How to Develop a Successful Participant Education Program

We get hired by retirement plan sponsors for a variety of projects: fund evaluation, requests for proposals, plan design, Investment Policy Statement reviews and committee governance. But by far and away the most interesting project for us is the development of the participant Education Policy Statement.

Just as an Investment Policy Statement outlines the investment expectations for the plan, an Education Policy Statement should define the educational intentions of the plan.  In our opinion, it is a useful piece of the fiduciary function and a vital part of a successful retirement plan.

A successful education program requires plan sponsors and their representatives to understand the regulations surrounding participant communication requirements and an acknowledgement of the company’s unique circumstances: languages, locations, shift cycles, age demographics and an evaluation of participants’ current understanding of the benefit being provided. Often we find that participants view the plan in an entirely different light than those folks who established the plan in the first place. What’s important to the employees? Investment options, selection guidance, online access, the impact of matching, portability, tax deferral? If you’re not sure, ask them!

Decide on the delivery methods that suit the organization’s culture.  For example: group meetings, individual consultations, online programs, workbooks and newsletters, to name a few.

Make the materials age appropriate. 55-year-olds tend to be very interested in distribution methods and how to maximize Social Security. 25-year-olds will be more focused on accumulation strategies and affordability issues.

Look at outside sources of material. The IRS, Department of Labor and independent education providers all have materials that can help you build an education program.

Lastly, be prepared to monitor the results. Seek feedback and adjust the program accordingly. Know what works for your organization. A successful benefit program has both plan sponsor and participant engagement engineered through an ongoing review process.