Concerned that employees weren't taking full advantage of retirement savings opportunities at BlackRock Inc., Katie Nedl orchestrated an interactive video campaign to encourage greater participation and investment.
Although the interactive video was offered companywide, Ms. Nedl said BlackRock officials were most interested in reaching younger employees — Generation X and Generation Y — who represent about 91% of the workforce.
“We needed to do something to reach those groups,” said Ms. Nedl, explaining how the video allowed participants to examine approaches to retirement savings based on different needs and savings behavior.
The BlackRock campaign wasn't triggered by a concern about participation; the 401(k) plan has a participation rate of 97%. “Can we go the extra mile?” was the rationale for the video approach, Ms. Nedl said.
“Using interactive videos is an innovative approach to helping move the needle for participants,” wrote one judge who joined peers in honoring Ms. Nedl with an Excellence & Innovation Award. ”I can see how participants would have been interested by this. It was engaging and also a good length for short attention spans.”
Ms. Nedl said the video approach was different from previous BlackRock efforts to encourage greater savings and participation among the 6,400 participants in the company $1.7 billion 401(k) plan.
“We hadn't done anything revolutionary in the past,” said Ms. Nedl, who was head of global benefits when the video was launched in January 2016 and who since has become chief operating officer of BlackRock's U.S.-Canada defined contribution group.
“In the past, the HR department took a straightforward approach” to participant education and communications, she explained. “We tried to loosen the wording to make it easier to understand and easier to take action.”
In the video, BlackRock gently prodded participants to think about their savings rate — “Are you saving as much as you can?” — without identifying a specific number or percentage. “We don't have a magic number,” Ms. Nedl said.
Produced internally, the interactive video offered responses depending on participants' answers - congratulating them, for example, if they save the full amount allowed by law or if they take full advantage of the corporate match. For participants who haven't achieved those goals, the video offered encouragement to increase their contributions, illustrating how a little extra goes a long way.
Another feature that impressed judges was that participants could make changes to their accounts — such as adding auto-escalation — directly from the video.
“The idea of targeted interactive videos with embedded links that take you to the vendor to make the changes right away is forward-thinking,” wrote one judge. “The use of behavioral analysis to target groups for the videos is best in class.”
Although the primary audience was younger employees, Ms. Nedl said the video also was aimed at all employees with a “savings gap,” such as participants ages 50 and older who hadn't taken advantage of the catch-up contribution opportunity to invest more than the statutory limit for 401(k) plans.
Based on anecdotal evidence, Ms. Nedl said the participant response was positive, dispelling concerns by some BlackRock executives that older employees might be turned off by the conversational style of the video.
“We wanted this in plain English terms,” she said. “We wanted to balance simplicity and technical accuracy.”