Study Finds Advantages to Virtual Retirement and Financial Wellness Education

An increase in participant engagement and confidentiality are reasons to continue virtual meetings when employees are back in the office. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of online retirement and financial wellness education for employees. A study shows that delivering such education virtually has some advantages over in-person sessions.

In 2021, more workers attended virtual education sessions to learn about their retirement plans and other financial topics than in 2020, Charles Schwab Retirement Plan Services’ data  shows.

For workers who attended Schwab’s education sessions last year, 42% watched via an on-demand session rather than attending live virtual meetings, a 33% increase from 2020. Canceled meetings and rescheduling were also 69% lower from 2019, when 76% of educations sessions were delivered in-person, Schwab finds.

Continuing to hold virtual meetings when employees are back in the office is likely to remain useful, data shows. Schwab followed up with workers post-session, which revealed that 93% felt better prepared to take the next financial step after attending virtual education meetings and 95% felt confident they could find the resources needed to take that step.

For content delivery, 98% said the virtual sessions were the right length, and 96% said the speakers presented the content in an easy-to-understand and engaging way.

General retirement education and financial wellness sessions were particularly successful in the virtual format, as financial wellness topics including college savings and debt management garnered over four times the attendance per session than topics focused on the company’s specific retirement plan.

Holding virtual sessions also helps plan sponsors evaluate and understand the plan through greater data and deeper insights, says Nathan Voris, director for investments, insights and consultant services at Schwab Retirement Plan Services.

“One of the benefits of virtual is we do have more data, so we can gather additional data on who was attending and when, and we can track them to see what actions were taken if they did take action,” he adds. “The ability to report back on success and provide insight on what the participants are wanting and needing is a little bit higher with virtual and on-demand sessions than for in-person sessions.”

“People are watching, people are engaging, and it makes sense to have that in your toolkit, along with all the other ways in which an employer and plan sponsor would work to engage their participants,” says Voris. “Results show that people want it, that it works, and it should be a key part of the way in which recordkeepers, plan sponsors and advisers communicate to participants.”

Continuing Virtual Meetings

Plan sponsors that continue to hold virtual sessions with workers back in office must be deliberate in planning and delivering content, explains Voris.

“If you’re planning virtual sessions, think about when they [workers] can participate, think about the content that resonates with them, the hot topics that are happening within the employers’ walls,” Voris says.

Plan sponsors and advisers should use virtual live presenters and on-demand sessions.

“Virtual doesn’t mean live all the time,” Voris explains. “It provides that participant with the flexibility that they can consume content and learn at their pace when they want, how they want. They can include a spouse or partner, they can start the session and hit pause and have dinner with their family and resume.”

Stephanie Hunt, senior retirement plan consultant at OneDigital, says that “a lot” of the firm’s clients will return to the office or have already returned for two or three days a week. She says that when continuing virtual meetings, plan sponsors and advisers must not overschedule.

“Even though you’re not sitting in a room full of people, you’re still sitting at your desk, and if it’s back-to-back to back-to-back virtual meetings that can be very draining for employees,” Hunt says. She counsels limiting meetings to 30 or 45 minutes.

Virtual sessions allow participants to learn differently, and “cater [to] those folks” who may be more introverted or shy about asking a question in person, says Voris.

“It can be a little bit more private; no one wants to talk about their personal debt in front of their co-workers,” he explains.

Voris adds that another plus for plan sponsors, and larger ones in particular, can be reaching employees spread across the country.

“They potentially could be working all time zones and all shifts, so the reality is that virtual and on-demand education and content is more effective for a very diverse workforce,” he says.

While virtual meetings have shown successes, watching on a screen is not a complete replacement for in-person interaction, says Kassandra Hendrix, chief marketing officer at LeafHouse Financial & investGrade.

“It is good to be able to see people’s facial expressions,” she says. “You can tell a lot more from the tone of the conversation by seeing each other, making eye contact, than just looking at a black box on your desk.”

Going forward, she expects a hybrid of virtual sessions with on-demand options and in-person as business travel resumes. “Virtual meetings are the new conference call,” she says.