Jargon-Free and Online Among Trends in Participant Communications

A global scan of retirement plan participant communications has yielded some interesting trends to note, as reported by PLANSPONSOR magazine last week. Spence Johnson released a study of participant communications points in its Pension Communications Project 2010 which reviewed 90 participant education campaigns from nine countries, with heavy representation from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States.

Several findings point to trends that I believe reflect both the fallout from the recession, plus the new communication expectations shaped by Web 2.0 as social media and customization have become the norm.

A key finding of the study is the importance of simplification of ideas, including a drive for brevity and to eradicate jargon in communications. On one level, participants have less time and little patience to read and digest lengthy documents with multi-page glossaries. Another possible driver for this trend is the demand by participants for more and more transparency on the part of financial institutions. Participants still feel the sting of the cascade of complex financial products that caused the economic downturn and want to feel more control. Participants are demanding clear communication on financial matters.

Another emerging practice to note is the increase in digital resources in communicating to constituents. An Australian firm highlighted in the study allows members to request meeting times using a web tool delivered via email. In Canada, employees were engaged to help develop fun and engaging videos that were uploaded to YouTube. Digital tools allow for personalization of messages, a key strategy that complements market segmentation based on behavior as well as demographics. What new ways are you seeing retirement plans reach out to participants via digital media?

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