Onsite learning can lead to enrollment, deferral increases

Image credit: Stuart Miles Image credit: Stuart Miles

What does it take to double the number of participants in an employee retirement plan? Or, more accurately, produce an 860 percent jump in participation?

In the case of a recent experience with one of OneAmerica’s clients in the Midwest, they discovered that a team approach – including being “embedded” at the workplace for an extended period with employees who can be gradually coaxed into the benefits of taking part in the plan – resulted in a huge success.

Jim Gavin, One America’s PR manager, relates the story of Missouri-based SoutheastHEALTH, a large, multi-state health care organization with about 2,300 employees and some $80 million in assets in a 403(b)/401(k) combination retirement plan.

Having recruited the plan earlier in the year, the company tried to figure out the best way to work with the client, its advisor and its human resources department to create an aggressive employee communications and education program to drastically increase engagement.

Mostly, to help the employees understand the amount of “free” help being provided in matched retirement benefits from the employer-sponsored combination DC plan, and to get them to actively participate through their own contributions.

“We had a team of two permanently dedicated consultants descend on the organization, plus an education and enrollment team of about a half dozen others who took part,” Gavin says. “For a few weeks they were on site at the employer’s locations, working every day and all shifts in order to give all employees a chance to meet and discuss their retirement accounts.”

Those meetings were also accompanied by a custom communications plan, developed in association with SoutheastHEALTH and incorporating the organization’s well-established brand. Borrowing from the health care-related environment, employees were encouraged to “check their financial wellness” and prepare for the next stage in life – with an integrated communications campaign including print materials and a customized website.

Employees were also provided with information on a variety of investment models that had been established, selecting the level of risk they felt comfortable with, or target-date funds as another option.

In just six weeks and three payroll periods later, the combined effort resulted in an 118 percent increase in participation in the pre-tax deferral program, a nearly 600 percent jump in participation in the Roth program and an 860 percent increase in employees taking part in both programs.

All totaled, 586 employees had opted to take part after the on-site program, when just 219 had been enrolled in the company’s plans before.

Deferral rates also jumped substantially, with a total of nearly $100,000 deferred in the larger 403(b) program (pre-tax and Roth combined), a 56 percent increase.

“Our point person on the account said the increases were directly the result of ‘planning, perseverance, and a desire to give every participant an opportunity to better understand their plan,’” Gavin notes.

 It wasn’t an easy effort, he adds, but it got results, and with a continued relationship – including monthly meeting opportunities with a OneAmerica retirement plan education specialist, they hope to continue to build both the participation and deferral rates.

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