Benefits Products & Services
Talking retirement: One style doesn't fit all
Mass Mutual's targeted approach to plan participants
By Thomas A. McCoy, CLU
In a well-run business organization, management considers
employees in their 20s and 30s to be critical to the firm's future. The owners
and HR directors place a high priority on attracting and retaining good workers
in this age bracket. Of all the employee benefits tools available to serve that
end, a retirement plan might seem to be the least relevant. How many young
people are motivated by a product with a payoff that is decades away?
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company is one retirement
plan provider that is working to overcome this barrier of unrecognized need on
the part of some young plan participants—a problem that can perhaps be
best summed up by the Pennsylvania Dutch proverb: "We grow too soon old and too
"It appears that most people start planning their retirement when
it's almost too late," says Kris Gates, assistant vice president of participant
and interactive marketing for Mass Mutual's Retirement Services Division. "It's
not easy to get a 22-year-old with student loans to start thinking about
retirement. But it's not like college anymore. You can't cram for this test.
You actually need to prepare early.
"By the time employees reach their early 50s and retirement
starts to become a real thing to them, there's not a lot they can do at that
point. They can't just get rid of all their expenses and start saving 30% of
Last November Mass Mutual released a series of 10 educational
videos on money management and retirement subjects narrated by Farnoosh Torabi,
an independent personal financial journalist and Gen Y money coach. The company
will use the videos, known collectively as RetireSmartTV, as part of Webinar
presentations to retirement plan participants.
"When we brought in Farnoosh Torabi, our primary focus was to
start engaging a more youthful retirement crowd," Gates says.
The videos consist of Torabi conducting unrehearsed interviews of
"people on the street," asking them questions about financial management
topics, including retirement. In each two-minute video she talks to
intelligent-sounding people, who candidly admit to being confused about these
subjects. Torabi and many of the interview subjects are Gen Y age.
Gates points out that when Gen X and Gen Y people think about
money issues, including retirement savings, they aren't that interested in
benchmarking themselves against the Dow or the NASDAQ; they want to benchmark
themselves against their peers. So the videos showing a Gen Y person
interviewing other Gen Ys gets their attention. Torabi works exclusively with
Mass Mutual in the financial services field, but she brings credibility as a
neutral third party. "We don't script her," Gates says.
The video initiative is part of Mass Mutual's multi-dimensional
approach to communicating with plan participants, which includes phone, e-mail,
the Web site, social media and in person. "We are prepared to deal with our
customers in any fashion they want to interact with us," says Gates.
"Online education and communication with our customers is
important to us now and will be in the future," says Gates. But he cautions,
"You get in trouble if you make assumptions about how people want to deal with
you, especially when you're talking about financial products."
Not only the medium, but also the message for plan participants
is highly targeted. Gates explains that under the company's segmentation model,
if a team in an office has 10 people in a plan, they might get 10 different
messages based on the company's perception of their needs.
It's a strategy that has evolved over time, Gates says. "Looking
back 10 years or so, we used to do sort of a 'one size fits all' model of
education and communication where we would say, 'I think everyone in the plan
needs to concentrate on saving more,' and then we'd dump a message to every
participant that says 'save more.' Half the people were saving as much as they
could already. It wasn't personalized, so you would lose a lot of the effect."
One constant in Mass Mutual's retirement plan marketing is the
important role played by the advisor. "We're an advisor-centric organization,"
Gates emphasizes. "We choose not to bid out business if there's not a financial
advisor attached to the plan. We don't go direct to plan sponsors."
The company uses a permission-based marketing approach to its
plan participants, but it also consults its advisors before sending out a
proactive campaign or message to participants (other than mandatory mailings
such as quarterly statements). "We tell our intermediary advisor base, 'This is
what we're going to be doing for your plans unless you prefer we don't; or if
you prefer, we deliver you the information.'
"When we visit the work site, if the advisor wants to do the
meetings because that's a way that they can add value, we give them all the
materials, and let them jump in front and do it.
"We consider the advisor to be the quarterback," Gates
As part of its strategy of individualized communication within
its retirement plans, Mass Mutual makes extensive use of online seminars. Last
year the company offered eight free online seminars as part of its RetireSmartsm
educational program, drawing a total audience of 9,000 participants coming from
all 50 states.
The Webinar topics are chosen entirely by feedback from plan
participants. Each seminar is led by an expert from outside Mass Mutual and
features a 30-minute presentation followed by 30 minutes of questions and
answers with the speaker. "We get between 200 and 400 questions submitted for
every session," Gates says.
The seminar subjects can depart considerably from typical
retirement planning ideas. Gates cites one seminar—titled Ready or Not,
Retirement is Coming—that talked about ways to enjoy retirement when you
didn't do all the right things with your retirement planning—such as
little tricks to cut costs in retirement.
"We're taking an unusual approach in order to be more realistic
with consumers," says Gates. "The plan sponsors appreciate that."
Mass Mutual has won awards for its defined contribution plans
based on independent assessments of sponsors' and participants' satisfaction.
Whether the company is aiming its message at older plan participants or younger
ones, and whatever media it uses, it focuses on individual needs—of the
employee, the sponsor and the advisor.