Responsive Design of DC Plan Web Portals Greatly Benefits Participants

A new analysis from Corporate Insight underscores the continued proliferation of “responsive design” within retirement plan service providers’ web offerings—benefiting plan participants and sponsors.

A new Retirement Plan Monitor (RPM) research report published by Corporate Insight defines “responsive design” as the effort to build digital resources and web pages that can actively detect a viewer’s screen size and orientation, allowing the page to change its layout accordingly to maximize functionality and visibility.

This may sound like an esoteric technical subject, but as RPM researchers point out, responsive design is commonly used by media companies and many other types of organizations with some level of savvy about web design. However, only recently have retirement plan service providers embraced the concept.

“When RPM first launched in the fourth quarter of 2012, responsive design was not present on sites in our coverage group,” the report explains. “In our last report on this topic in August 2016, 55% of the coverage group featured some level of responsive design, and today, that number is 85%, a 55% increase.”

Researchers also identify a 117% increase in the number of responsively designed transactional pages, “a trend that was even more profound in those related to investments.”

“Across our entire coverage group, firms take a variety of approaches to providing participants with mobile access to their retirement plans,” the report says. “While most firms adhere to a binary when it comes to their public sites—their offering is either responsive or not—they employ more nuance when it comes to private site offerings, often making key pages responsive to facilitate mobile transactions, even if their entire private site is not.”

According to the RPM report, most defined contribution (DC) plan service providers deliver distinct desktop, tablet and phone layouts for responsive pages and tend to incorporate organizational devices, such as expandable sections, to accommodate mobile devices’ limited screen space.

The analysis goes on to suggest the increase in responsive design complements two other trends in the retirement space—the rise of retirement readiness tools and mobile transactions.

“As firms have begun recognizing the importance of having retirement education and prep materials, they have created and adapted resources to display well, regardless of participants’ access points,” the report notes. “Today, 55% of firms’ main retirement planners are responsive, compared to a quarter in the last report.”

Other findings show mobile-friendly design has increased in the industry to match consumers’ rising desires to be able to complete routine tasks without being tethered to a computer. While app-housed mobile transactions have increased since the last RPM report—five firms introduced capabilities since 2017 alone—responsive web-based interfaces have more than doubled, going from 30% to 65%.

In the end, researchers conclude that firms can take a variety of potentially successful approaches when it comes to providing participants with mobile access to their retirement plans. Most coverage group firms offer both responsive websites and native mobile apps, although the degrees of responsiveness and comprehensiveness of apps vary. Some firms provide fully or mostly responsive participant sites and offer mobile apps with strong selections of participant account data and resources, such as transaction capabilities or profile management functionality. Other firms invest in making participant sites fully responsive and offer mobile apps with limited selections of information and resources.

Additional findings and previous RPM reports are available on