From the old-fashioned to the newfangled, communications strategies played a prominent role at the annual meeting of the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators in New Orleans Sept. 8-11.
One common theme emerged from speakers describing email, text, video, one-on-one meetings, group sessions and print: keep it simple.
Speakers used terms like "snackable education" and "make an impact in less than 60 seconds" to punctuate their recommendations.
"Think how to make things easy" for participants, said Shlomo Benartzi, professor and co-chair of the behavioral decision-making group at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, in a keynote speech about sponsors and providers becoming "digital fiduciaries" as they combine technology and behavioral economics to improve participants' savings rates and diversification.
Appealing for better data and better use of data, Mr. Benartzi recounted several examples of how changes in plan website technology could improve participants' experience and comfort with their plans.
Referring to research he conducted for Voya Financial Inc., Mr. Benartzi said the more participants reflect on financial decision-making while using technology, the better their projected income-replacement rates. His research is called a reflection index, which he developed in his role as senior academic adviser to the Voya Behavioral Finance Institute for Innovation.
The three components of the reflection index are: attention, which is illustrated by the time spent by participants on websites or mobile apps within the last year; information gathering, which includes participants researching projected retirement-income information on the web; and making trade-offs, which involves participants exploring different savings rates or rates of return.
He concluded his presentation with a call to arms: "Let's not let the digital revolution go to waste."
Brooke Rowden agreed that "technology is your friend," during a panel discussion on successful communications campaigns.
Building a comprehensive database helps sponsors deliver tailored messages to participants based on characteristics such as age, gender and location, said Ms. Rowden, defined contribution plans education and marketing coordinator for the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System, Jefferson City.
Ms. Rowden conducts three surveys each year — two brief ones and one longer one — to assess changing demographics and participants' needs.
She uses multiple media channels such as email, video and texting to educate participants, a strategy unified by the principle "Make an impact in 60 seconds or less."
If education campaigns must deal with large, complex issues, "take the big topics and break them into pieces," she said.
Use storytelling in personal and video presentations, making sure to talk to and with participants — not at them, said Ms. Rowden, adding, "Don't be afraid to have fun."
Ms. Rowden encouraged sponsors to view technology as "your friend" because they will have to use many communication approaches to reach participants.
Another panelist, Shannon McCarthy, brand leader for the retirement plans business of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., Columbus, Ohio, told attendees they needed to "harness the power of data, technology and advanced analytics" so they could provide personalized communication to participants.
For example, instead of providing general answers about loans, sponsors and service providers should use data to check if a person has developed a pattern over time in making loan requests, she said.
With that information, they have gathered "real time visibility" of someone's "needs and preferences," enabling them to ask questions about a participant's specific circumstances, she said.
Sponsors and providers must be aware of how to combine technology and the human touch to addressing participants' retirement needs, said Heidi Munc leader of the users experience team at Nationwide. For example, participants can go online to handle "non-transactional tasks," such as changing beneficiaries, updating contact information, reviewing account balances and checking the progress of their investments, she said during a panel discussion, "Leveraging Technology and Participant Tools."
However, "when it comes to making financial decisions, participants trust financial representatives to make them on their behalf," she said. "Participants want human help."
Ms. Munc advocated a strategy of "snackable education," providing bits of information — rather than all at once — and tailoring messages to plans' unique demographics.
Also, at the conference, members elected Sandy Blair of the association for a one-year term effective immediately. Ms. Blair had been the association's secretary/treasurer.
She is director of retirement readiness for the California States Teachers' Retirement System, West Sacramento.
She administers the CalSTRS Pension2 plan, which consists of 403(b), 457 and Roth 403(b) plans, according to a biography provided by NAGDCA. Pension2 serves as a supplemental savings plan for all California school and community college employees, the biography said.
Ms. Blair succeeds Cindy Rehmeier, manager of defined contribution plans for the Missouri State Employee's Retirement System.