see, yeah.

I can remember being able to talk about stocks and bonds and diversification - and then being able to point to THE stock fund and THE bond fund on the menu as the real life equivalents of what had just been discussed. Those were simpler, and in many ways I still think "better", certainly for your average participant. As for things like debt counseling, budgeting, etc, I'm sure there are employers out there who do that, who feel obligated to do so, and who perhaps have the time and can commit the resources to doing so. We can't. And, fortunately, don't seem to need to. What an indictment of our society and education system that those basic tenets of financial acumen have to wait for people to show up at work!



NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.