Provider Mobile Capabilities Slowly Improve

Mobile-optimized sites with transaction capabilities are slowly but surely entering the retirement planning picture, according to Corporate Insight research.

A new analysis from Corporate Insight, “Mobile App Alternative: Reviewing Mobile-Optimized Websites,” takes a look at mobile-optimized sites available to retirement plan participants.

Two main points emerge from the current research, according to Drew Way, senior analyst of the Retirement Plan Monitor at Corporate Insight. First, the industry is finally seeing the arrival of retirement plan account transaction capabilities via mobile sites. “When we first looked at the retirement space and mobile offerings, not a single firm offered real transaction activity via mobile,” he tells PLANADVISER. Today, four providers in Corporate Insight’s coverage group of 17 top retirement plan providers offer at least one type of transaction capability on their mobile site, with more providers expected to offer mobile transactions over the next year.

Second, plan sponsors and recordkeepers are increasingly focused on the role of mobile and whether it can be an avenue to increase engagement, Way says, and plan sponsors generally feel this technology is a great opportunity for engagement.

Fidelity seems to emerge as the most noteworthy provider in the survey, Way says, with a great mobile website and a myriad of ways to engage participants. For example, a comparison tool on Fidelity’s mobile site allows participants to input their age, and recordkeeping data automatically pulls the contribution rate, balance, a rate of return, and a comparison to their peers across four regional averages. Participants are ranked by ZIP code, state, region and across the country, Way notes.

The comparison data adds an element of gameification—playing into the naturally competitive drive most people have—and makes them realize they’re either seriously lagging or beating their peers, or that they’re right on track. “A lot of the other firms we looked at offer some limited projections, but this is more robust,” Way says. “Adding the competitive element to the mobile site can really drive people to increase the contribution rate.”

Fidelity’s ready-or-not questionnaire is also noteworthy, Way says. This feature helps participants understand even what preparedness means at a basic level. An interactive graphic depicts how their peers answered important retirement readiness questions.

TIAA-CREF also distinguishes itself for great education content on the mobile site, as well as a savings tool that allows the participant to remove items from a daily budget, Way says, showing how much money can be saved in the long run.

On balance, Way feels, the larger providers are outperforming the smaller ones. “But our data on the smaller providers is limited, as all 17 firms we looked at are pretty much the biggest providers, so we’re really only looking at the big players,” he says.

As the firm has noted in previous reports, Way says, “it’s really clear that retirement providers are lagging behind other industries on their mobile website offerings. Even firms with really great desktop websites are lacking.”

T. Rowe Price, for example, has a loaded desktop website full of great tools and resources, Way notes, but their mobile website lacks transaction capabilities, although they do offer transactions on their phone apps. “So that’s an example of where firms have had to focus on either the app picture or the mobile website picture,” he says. “That in itself is a challenge for a firm, deciding where to invest in technology.”

Way cites industry scuttlebutt that says that T. Rowe Price is working on the mobile site right now, and he mentions that a number of other providers are dumping resources into this area. Before long, provider mobile sites will show significant improvement, he feels.

“I’m very eager to see what’s going to roll out in the next year, especially looking at the last year,” he says.  He also notes that mobile websites are not nearly as popular as apps right now among providers, and a few stats in the report support this.

“If you want to make an app, it has to be developed separately for each different operating system—one for the iPhone, one for Android, and so on,” Way points out. A well-designed mobile site, on the other hand, just needs one, which different mobile devices can access through the same site. That’s just not true for apps, he says, which is especially important in the retirement plan space, where providers need to catch up quickly.

According to a recent survey, Way notes that a full 4% of plan sponsors cited mobile technology as a major deciding factor in switching or seriously considering a change in retirement plan providers. “While 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, some of these firms have multibillion dollar defined contribution plans, so it’s a huge opportunity for those who are leading on mobile development,” Way says, “especially when you consider that the largest plans out there are going to get fairly similar fees and services offered from all the different providers. Mobile really can be a critical tiebreaker.”