Pension and benefit communications is no time to be shy. If anything, it’s a good excuse to get personal. Let me explain.

Plan sponsors typically fall into one of two camps: those that under-communicate and those that over-communicate. Although the under-communicators are still in the strong majority, the over-communicators are growing in number. Having opened up the information floodgates, technology is partly to blame. But the real culprit is lack of strategic planning.

Too much information will leave your members feeling overwhelmed and confused. They may even start resisting your communications efforts. Accordingly, the aim in developing an effective communications program is to minimize the communications interventions required to reach communications objectives—and to wring the maximum potential (and effect) out of every piece of communications that you deliver.

This means doing your homework! Not only must you have a clear sense of what you are trying to achieve with your communications program, you need a thorough understanding of your plan members’ information needs, expectations and preferences.

Me, my benefits, my future
If you’ve ever asked your members to tell you their preferred source of information, chances are that you’ve already identified the key to meaningful communications. Plan member testing typically reveals that employees’ number one preferred source of information is their personal pension/benefit statement. This is true across industries, income, ages, gender and even geographic boundaries. And why not? Personal statements are delivered at regular intervals and the information they contain is relatively up to date. Moreover, statements typically deal with three key issues: me, my benefits, and my future.

From a communications standpoint it doesn’t get much better than this! In fact, of the two plans that I’m aware of whose members didn’t choose personal statements as their preferred source of information, personalization remained the touchstone In one case, statements ranked second behind sponsor-paid one-on-one financial counseling; in the other case, first place was given to a dedicated and highly interactive pension portal where statements were posted. (Note that the same research that demonstrates plan members prefer their statements over other forms of communication also indicates that plan members are usually dissatisfied with the quality of their statements. Tips for converting your statements from disclosure requirement to communications opportunity will be the subject of a future column.)

Make technology your ally!
The good news is that the very same technology that has contributed to the over-communication problem also holds the solution. Today’s forward-thinking plan sponsors are using technology to harness their membership data to provide targeted, focused, customized and personalized communication. Why entice employees with a description of valuable early retirement provisions that don’t apply to them because of age or service requirements? Why confuse a single member with details of spouse’s benefits? Not only does print technology allow us to personalize statement content to a degree that was inconceivable a few years ago, web technology has made it possible to build pension and benefit websites that are fully driven by the plan member’s personal data and circumstances. When he or she logs on, the site that appears is custom-built on the fly to match his or her personal profile.

In a society of short attention spans, getting personal is a winning strategy.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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