Designing an Effective Retirement Program

There is a long-term cost for employers for not helping employees prepare for retirement, said Matt Iverson, director of Boulevard R.


During a webinar sponsored by Retiremap and Retirement Playbook Inc., Iverson noted that if employers do nothing, lingering employees will increase employer health care costs, and they are paid higher salaries. An employer can receive a return on investment of three to one with a financial wellness program, according to data from the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation (PFEEF), added Trisha Brambley, partner at Retirement Playbook Inc. Helping employees feel financially secure also improves employee engagement and productivity and therefore can improve a company’s operating income (see PLANSPONSOR April 2012 Feature: The Task at Hand”).   

Iverson said a retirement readiness program should use behavioral economics to nudge employees to save more; be a measurable, holistic program; and affordably deploy today’s technology to engage employees and boost enrollment. Employers should adopt a financial wellness program that does not just address retirement readiness, contended Brambley, adding that financial stress tops the list of sources of anxiety for employees, and stress is linked to physical wellness.  

Again citing data from PFEEF, Brambley said the most common behavioral changes in participants in financial wellness programs are that they reviewed the allocation of their assets, reduced their expenses, used more online financial tools, reduced credit card debt and increased deferrals to their retirement plans. Ninety-nine percent of those who participated in a financial wellness program say the program is an important employee benefit, 98% say they are better prepared to make financial decisions, and most say they will create a budget and save more for retirement as a result of the program.




According to Iverson, education should engage employees around their goals. However, retirement is not the best hook; instead of giving them a total savings need, ask what they would like to do in retirement and show them how much of that they will be able to do with what they are saving. In addition, Iverson noted, many employees are thinking more about shorter-term savings needs, such as saving to buy a home or saving for their children’s college educations. The information should show how those priorities will affect savings for retirement; education should address overall financial success, he said.  

Iverson suggested employers should not show employees a dollar amount for what they will need in retirement because that can be very discouraging (see “The Bottom Line: Future Shock”). Instead, education programs should show employees how what they save monthly accrues over time.  

Iverson pointed out that traditional education methods—using brochures, provider tools and group presentations—have shown little impact on employees’ savings behavior. Brambley said the program should have multiple components—one-on-one meetings, mailings and online tools—and employers should use incentives or raffles to get employees to participate or make attendance mandatory. Iverson’s firm created Retiremap (, which features an online component using email activation links but also comes as an iPad application, used in 30-minute onsite workshops. (See “Retiremap Plan Education Tool Launched.”) Iverson said employers can create a keynote presentation and link it to a provider’s site, download the keynote to iPads and set up iPad kiosks for employees to use. 

Employers should measure the success of their education program to optimize content and know what topics to cover, Iverson concluded.  A video recording of the webinar is available here.

Brambley said Retirement Playbook sells a guide to implementing a financial wellness program. More information is at