Give Retirement Plan Participants Educational Tools They’ll Actually Use

By Rob Peters, senior marketing strategist for CUNA Mutual Group

Look closely at the vast array of educational tools designed to help retirement plan participants manage their plans. Websites. Interactive calculators. Brochures. Articles. Webinars. Toll-free call center numbers.

It is pretty clear that these tools rarely leave the shed. For evidence, see these results of the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) from the Employee Benefit Research Institute*:

  • When asked how workers determined the amount they needed to save for retirement, 42 percent said they had guessed rather than using a systematic retirement needs calculation.
  • The percentage of workers not at all confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement grew from 22 percent in 2010 to 27 percent, the highest level since the first RCS 21 years ago.
  • Fifty-six percent report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000.
  • Seventy-four percent say they plan to work in retirement (up from 70 percent in 2010).

Four steps from passive education to pro-active guidance
As our industry continues to shift from defined benefit pension plans to 401(k) plans, we should be shifting how we inform and guide plan participants.

Create a retirement plan guidance system that is:

  • Pro-active and time-free. It is important to pro-actively present guidance to participants so that they do not have to spend time and effort finding resources and plugging information into a system. The more time they must commit to getting guidance, the lower the chances are that they’ll be patient enough to actually get it. It’s how we’re wired.
  • Relevant. Certainly, background information on funds and plan options should still be available for those who want it. But how many people really care about the difference between a large-cap growth stock fund and a mid-cap value fund? What most of us really want and need to know is, “Am I on track?” and “If I’m not on track, how can I get there?”
  • Visible. The most relevant information—the answer to “Am I on track?”—should be visible at a glance, evident every time a participant logs into the account’s dashboard. Account balances, contributions, and investment returns are still necessary information, but devote the most visible real estate on the page to suggesting whether the viewer should take action now or hold the course.
  • Consistent. Be consistent over time and across all channels. Imagine a participant sees at a glance—on printed statements, on her PC, or on her smart phone—that she is not on track to meet her retirement savings goal. With one click, she sees the percentage she should be contributing to get back on track. The next time she finishes paying off a car loan or gets a raise, she might be more likely to think of increasing her contribution.

In a perfect world, we would all seek qualified financial planning assistance to customize our defined contribution accounts according to our specific lifestyles, financial circumstances, and risk tolerances. In the real world, only a small minority of employees will do so. Make sure your retirement plan education program makes it easy for the majority of participants to make smart choices, too.

Rob Peters is a Senior Marketing Strategist for CUNA Mutual Group. For more information about retirement plans, including the RetireOnTargetTM guidance system, contact him at 800.356.2644, ext. 7594.

CUNA Mutual Group insurance, retirement and investment products provide financial security and protection to credit unions and their members worldwide. With more than 75 years of true market commitment, CUNA Mutual’s vision is unwavering: To be a trusted business partner who delivers service excellence through customer-focused products and market-driven insight. More information on the company is available at

*Ruth Helman, Craig Copeland, and Jack VanDerhei, “The 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey: Confidence Drops to Record Lows, Reflecting ’the New Normal’,” EBRI Issue Brief, no. 355 (Employee Benefit Research Institute, March 2011).


Questions? Contact Sales & Marketing Associate Craig Reed: 206.340.4789,

Posted in CUNA.