Steve Schweitzer, SVP, Product & Marketing; Steve Schaitberger, VP, Employee Experience; and Brandy Blum, Director, Plan Experience at AscensusFor years, the retirement plan industry has worked to develop online experiences that can efficiently provide the information plan sponsors need and effectively engage employees. Ascensus recently announced an initiative to use client-centric research to make its plan and employee websites even simpler and more intuitive.
PLANADVISER spoke with Ascensus executives Steve Schweitzer, Steve Schaitberger, and Brandy Blum about their approach to redefining these experiences and how Ascensus’ plan and employee sites were redesigned with their clients in mind.
PLANADVISER: What are some of the key features of Ascensus’ redesigned plan and employee sites?
Schweitzer: Our new digital experiences are designed to be efficient and improve outcomes, both for the employee and the plan sponsor. Historically, the broader industry approach has been to provide a lot of information, which I think has been overwhelming for most users. In our research, we’ve found that what our clients and their employees are really saying is, “help me make good decisions, keep it simple, and make me efficient.” Our approach is about giving them the right amount of information how and when they want it.
PA: I understand that user research played a major role in these redesigns. What information did you find that employees really want from their retirement account website?
Schaitberger: We wanted to build the employee experience around their priorities and needs. We carefully analyzed their actions. What did they click on? Where did they go? What did they miss? After listening to our clients, there were four things that came out very clearly as the most important: employees want to know their balance; the quarter-over-quarter view of their balance; where they’re invested; and how their balance and investments tied into their retirement outlook. Then we created our dashboard based on those four key factors. The employee’s desire to have those things front and center helped to inform our new design. We also validated that employee expectations are being driven by the consumer space. Employees want information to be simple, and they want it delivered in accessible, plain-speak language. They also expect the site to anticipate and meet their needs, showing them how today’s decisions might impact their future retirement.
PA: What kind of information are plan sponsors looking for, and how do they want to receive information?
Blum: Plan sponsors want their website to be effective, efficient, and empowering. They want to be shown what actions they need to take and accomplish these tasks quickly. They mainly come to our site to submit payroll, run a report, and approve pending items. No matter what they’re looking to accomplish, the experience needs to be intuitive.
PA: What role does mobile technology play, either in your research or through the redesign?
Schaitberger: Mobile drives the overall experience. We’ve focused on making mobile enrollment an easy, two-step process. Savers told us that they wanted to know where to put their money and how much they should save. Our mobile enrollment experience can guide them through that decision process while they’re in the room with the plan’s adviser. The adviser can answer retirement planning and investing questions in real-time, helping employees get started with the plan. As the technology landscape continues to change, we recognize the need to adapt to employees’ expectations for convenience. Going forward, we’ll continue to evaluate the role that wearables and other devices might play.
PA: How will you determine the success of these redesigned experiences?
Schaitberger: Listening to client feedback is key. We want to know if the site is effective in helping employees set their primary goal of reaching retirement. We also want to see how much time employees are spending on the site setting and reevaluating their retirement savings strategy.
Blum: We’ll use analytics, surveys, and user feedback forums. But most importantly, we want to simplify plan management, reducing the time that plan sponsors spend on the site performing key tasks.We’d also like to see a shift in the value of client calls we receive in our call centers. The day-to-day information will be displayed in an easy and simple way for the plan sponsor to find. Our website is designed to be a self-service site—we call it simple by design— which will allow our client service associates to focus on the higher-value calls and take more of a proactive and consultative approach.
PA: What other changes are still yet to come?
Schweitzer: We want to focus on simplifying communication and making it more actionable to the user. Users want to get on our site and be able to take action quickly. We value our clients’ and advisers’ feedback and will continue to integrate it as we roll out new features on a quarterly basis.
PA: How will advisers benefit from this updated digital experience?
Blum: It’s a big win for advisers, because they are going to be able to see exactly what their clients and their employees can see. Often, plan sponsors or employees go to their adviser looking for guidance on the information that’s on our site. An adviser needs to have the same access to view what their clients and their employees see so that they can successfully educate and help them. And by giving plan sponsors and employees the information they’re really looking for right on their dashboard, we’re hoping to save advisers time.
Schaitberger: As an organization, we grow through our advisers. They’re conducting the educational meetings and they’re having one-on-one meetings with plan sponsors. It’s important that we ensure our sites align with what their clients need. We’re taking that important step to make sure they’re a part of the research, review, and decision-making process. Their positive feedback, saying, “Yes, this is exactly what our clients are looking to do,” has really helped us shape our digital experiences.