The Power of One-on-One Communications with Participants

With potential changes in Social Security, defined benefit plans on the decline, tax increases and rising health care costs, the responsibility of saving for retirement has shifted away from the employer to the employee. 

This new environment compels plan sponsors to take a closer look at what they can do to help boost retirement readiness for all of their employees. Now is the time to evaluate their retirement plan education and communication offerings and make changes designed to engage participants and help motivate them to take actions that can ultimately lead to better retirement outcomes.   

Retirement plans are not “one size fits all.” Not all methods of retirement plan education and communications are effective for every audience. With innovations in technology and the digital age, many plan providers place online tactics, including the web, at the center of their retirement plan communications programs, with less emphasis on traditional channels including mailings, in-person seminars and meetings.  

Although advances in web technology, mobile technologies and social media have made it convenient and faster than ever to deliver messages to participants, many employees continue to rate one-on-one guidance as the most valuable way to receive information, get motivated and stay on track with their retirement plan savings. While it’s necessary to evolve and offer communications to savers in ways that are most convenient to them, it’s also important to not lose sight of the power of face-to-face communication.

What Participants Value Most 

In the past, the retirement industry has focused largely on identifying the behaviors and attitudes of participants and how they save. Today, many providers are looking into what motivates people to take the next step and make retirement planning and saving a priority. A recent study (2012 Lincoln Retirement Power Research Series: The Value of On-Site Participant Communication and Education, Lincoln Financial Group and Mathew Greenwald & Associates) reveals that while plan sponsors are seeking ways to support more self-directed learning, participants continue to value one-on-one meetings with professionals. When participants were asked to rate the value of various meeting formats, more than 71% said they favored one-on-one meetings.   

Surprisingly, despite overwhelming interest, very few participants (only 19%) actually attended one-on-one meetings with a representative from their plan provider in the past year. The study found that by far, the most common interactions happen across various channels, as participants interact with their plans online, on the phone, by mail or through e-mail.   

Some retirement plan providers offer high-touch support models that include retirement consultants who are available to meet with employees one-on-one to offer guidance that can help them boost their retirement readiness.  

Leaders Can Make a Difference 

Sometimes the best way to encourage participants to save is to demonstrate that senior leaders in the organization support their employees’ retirement goals and care about their financial futures. Seventy-nine percent of participants in the study agreed that it would be appropriate for employers to encourage employees to save more.  When asked how effective they thought various engagement tactics might be if implemented at their workplace, 44% responded that the most effective approach might be to have on-site meetings in which upper management provides encouragement to save more.   

If senior leaders take time out of their day to attend plan-related meetings or regularly communicate to employees the power of saving, others may be more inclined to do the same. Plan sponsors can work with providers on the best ways to be visible during plan-related meetings or through employee communications.

Take Advantage of Annual Plan Reviews 

Many participants are unaware of the power of an annual plan review. By helping participants to be proactive and take advantage of all available resources, especially one-on-one meetings with a financial advisor or retirement consultant, participants can take charge of their investments. Whether self-enrolled or auto-enrolled, just like an annual physical, participants should meet with a retirement consultant or financial advisor at least once a year to do an annual check-up of their retirement savings plan. An easy way to remember is to schedule it around employees’ birthdays or an annual pay raises.   

Tips for a Successful Offering  

  • Offer Options - Survey employees annually to see what ways they prefer to receive retirement plan communications. Offering information and guidance through a variety of communication methods could be well worth the time and effort. 
  • Encourage Retirement Plan Check-Ups - Offer and encourage participants to do retirement plan reviews with a retirement consultant or a financial advisor.  
  • Make it Available - Evaluate your ability to make one-on-one meetings available at varying times throughout the work day. If an alternative is necessary, consider breakfast or lunch meetings, as opposed to after-hours meetings.  
  • Be Visible Call on executives, and other centers of influence, in your organization that can promote and attend in-person meetings. You may even ask them to kick-off or wrap-up the meeting with comments about why the company offers the plan and how participants can best take advantage of it. 


Because retirement plan education can take many forms, it’s important for plan sponsors to choose a retirement plan provider that offers on-site support in addition to other communication resources. Research shows that one-on-one sessions are the best way to motivate participants to take actions that boost their retirement readiness.  


Donna MacFarland, Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, Retirement Plan Services, Lincoln Financial Group. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation (NYSE:LNC) and its affiliates.   


NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.