Making the most of annual pension statements to boost member engagement

Time and time again, research reveals that defined benefit and target benefit plan members rank their annual pension statement as the single most important piece of plan communication they get. That holds true across industries, income levels, ages, genders and provinces.

So if plan sponsors are looking for one tool that can have an enormous impact on members’ understanding and appreciation of their plan, the statement is the perfect place to start.

Most plan sponsors don’t take advantage of that opportunity. They do the minimum to meet the legal requirement of sending an annual statement and satisfying pension disclosure rules, instead of exploiting the chance to jumpstart member engagement in the plan.

Those plan sponsors are missing out on the statement’s key advantages. It’s one of the most cost-effective education and engagement tools available. They have to send out statements anyway, and if a member is only going to open one piece of plan communication, it’s most likely going to be that one. Given that, even a small investment in making a statement personal, educational and user-friendly can pay big dividends.

Read: 93% of ABB Canada staff tailor their benefits plan

Plan sponsors that haven’t done a serious review of their annual pension statement in a while may not know about the incredible advances in technology that allow for the use of member data to drive highly personalized content.

Today, personalization encompasses much more than just names, dates and dollar amounts. It includes stripping out all information that isn’t directly relevant to a particular plan member. That means omitting an early retirement option for which the member will never qualify or skipping a lengthy explanation of spousal death benefits in single members’ statements.

In fact, there’s no better way to simplify complex pension provisions than to deliver just the essential information customized to the member’s specific circumstances.

And if plan sponsors are still treating pension statements like a death certificate, it’s time to get out of the dark ages. Yes, pensions are serious business, but that doesn’t mean a statement has to look funereal. The goal is to make the statement readable. That means using plain language and understanding the power of graphics — including colour, charts and other imagery — to convey and reinforce your the messages. Leading-edge organizations are taking their statement personalization even further by tailoring the look, language and even the font size of their statement based on member age cohorts.

Read: Video: Communication key to strong participation in Goodyear retirement options

For those that haven’t yet made the switch to electronic statements, there’s nothing like augmented reality to create some buzz and show their members just how progressive the organization is. Augmented reality allows members to download a free app, scan an image on their printed statement with their mobile device and bring it to life by launching a video. Those who aren’t already familiar with this technology soon will be and can check out any recent Canadian Tire or Ikea catalogue for examples.

Last but not least, to help members really grasp how much their pension is worth on an individual level, it’s important to highlight the lump-sum value of the benefit they’ve earned. Of course, the amount is tied to interest rates and can fluctuate. But helping members understand this fundamental concept is an important step towards improving their pension literacy.

Read: CSA Group doubles participation in DC pension