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Admin September 16, 2014 3 min read

Benz-HelloWallet event draws benefits industry heavy hitters to discuss employee engagement

We know it takes a lot to lure busy benefits professionals away from their desks—particularly during this time of year.

That’s why we were so happy and humbled to host industry pros from Electronic Arts, Google, Cisco, Sephora, Levi Strauss and Wells Fargo last week at “New Approaches to Engagement,” our first-ever joint forum with HelloWallet.

Held at our San Francisco office, the two-hour event tackled heavy questions that benefits professionals have considered for decades: What is engagement? What drives engagement? What is trust? Why don’t employees use their benefits to act in their own self-interest?

Armed with both data and first-hand knowledge, the forum’s speakers helped attendees discern the answers to those questions—in a way that didn’t make the audience tune out from too much introspection or too many data points.

Rather, our presenters just called it like they see it:

Julia Durand, director of deferred compensation for the City and County of San Francisco, shared the City's experience assessing and selecting a new administrator.

Part of what sealed the deal for Durand and her team when making their final selection was that their vendor didn’t just pay lip service to the term “reliable and trusted partner.”

“We didn’t purposefully make them jump through hoops,” Durand explained, “but we made sure they gave honest and forthright answers to our questions—that nothing was hidden or unknown. We believed they would treat employees the same way.”

Laurie Rowley, president and co-founder of the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants (NARPP), shared the organization’s data on improving engagement and outcomes for retirement plan participants—in particular, how a simple equation can tip the scales: T + FL = BO, Rowley noted, explaining the equation stood for trust + financial literacy = better outcomes.

NARPP’s data on the factors that augment—or deteriorate—employees’ trust in retirement plan vendors could be a game-changer in changing savings rates and retirement readiness.

“Without data, we’re just guessing at whether we’re being effective,” Rowley said. “Data helps us be tactical in our decisions.”

She shared that NARPP has concluded “there seems to be a pall over our industry in terms of trust,” noting just one in four plan participants trusts their record-keeper, according to NARPP’s data.

Rowley asked: “What would happen if only one in four of your customers trusted you?”

Good food for thought.

Our own Jen Benz outlined the framework for targeting benefits communication and early success stories of using HSAs and health care consumerism to keep financial topics top of mind throughout the year.

Employers already are a leg up on consumer marketing firms, Jen told the audience, because “you have data on your employees that marketers would kill for—information on their finances, their health, their habits and more.”

She highlighted effective segmented communications techniques—from simpler targeting and versioning, to more complex personalized messaging—that can use key employee data to maximize benefits engagement.

Steve Wendel, author and principal scientist at HelloWallet, talked about behavioral economics, and how it can help benefits practitioners understand and overcome the obstacles employees face to making the most of their benefits.

“You can double the usage of your programs by acknowledging that employees aren’t stupid; they aren’t terrible. They’re just human,” Wendel said.

To limit the barriers to engagement that our humanity places on benefits decision-making, Wendel advised removing “frictions,” making emotional attachments and effectively timing benefits messages. (For example, Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. is the best time to send employees an email.)

The fellowship and the feedback among the audience both were positive, and we look forward to hosting similar events again in the near future. If you have a topic you’d like for us to discuss or a speaker to recommend, please let us know!