Schwab Sees Record Attendance in Participant 401(k) Sessions

Participants are favoring virtual sessions, and 18% boost their 401(k) contribution rate after 1:1 engagements.

Retirement plan participants attended educational 401(k) plan sessions at record levels in 2022, driven in part by the use of virtual meetings, according to data released by The Charles Schwab Corp.’s retirement plan division on Wednesday.

Participant attendance was up by 5.4% year-over-year, with virtual live meetings accounting for 65% of attendance among over 1,600 education sessions run by Schwab educators. Twenty-eight percent of participants went to on-demand meetings made available from the sessions, according to the Westlake, Texas-based firm. 

“We’ve seen growth in 2021, 2022 and, so far, more again this year,” says Marci Stewart, director of communication consulting and participant education for Schwab Workplace Financial Services.

Participant education and engagement have been key focuses for the retirement industry in recent years, with recordkeepers, advisory firms and third-party providers enhancing or offering new financial wellness tools and educational touchpoints. Schwab’s Stewart, who oversees the firm’s participant webcast series, says the pandemic pushed virtual platforms forward and made them more accepted. In 2022, more than 80% of retirement plan education sessions that Schwab held were virtual.

“I think the pandemic really forced everyone to experiment virtually, and it’s giving us the ability to reach more people,” Stewart says. This can be particularly important when discussing financial matters, she notes, including retirement planning. “Some employees don’t want to announce that they are getting ready for retirement, and the virtual experience gives them that anonymity, while also providing them the information they need,” she says.

While virtual meetings dominate, on-site educational sessions have also increased as the effects of the pandemic have waned, with 7.4% of workers attending in person, up from just 1% in 2021. Meanwhile, Schwab found that cancellations and reschedules were down by nearly 10% last year, compared to 2021.

Working With Advisers

Schwab, as a recordkeeper, provides participant education programs and guidance to help drive action, and can also facilitate the delivery of specific advice, or connect participants with plan advisers, Stewart says. Her team often works directly with a plan sponsor’s adviser to identify topic areas to focus on, and the team can co-present with advisers when applicable.

“The adviser can be a critical partner in helping us to think about a really good educational topic for that client’s employees,” she says.

More recently, Stewart’s team has started making sessions more conversational, facilitating live panel discussions and taking audience questions. Some of the sessions are focused on a single topic, such as saving for a child’s college education, and last no longer than 10 minutes, she says.

Popular sessions have included topics such as women and investing, which was the most-attended webcast topic in 2022. Other group-specific topics included investing trends in the Black community and financial essentials for the LGBTQ+ community, according to Schwab. The firm also launched a Spanish webcast hub last year with translated events and hosted live events in Spanish.

From Education to Action

The sessions do often lead to retirement saving action by participants, according to data collected by Schwab. One of the top actions participants took after a session and a 1:1 engagement was increasing their 401(k) contribution, with 18% of session attendees doing so in 2022, up from 11% in 2021.

In addition, more than 90% of session attendees agreed or strongly agreed that they felt better prepared to take the next financial step in their lives after attending virtual sessions, according to the firm.

Stewart notes that as the events grow in popularity, her team is finding ways to cater them to important areas for participants, such as paying off debt, raising “money-wise” children or supporting aging parents.

“People have competing priorities for the dollars they earn,” she says. “They don’t make a distinction between saving for retirement or other areas of their lives.”