Be Your Best

Resources Matter, Especially for Education

By Tom Foster

When it comes to employers that sponsor a retirement savings plan, education is king. Few things align as tightly with employer priorities than a financial advisor’s ability and willingness to help educate employees about their retirement plan. It’s a great opportunity for advisors to advance their practices, especially if they work with a recordkeeper with deep educational resources.

Four out of five employers (80 percent) say they want their advisor to explain the company’s retirement plan benefits and options to employees, according to the 2016 MassMutual Winning Combination study*. For employers that do not work with an advisor, 87 percent would like an advisor to help educate employees.

Providing education is clearly a way to demonstrate your value and to help ensure the retirement plans you support run as effectively and efficiently as possible. It’s also an opportunity win new business from employers that do not currently use an advisor. So where to start?

MassMutual’s study probed what employers value most when it comes to education. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all employers want an advisor to educate employees about the importance of contributing to their retirement plan and half (51 percent) value making available online tools and calculators.

There was some divergence between employers who relied on an advisor and those that did not. Of employers that work with an advisor, approximately two-thirds (66 percent) want personalized advice for employees to determine if they are on target to reach their retirement goals and more than half (53 percent) value special programs for pre-retirees. Most employers without an advisor agree, with 76 percent supporting personalized advice and 65 percent supporting pre-retiree programs.

But you can’t go it alone. The more plans and plan participants you support, the more help you need from your recordkeeper or provider. The most effective recordkeepers take a multipronged approach, connecting with retirement savers in a variety of venues and mediums.

It starts with a personal touch. That’s why you want to work with a recordkeeper that can field an army of educational specialists. These highly trained men and women fan out across the country, connecting with thousands of participants in group meetings and one-on-one sessions, answering questions and helping guide savers to their desired destination. They are not wholesalers but rather specialize in education and enrollment. Advisors can work separately or in tandem with these specialists, who are trained to provide investment education.

What happens when the educational specialist moves on to the next employer? Your clients need access to a call center with professionals who are well-versed in retirement savings and investment strategies and who can reinforce positive behaviors. Call center specialists should also be highly trained to lend a guiding hand when needed.

So how do you know what recordkeepers have the most effective education specialists and call centers? Look at their numbers. Your recordkeeper should be able to quantify and measure participant behavioral changes (increased savings rates, improved investment decisions, consolidation of assets from multiple plans) that result because of an interaction with an education specialist or call center rep.  You want more than just good service; you want proof that the recordkeeper is successfully promoting and enabling retirement readiness.

While most people respond to the personal approach, some prefer to access information in other ways, at least some of the time. That means your recordkeeper should provide participants with access to an easily navigable website with the latest tools and educational materials.

Participants need sophisticated yet easy-to-use tools to gauge their relative state of retirement readiness. That demands Monte Carlo-modeling capabilities that can ascertain their probabilities of success given their goals and current savings strategies. Some tools relate retirement readiness to monthly income, some describe readiness as progress towards a financial wellness goal, some do both.

Participants also need direction and guidance, especially if they are not on target, and that demands the latest robo advisor capabilities.  The bots should be able to provide participants with insights about helping to reach their retirement goals by altering their savings rates and asset allocations. Before you turn the ‘bots loose, though, make sure you put them through their paces to determine if you are comfortable with their approach.

While education is important, so is motivation. Recordkeepers can help through targeted campaigns to encourage savings, delivering messages that connect with participants’ generation, gender and other important demographic distinctions. The more personalized the message, the more likely it is to hit home.

Advisors who bring these kinds of resources to bear may have an edge in the marketplace and drive real results for retirement readiness. Make education part of your value proposition and demonstrate to your clients why your resources matter.


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E. Thomas Foster Jr. is Assistant Vice President, Strategic Relationships, for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

*2016 Winning Combination Study, What retirement plan sponsors value most from financial advisors, January 2016,

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, investment, and/or tax advice. Please consult your own legal counsel and other experts regarding the specific application of the information set forth herein to your own plan and/or circumstances.