Winners use several avenues to get their messages across
Multiple media approaches, multiple languages and multiple demographic strategies characterized some of the winners of the 24th annual Pensions & Investments Eddy Awards.
Multiple medical employers also figured prominently — six received awards for strategies as diverse as the people they treat. In all, 42 education campaigns were honored last month at the P&I East Coast Defined Contribution Conference in Miami.
Hennepin Healthcare System Inc., Minneapolis, injected humor into its effort, which garnered first place in the special projects category for not-for-profit institutions with more than 5,000 employees. (The service provider is Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust.)
"Time for your sponge bath" said one brochure as Hennepin encouraged participants to raise contributions in the three DC plans that it offers.
The sponge-bath comment is "a connection to what employees do on a day-to-day basis," said Sue Roeser, director, human resources. The theme was designed to be "easy and eye-catching," as well as relating the retirement education campaign to what employees did at work.
"There are different levels of education at our facilities," she said. "We want the message to be clear."
Hennepin didn't spare the puns in a print campaign that featured an illustration of rubber ducks in a bathtub. "Don't let taxes drain your retirement savings"; "How to clean up in retirement"; "The bare essentials"; and "Soak it all in" all were part of the sales pitch.
McLaren Health Care, Grand Blanc, Mich., took second place among not-for-profit employers with more than 5,000 employees. McLaren officials decided the best way to attract employees' attention was to hold a retirement party, said Donna Aho, director of corporate retirement services (service provider, MassMutual Retirement Services).
"Our biggest challenge is reaching employees," said Ms. Aho, pointing out that McLaren has 12 hospitals and multiple ancillary medical facilities. Merely announcing a meeting wouldn't be as effective as promoting a party that was "visible and fun" because "everyone wants to attend someone's retirement party."
McLaren held parties at 32 locations during a six-month period, featuring balloons, cake, raffle tickets and games. At the parties, plan officials answered employees' questions and helped them make changes to their accounts if necessary."The parties put them at ease to ask questions," she said.
McLaren recorded 283 new enrollments and 661 deferral increases, prompting Ms. Aho to add that McLaren will offer more themed events in the future.
Memorial Hermann Health System, Houston, developed a passport theme to educate employees about retirement benefits. In fact, it created a mock passport called Passport to Savings and Retirement with information on QR codes that participants could access via smart phones.
"Our goals were to improve financial wellness and financial literacy," said Mary Von Tungeln, human resources communications manager, who developed the passport idea for the health system, which won first place in the ongoing investment education category for not for profit/other organizations.
The passport concept "was aimed at a younger audience who may have been intimidated or not knowledgeable" about the health system plan, she said. "They interact better with online tools."
Using the QR codes in the passport gave participants an instant connection to a Fidelity Investments website and to specific articles about financial wellness. (Fidelity is the service provider.)
The passport contained passport stamps for three broad subjects: Finance 101, Saving & Investing and Plan For Retirement. Participants would click on the passport stamps, read the information or use a retirement planning tool and automatically be entered to win a prize. For example, Finance 101 contained links to information on how to pay off debt, while Savings & Investing featured four ways to simplify finance and save more.
The passport campaign led to 1,565 participants raising deferral percentages or contributing for the first time.
Memorial Hermann and many other Eddy winners try to educate participants early in their careers to prevent, or at least ameliorate, non-retirement issues from affecting their retirement savings.
Oncor Electric Delivery Co. LLC used this strategy in developing a program for employees who were five or six years away from retirement. The goal was to raise the participation rate — albeit a healthy 91% — and reduce the loans/withdrawals rate — a not-so-healthy 30%.
The company previously had begun education 18 to 24 months before retirement. "There was a need for offering education earlier," said Brett Powell, manager of benefits, pension and thrift.
The company offered workshops on Social Security and Medicare, and it sent special messages to employees who weren't maximizing the corporate match and other messages to those who had taken two or more withdrawals within the past two years.
Oncor placed first in the pre-retirement preparation category for corporate plans with 1,000 to 5,000 employees. ( Fidelity Investments is the service provider.)
The response has been so favorable that Oncor officials expanded the education programs to other employees, offering, for example, seminars on debt management and budgeting.
"We changed the name from 'retirement readiness' to 'financial fitness,''' Mr. Powell said. "Younger people don't relate to the word 'retirement.' "
Words from the chief
Some DC plan executives have found success in using the company's CEO or the company's brand to augment their education strategies.
Halsey Cook, president and CEO of Sonepar USA, Charleston, S.C., played a prominent role in his company's financial wellness campaign.
"He was telling me his personal story about when someone gave him advice about starting early (saving for retirement)," recalled Annette Grabow, retirement program manager. So Mr. Cook made a video appeal to employees as part of Sonepar's effort to emphasize a digital approach to retirement education rather than the old style that focused on print information and on-site meetings.
"We wanted to increase engagements, and we're always going after people who contribute under the match," said Ms. Grabow. The company reported a 132% increase in advice consultations between January and mid-October 2017 vs. the same period in 2016.
Ms. Grabow used an assortment of cartoon figures in her promotional materials, such as a porcupine that has become the company mascot and "millennial girl" to appeal to a wide audience.
Sonepar won third place in the special projects category for corporations with more than 5,000 employees. (The service provider is Schwab Retirement Plan Services.) Sonepar tied for third with Fidelity National Financial Inc. (service provider, Wells Fargo).
At Schneider National Inc., Green Bay, Wis., Michelle Konop and her team used the company's signature color — Omaha Orange — in a print campaign that featured a post card simulating the back of a Schneider truck to capture the attention of participants contributing below the corporate match as well as employees with at least two years of service who were not participating.
