Wired and Ready
September 01, 2008 | April Scott-Clarke

How plan sponsors and providers can keep their members engaged, educated and entertained online.

From surfing and shopping to banking and investing, people want to be able to do it all online. The Internet has changed the way we do business and the way we communicate, so it’s no surprise that the Web is changing the way we choose health benefits and plan for retirement.

“Canada is a highly wired country,” says Maureen Simons, senior communications consultant with Hewitt Associates. “Canadians, in general, expect to get information on the Web—and that includes information about pensions and benefits.”

More and more companies are relying on intranets and e-newsletters to get HR information out to employees. The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is a prime example of a company that uses this tactic. “We communicate a lot of our programs through our intranet. There are very few hard copies that are distributed to employees,” says Craig Arrol, senior manager, benefits, with RBC. “[Our] employees have definitely embraced web communications.”

Welcome Web 2.0

The simplicity and convenience that web technology brings to addressing large groups of people has caused it to become one of the most popular ways to communicate with plan members. Nancy Campbell, marketing director, group savings and retirement solutions, with Manulife Financial, says, “I think one of the biggest benefits of web communications is the timeliness. When you think about a member’s statement, it’s not even as good as the day it’s printed because it’s printed probably 15 days after month-end. When it’s online, you get the [info] in real time.”

But timeliness is just one of the many advantages that the Web brings to pension and benefits communication and administration. Online enrollment and processing, 24/7 access, innovative educational tools and personalized applications are making the Web the preferred method of communication for many people. “Younger employees, in their personal lives, choose the Web over any other medium…an increasing percentage of the workforce expects the Web to be the way they are communicated with, for absolutely everything,” says Annie Massey, principal and communication consultant with Mercer. And it’s not just the gen-X and gen-Y workers who are online. “We see people [who are] moving toward the payout phase now relying on getting their information from the Web,” adds Teresa Morgan, director, member services and marketing, group savings and retirement, with Standard Life.

Related Story

As much as plan members enjoy online communication and web access, the more tech-savvy they become, the more they demand from plan sponsors and providers. The days of generic black and white text and posting PDFs are over, says Campbell. “Technology has evolved. There is just so much more you can do.”

Focus group research has shown that plan members want be able to access their information on demand. They want it to be jargon-free and easily understandable. But most of all, plan members want their information to be personalized. Providers and consultants have started to recognize this and are beginning to transform the look, feel and function of their websites and tools.

“Web 2.0 applications allow us to create a dramatically improved user experience through enhanced graphic applications and reduced refresh periods. Most important, they allow us to build totally personalized, fully data-driven content,” says Paul Harrietha, principal with Eckler Ltd. “Using the member’s unique sign-on as a key, the entire site builds on the fly to present only the information that is pertinent to the individual member. For example, those members who do not qualify for early retirement will not see any information on early retirement. In this way, every website is essentially a unique site tailored to the individual member’s circumstances.”

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