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Mary Nell Billings, Hilton Worldwide

Hilton uses a personal touch to get participants involved

Mary Nell Billings did extensive data research to find ways to get participants to save more for retirement.

Acting to alleviate employees' financial stress, increase their investing and savings knowledge and motivate them to make improvements, Mary Nell Billings orchestrated a multifaceted education campaign for the 63,000 U.S. workers at Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.

"We needed to do things in a different way," said Ms. Billings, the Memphis, Tenn.-based senior director of Hilton's global retirement programs who supervises $1.5 billion in defined contribution assets.

"We are trying to meet people where they are," said Ms. Billings, describing her strategy of targeted communications. "We want it to be easier to read and easier to understand."

Ms. Billings' efforts earned an Excellence Award from judges, who praised Hilton for injecting a personal touch into its education campaigns.

"I like that it not only targets participants, but that they've tried to get to know participants better, so that they can receive more relevant messages," one judge wrote. It's also "good that they have a call for action and have simplified their communications."

Ms. Billings used data from Hilton's record keeper, T. Rowe Price Group Inc., to conduct a "deep dive" to learn the needs of specific groups of employees so she could tailor messages to them. These groups included people who weren't saving, people whose contributions were below the company match, and those who met the match.

For the first group, the Hilton communications pointed out participants were "leaving money on the table."

For the middle group, the messages reminded participants there was "more free money," for the company match. Hilton matches dollar for dollar up to the first 3% of annual pay, then 50 cents on the dollar for the next 2% of annual pay. Grand total: a 4% match.

For the last group, the education theme was "look at your long-term goals," Ms. Billings said.

This campaign ran during the April 2018 financial literacy month, with Hilton using multiple media sources, such as weekly emails, intranet postings, online webinars and mailer cards that enabled participants to quickly enroll or increase their contributions.

The campaign led to 503 non-savers enrolling in the plan, 175 of the below-match savers increasing their contributions and 660 of the third group also increasing their contributions.

The T. Rowe Price data enabled Ms. Billings to learn that corporate team members had higher participation rates than did hotel employees, and that millennials participate and contribute the least even though they represent the largest age group among employees. Ms. Billings said the data review will be conducted quarterly to enable Hilton to adjust communications as necessary.

One judge characterized Ms. Billings' efforts as "thoughtful" and "comprehensive," adding that actions taken by Hilton are "a template for others."

And there is more to come. "This is a work in progress," Ms. Billings said. "This is just phase one."