Editor's note: Pensions & Investments' 2019 Eddy Awards, announced March 11, recognized 66 campaigns that exemplified best practices in retirement savings education for defined contribution plan participants. This year, P&I also added a new category on financial wellness, recognizing 12 campaigns that sought to bolster financial literacy skills, help participants get the most out of their health savings accounts and foster engagement with the sponsor's retirement plans. To produce this special report, web producer Patrick Roth and reporters Brian Croce and Margarida Correia spoke with a number of plan sponsors and service providers to learn more about the strategies driving their successful communication campaigns. Their interviews, which follow, have been edited for clarity and length.
Laura Humphries, DENSO International America
First place (tie) in financial wellness/corporate plans, more than 5,000 participants
Tell us more: "Our campaign was for Get F.I.T. We secured buy-in from our executives and then partnered with Empower. We came up with a moniker titled Get F.I.T." (That stands for Get Financial Independence Tools.) "It was a campaign of emails, hard copy, brochures and posters across the organization at two locations. The first was a corporate environment, primarily white-collar workers. The second was a plant environment. At both locations we developed advocate teams, so we pulled from different areas in the organization to get feedback about the program. They actually helped us develop the campaign."
Why now: "We're looking at our incoming population and they're carrying a very high student debt load; we also surveyed across the organization and found that we're carrying high proportions for loans as well as hardship distributions. The hardship distributions are primarily for mortgage defaults and people who are looking at evictions. We know that there's a need across all aspects of the organization. This was an opportunity for education as well as one-on-one consultations with financial advisers, which was very valuable."
Final thoughts: "There's a plethora of information that's out there in terms of financial tools — information that's available for free. But I think associates are really struggling with identifying what they need at a specific point in time. And our program really tried to target those teachable moments: when you were having children, when you were going through a divorce, when you were getting ready to retire." Across the board and across generations, people like to talk to other people. That one-on-one consultation is very valuable."
Michelle Gawinski, The Boldt Co.
First place in financial wellness/corporate plans, fewer than 1,000 participants
Tell us more: We have a wellness program and we wanted to add financial wellness to it, so we started a lunch-and-learn program called Food, Physical and Financial Fitness. We have an on-site health coach — a registered nurse — who gives us tips on health-care topics — everything from food tips to exercises we can do at home. We started lunch and learns to do the financial piece. We met with Francis Investment Counsel, which had just put together a campaign to have different topics catered to the different age groups. The one that was very well attended was the one on raising financially savvy children. Even grandparents came to those."
Why now: We felt that our wellness program was missing the financial piece. We didn't limit the topics to retirement. If employees wanted to talk about their student loans, or if they wanted to talk about savings for their children's college, or if they wanted to talk about long-term care, they could touch on all those things, other than their 401(k) plan."
Final thoughts: One of the things we wanted them to take away was feeling confident that they have a plan to help make them more financially ready. And from the responses we had, this was overwhelmingly appreciated by our employees."
Becca Jones, Cone Health
First place in financial wellness/not for profit/other, more than 5,000 participants
Tell us more: "We started a financial wellness campaign in January (2018). We have a very robust employee wellness program, so we do really well in the areas of fitness and healthy eating, smoking cessation, stress management — things like that. But we were lacking in the area of financial wellness. We started off by surveying our employees and asking them about their financial priorities. And then we took that information and created an entire financial wellness campaign. We have a wide variety of employees. And financial wellness is different for everyone."
Why now: The absence of financial wellness "causes a lot of stress. If employees are saving comfortably, if they are financially healthy, then they're better employees. I think it's part of the overall wellness package."
Final thoughts: Again, financial wellness is different for everybody and you have to offer a variety of mediums. So email, text, one-on-one counseling, onsite sessions. And you have to create a level of trust between human resources and your retirement provider and employees. We incentivized participation through our healthy rewards program so employees could earn cash by participating."
Jason Chepenik, Chepenik Financial
First place in special projects/generic
Tell us more: We have a taco truck called 'Let's taco-bout retirement' that goes from client to client. For employees who sign up or increase how much they are saving in their retirement plan, they get a free taco. And if not, they get rice and beans because that's all they can eat in retirement."
Why now: The investment industry is so innovative and they've done a great job with investment analytics, target-date funds" and other components. "I think some of the part that still creates anxiety is how do you get people into a plan? The idea of saving money or using concepts of deferral ... is overwhelming. It just brings anxiety. So if we can lower the bar and just make it easy, fun and feed them, it created this environment — and really, a social environment because everybody is hanging out around the food truck. It made it easy to enter the plan and at an entry point that didn't seem overwhelming."
Final thoughts: Simplicity. You don't have to overthink things. I think the investment industry has taken care of record keeping with technology (and) investments with default investments. But the simplicity of just getting in and saving a little bit can really make a difference in (participants') future."
Jim Courtney, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
Second place (tie) for special projects/public, more than 5,000 participants
Tell us more: The "Now You Know" series of videos "are essentially our frequently asked questions, but in video format, written, produced and hosted by our own employees. (They are) very sharable on social media."
Why now?: "Social media is a very important way of sharing information now, not just among young people. When you think social media, most people think millennials. But for us, our followers on Facebook, 40% of them are 55 and older; 13% of them are 65 and older. Social media is a great way for people to learn about information and then share it with their peers."
Final thoughts: Not everybody absorbs information the same way. Some people would like to read a page on a website, other people, 'just tell me what it is.' So having one of our employees just tell them in a minute's time what they need to know (was) a perfect way to get information."
Manuel Carvallo, Hispanic Wealth
Honorable mention, ongoing investment education/generic
Tell us more: A series of videos aimed to explain, "from very basic steps, how the immigrant community can start learning finance (such as the importance of building a credit history). When we come to the U.S., there are many things that work differently in our (home country). I thought (education) was needed and created a series of videos addressing those issues."
Why now: Because we make a lot of mistakes and mistakes here are very costly. For example, in most countries in Latin America, not being in the credit bureau is a good thing because being in the credit bureau means you have debt that you have not paid. Here, many people actively do not want to participate in the credit bureau." That creates "problems (in the U.S.) because then your insurance costs you more and you can't get a job, etc. But if people do not explain this to the participants, how are they going to know?"
Final thoughts: For immigrants, "don't be afraid to ask. A lot of Latinos have this guilt about not knowing and it's perfectly normal not to know. They need to start asking questions and engage with whoever can answer those questions. And this material is to allow these people to learn about finance."
Rebecca Ward, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions
First place, conversions/not for profit/other, more than 5,000 employees
Tell us more: We were doing a conversion from Mercer as the record keeper to Transamerica. To get ready for that transition and to take advantage of the change, we also added a Roth to our plan, increased our auto-deferral rate from 4% to 8% and implemented auto escalation. We migrated Aug. 1, then we did a big SIP education campaign. (The plan is called the Savings and Investment Plan.) For three days we had classes, and we set up stations where people could log into Transamerica and see how to get onto the plan sponsor site and learn about getting ready to retire and all kinds of topics."
Why now: "It was because Transamerica bought Mercer's business and so really we didn't have a choice. We needed to move to a new record keeper. It was going to be a lot of change so (we thought) we might as well put some new plan design changes in at the same time. It was very well received."
Final thoughts: "People were more receptive to the increase in the auto-deferral rate. We were very concerned about that going from 4% to 8% that people might complain, (especially) new hires but we got no complaints. So that was a very nice surprise. People are being auto-enrolled so they're going to be better prepared for retirement."