Connie Weaver

Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, TIAA-CREF

PA: At PLANADVISER National Conference, you talked about the shift in focus from retirement products to retirement outcomes. What should an adviser or plan sponsor consider in thinking about this shift?

Weaver: While this is a recent shift for much of the industry, driving better outcomes and ensuring that our clients’ employees have guaranteed lifetime income has been at the core of TIAA-CREF’s approach for decades.1 We work with our clients to help employees achieve financial well-being throughout their lives by focusing on four drivers.

The first is plan design, with best-practice features and services that help employees meet their income needs in retirement: auto-enrollment, auto-escalation, a carefully crafted employer match, guardrails against loans, and guaranteed income products.

The second driver is investment solutions. Here again, we understand investment decisions are for a lifetime; therefore, guaranteed income options are critical. Research shows that 72% of participants surveyed are interested in contributing to an investment option within their retirement plan that focuses mainly on generating a guaranteed monthly income in retirement.2

Third, we look at efficient plan management that streamlines operations and reduces fiduciary risk, with—when possible—a sole recordkeeping model that creates better outcomes for employees by letting them more easily act on advice via a single transaction with a single vendor.

All three of these drivers are targeted at plan sponsors. But the fourth, employee engagement, touches not just plan sponsors but employees as well. We use our in-depth knowledge of employees to approach them in a highly engaging manner, with the information they need, in the way that they prefer to receive it.

Studies have shown that engaging employees through targeted, relevant communications and education can increase participation, savings rates and net worth.3 That’s why we use seminars, materials and planning tools that accommodate the ways in which people prefer to receive information. We are constantly adapting to changing trends by tapping new capabilities, such as interactive online tools, gaming and mobile applications.

We also offer personalized advice and guidance that considers an individual’s age, current savings rates, plan investments and tolerance for investment risk. This helps him navigate his choices and figure out how to invest, how much to contribute, how to distribute assets, when to retire and more.

This carefully targeted engagement helps us to overcome many people’s natural inertia around financial planning. We aim to reach people early in their careers and help them build the good habits that contribute to a secure retirement afforded by adequate income.

PA: How can plan advisers help plan sponsors drive better outcomes?

Weaver: Plan advisers play a critical role in helping plan sponsors understand that employees must engage in the plan to achieve their goals in retirement. So many programs approach people with a formulaic set of steps as to what they should do, and it fails to capture their attention. Our approach, which builds on a deep understanding of employees’ hopes and needs, meets them where they are and brings them along to where they’ve got to go.

Our programs for women offer a perfect example of the results TIAA-CREF has achieved with targeted engagement. Women represent 70% of employees in higher education and 77% of employees in health care, so it is important to us to be the provider that truly understands and engages women in meaningful ways, helping them have better outcomes.

We regularly conduct research such as social listening to learn more about how women engage, what they think about financial services and advisers, where they seek information and what type of information they are looking for. What we have learned is that women are looking for trusted partners in making investment decisions. But information must be relevant to them, and it must be easy for them to get. Women also value information from their peers and appreciate the opportunity to get that information in interactive settings.

Those insights led to the development of our Woman to Woman Financial Empowerment Series. The series includes four workshops designed to help women prepare for the financial demands they will face in the future by offering them a chance to learn from a financial adviser,  as well as from other women in the room.

To date, the workshops have reached more than 6,000 women. Of those, 85% rated the workshops valuable or highly valuable, 73% have increased their retirement plan contributions, and 37% requested a one-on-one session with an adviser. That is the kind of engagement that promotes better outcomes.            

PA: What are next steps in this evolution of focus on outcomes?

Weaver: We are excited to tap the potential of deep-dive data analytics. By analyzing massive amounts of participant data, we are bringing together art, science and technology to deliver a more engaging and compelling message. Our Plan Outcomes Assessment capability lets us provide an accurate plan-level view for every participant in the plan, informing plan sponsors as to whether their work force is on track and ready for retirement.

We can also look at this data across institutions, which lets us do really in-depth comparisons of people by age, by gender, by life stage, by geography—there are nearly endless possibilities. Behavioral finance tells us individuals are intrigued by these comparisons as they compare themselves with the norm. Using this data with employees, and showing those who are lagging in their planning that their peers are making choices that will afford them adequate financial resources at retirement, could be a compelling proposition. It’s another tool that lets us engage and educate employees, driving home the point that income for a lifetime is their ultimate objective.

The material is for informational purposes only and should not be regarded as a recommendation or an offer to buy or sell any product or service to which this information may relate. Certain products and services may not be available to all entities or persons. Past performance does not guarantee future results.


TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, and Teachers Personal Investors Services, Inc., members FINRA, distribute securities products.


1 Guaranteed lifetime income is subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.
2 Retirement Research Inc./Brightwork Partners, 2011.
3 “Financial  Counseling, Financial Literacy and Household Decision Making,” Pension Research Council, October 2010.