The retirement industry has been slow to embrace the opportunities of the internet, until now. A new website has brought retirement planning and administration fully into the information age, with the aim of encouraging plan members to engage themselves in their future.

Launched in June, Standard Life’s new VIP Room site features a “retirement dashboard” which allows plan members and plan sponsors to take ownership of their plans. Designed to engage members in the retirement planning process, the website is fully customizable and provides an overview of planning activities as well as contributions, account balances, asset allocations and projected retirement assets.

According to Emmanuelle Couillard, senior consultant of product development for group savings and retirement at Standard Life, the idea behind the website is to bring the full power of the internet to bear on the retirement industry. “With websites like iGoogle, members are used to using what is referred to as web 2.0 technology, where people can custom create their page,” she says.

Couillard explains that instead of personalized web pages containing news and weather information, members can arrange their retirement data as they please. The website incorporates the latest in technological upgrades, security enhancements and user adaptability, and is protected and accessible only to members of Standard Life group savings and retirement plans.

Anna Del Balso, Standard Life’s director of strategy and product development for group savings and retirement, explains that, according to the Benefits Canada Survey of CAP Members, plan members spend an average of nine hours a year on retirement planning. “What we wanted to do is make optimal use of those nine hours,” she says.

The VIP Room for plan sponsors is designed to provide administrative solutions and save time, allowing sponsors to submit contributions electronically, analyze performance data, consult reference information online, and download reports and member information.

Del Balso says the objective of the website is to empower both plan sponsors and members. “For plan members it’s about taking ownership of their retirement planning,” she says. “From a plan sponsor’s perspective, they already have the ownership of managing employee registration, contributions, and terminations, but it now gives them the empowerment to do it at their convenience, at their ease.”

Pierre Champagne, compensation manager at Alcoa Canada, is a big fan of the website and says it saves his company time and money. “It works very well, and many of our employees use it,” he explains, citing a 15% utilization amongst plan members. While the numbers may seem low, Champagne argues that more senior plan members are less accustomed to web-based financial tools and are slower to adapt than their younger, tech-savvy counterparts. “From what we’ve seen, the youngest employees tend to use it most often.”

From a plan sponsor perspective, Champagne says the website is invaluable. He explains how, prior to using the dashboard, changes to employee accounts could only be made on a quarterly basis and involved several steps. “But with the website, they can make any change, any day of the week,” he says. “You don’t have to wait for a report, and all the information is available on a day-to-day basis.”

Del Balso says the philosophy behind the new website is that retirement planning and administration doesn’t have to be tedious, and this is the first step towards changing attitudes. “This is a necessary thing that needs to be done,” she says. “So our philosophy is, let’s make it as easy as possible in order to get people engaged.”

To comment on this story, email