Mobile App Best Practices for Plan Providers

Corporate Insight spends much of its time analyzing the retirement plan participant experience with plan providers.

In its recent Retirement Plan Monitor Report, the firm offered best practices for mobile offerings from retirement plan providers—which can also be a list for things plan sponsors may want to look for from their providers.   

Best Practices: 

  • Include retirement-related projections: “We look for practices or capabilities that would set one provider apart from another; personalized data is important,” Drew Maresca, head of retirement research at Corporate Insight, told PLANADVISER. He said participants who see an estimated retirement income will be more engaged since the data is a bit more personal than just an account balance. It could spur participants to take action. 
  • Allow participants to initiate calls from the app: Maresca pointed out that 11 of 18 firms Corporate Insight analyzed offer iPhone apps, but only two offer iPad apps, so the mobile app effort is more phone-heavy. It makes sense to tie in features of a phone, he added. This feature makes it simple for employees to initiate calls, because it is more difficult to go back and forth between a dial screen and app screen. In addition, if participants have to make a note to call later, the likelihood they will follow through decreases. 
  • Firms that lack apps should offer mobile sites: The majority of mobile devices direct participants to a website, which is sometimes ineffective, Maresca said, because it rarely fits the mobile device’s screen; mobile sites should be in place to allow participants to view data. 
  • Offer transaction capabilities: Maresca noted that none of firms analyzed allowed participants to rebalance, increase contributions, or initiate loans or withdrawals through the apps. He pointed out that other financial services firms allow trading or some transactions via a mobile app, so this is just the next logical next step for retirement plan providers. “I think it’s coming,” he said. “Firms are just weighing the benefit.” As with the ability to initiate calls, if participants have to make a note of a transaction they would like to complete, they are less likely to follow through. 
  • Take advantage of features available through iPad apps: This is just about the screen size, Maresca said. Providers can do so much more in terms of charts and graphs if they make use of the larger screen size; very few firms are making use of them. 



Corporate Insight analyzed the mobile applications available to participants on iPhones, iPads and Android devices for its Retirement Plan Monitor Report. The iPhone app was the most common mobile resource; all but two firms assessed feature iPhone apps. Fifty-four percent offer Android-ready apps, while only two of the firms assessed feature apps optimized for the iPad.   

While some offered in-depth educational resources and others featured tools, the majority of firms listed a number of general account-related statistics. Every firm considered for the report lists a balance, and firms also prevalently listed the investments held within the account (77%). Additionally, 69% of firms listed a rate of return figure and a transaction history consisting of contributions made and loans and/or withdrawals taken. Only half the firms list contribution information (percentage of gross pay, amount at last pay period, etc.), and only 46% of firms list the vested balance.  

While the primary goal of apps is to inform, they also seek to educate, Corporate Insight said. While less prevalent, firms provide access to resources for participants interested in acquiring retirement-related knowledge. Forty-three percent of the apps reviewed feature retirement-related projections, while 28% feature educational articles. A number of firms go a step farther, providing access to more in-depth resources and market-related news.   

Ten of the 13 firms assessed provide access to customer service-related phone numbers in the respective customer service section. Additionally, nine of the firms allow participants to initiate phone calls with the click of a button.  

Some of the more creative resources Corporate Insight found include podcasts, quizzes and tools. Maresca said it is good to offer participants additional resources. He noted that quizzes allow participants to interact with firms and engage participants more with how they are doing in relation to the topic of the quiz. All the quizzes used gave answers with some substance to it regarding a participant’s retirement, so the participant knows more after taking a quiz.  

More information about the Retirement Plan Monitor Report is at