Schneider won first place in the ongoing investment education category for corporate plans with more than 5,000 participants (service provider, Wells Fargo).
"In our industry, employees are on the road and they don't have a lot of downtime and aren't connected to the internet," said Ms. Konop, a benefits analyst. So Schneider sent enrollment cards and a postage-paid envelope to employees' homes. "Everything was right at their fingertips," she said, adding the bright orange mailing helped them distinguish the plan information from other mail.
A series of transportation puns graced the documents: "Are you running on empty?"; "Fill 'er up for a better retirement"; and "Top off your tank today."
Ms. Konop said some puns were chosen for specific audiences: "Fuel up for the final stretch" was aimed at employees older than 50; "Fuel up for the long haul" was targeted to those younger than 50. For those who took action, the deferral rate rose to 6.12% from 3.66%.
While companies like Schneider National used different phrases to attract different demographic groups, Mountaire Corp., Little Rock, Ark., had to use three different languages — English, Spanish and Haitian Creole — for its diverse workforce. The latter two are spoken by about 55% of Mountaire's employees.
"We recognize everyone has a different understanding of retirement," said Shelly Cable, corporate benefits manager for the food processing company. "We tell them retirement is an option and that we will contribute to their retirement savings."
Using translators, Mountaire plan officials met with employees. It has benefits contacts at three major plants as well as another dozen at other facilities. For the financial wellness campaign, the company placed multilingual posters at all 33 sites.
For employees who could not attend retirement sessions, Mountaire prepares a script for an official to discuss in each language.
A yearlong campaign produced a participation increase to 79% from 75.6% and an average annual contribution rate increase for all employees to 4.13% from 3.8%.
Mountaire placed third in the special projects category for corporate plans with 1,000 to 5,000 employees (service provider, Lincoln Financial Group).
At the high tech-oriented Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., DC plan executives had to use a language that everyone could understand. "We have rocket scientists, but they may have only an elementary understanding of financial wellness," said Rosalind Torrence, human resources benefits manager.
"From my experience, you've got understand the various learning styles (of participants)," she added. "You don't want to leave anyone out. For some, an email is sufficient."
Los Alamos plan executives believed a financial fitness boot camp would incorporate information for different employees. The boot camp worked well in 2014, so plan executives offered another in October 2016 with the promotion, "It's back, and better than ever."
Michelle Ryan, investment program manager, said the 2014 boot camp, which featured 29 workshops, led to increased enrollments and higher deferral rates. The following year, however, the education efforts "lost momentum," convincing plan executives to "reignite" the boot camp.
The latest boot camp featured a benefits expo in which financial and health-care firm representatives described their products and services, as well as financial fitness workshops throughout Los Alamos National Laboratory. A survey reported 51% of respondents rated the boot camp "excellent" and 47% said it was "good."
The boot camp covered more than retirement, with subjects like debt management and budgeting. Plan executives used "People Like Me" videos to provide a personal touch.
The boot camp earned Los Alamos National Laboratory first place in the special projects category for corporate plans with more than 5,000 employees (service provider, Alight Solutions).
One category where precise wording was absolutely necessary was plan transitions, in which sponsors faced the task of convincing participants that new service providers, new investment lineups and/or new strategies were designed to improve performance and reduce fees.
Among the seven winners in this category was City University of New York (service provider, TIAA-CREF), which took first place among public plans with more than 5,000 employees. Plan executives had to deal with 24 campuses in the CUNY system as it switched to one record keeper for its two DC plans. One plan previously had three record keepers while the other plan had two. TIAA, which had been a record keeper in both plans, became the sole record keeper.
"The big driver for consolidation was cost," said Andrea Yenco, executive director of university benefits. TIAA had lower fees and offered more services, she said.
Union members, campus leaders and faculty all had to be on the same page that the changes would yield benefits, Ms. Yenco said. Plan executives began laying the groundwork in May 2016 for the new system, which took effect in January 2017. "It was a very big effort," she said. Before CUNY made the change, "we had to have an understanding of each campus' pulse."
CUNY tried to link the campuses with brochures featuring a diagram that mimicked the city subway system. "We wanted connectivity," Ms. Yenco said of the brand identity campaign.
Placing second in the category for plan transitions among public employers with more than 5,000 employees was the San Diego County Office of Education (service provider, Empower Retirement). This entry likely holds the record for the longest title in Eddy Award history because it covered the San Diego/Imperial/Riverside County Schools Fringe Benefit Consortium LLC Deferred Compensation Program.
The education campaign theme was "Never-Ending Summer," which the plan and provider likened to retirement. Dan Puplava, deferred compensation manager for the office of education, said average fees would be 85% lower with Empower vs. the schools' previous record keeper, Nationwide. Empower also provides greater access to representatives and resources, he said. The transition affected three DC plans in the school district.
Mr. Puplava maintains the education momentum by holding Saturday seminars nearly every week during the school year at various schools in the district. "The people who go on Saturday show a particular commitment," he said.
The state of Rhode Island used a natural pun in its "Rhode to Retirement" campaign as it switched one of its three record keepers for its 457 plan to TIAA from VALIC. (State law requires the plan have three record keepers). TIAA offered lower costs, a streamlined lineup and greater outreach by provider personnel, said Kimberly Shockley, associate director for college and retirement savings plans in the Office of the General Treasurer, Providence.
Part of the introduction to participants of TIAA was a series of meetings — 30 in all —by the three record keepers as well as members of the treasurer's office to drum up interest in the 457 plan, Ms. Shockley said. "We wanted to give people the opportunity to see which plans fit them best," she added. ( Fidelity Investments and Voya Financial are the other record keepers.) Rhode Island took first place in the plan transitions category for public plans with 1,000 to 5,000 employees.