Much attention is paid to plan participants’ interaction with their plan’s websites and rightfully so. But research shows that most defined-contribution (DC)-plan participants spend little time digitally accessing their accounts, whether by mobile or desktop platforms. While some participants use their plan’s sites actively, interactions are short and relatively infrequent for most.
In contrast, plan administration staff—the sponsor’s human resource department, for instance—interact digitally more frequently with the site provided for the sponsor by the recordkeeper. Andrew Way, director of research for Corporate Insight, a market research and competitive analysis firm that specializes in digital user experiences, says that the information available to sponsors varies with plan size and recordkeeper. Some recordkeepers have very robust plan sponsor websites where a sponsor can connect and complete all the compliance and administrative tasks online that they need to do as part of their job function. Other recordkeepers provide what Way describes as a “slimmer, more streamlined” experience.
A Range of Models and Functions
In some recordkeepers’ business models, sponsors work primarily with a relationship manager at the recordkeeper, while in other models sponsors do more tasks themselves. Large and mega plans also have different relationships with their recordkeepers because those plans’ needs and service expectations differ from those of small plans.
Despite the variations, there are often similarities in what sponsors can see and do on their sites. At the plan level, Way cites available information, such as the plan’s balance, participation rate, average salary deferral rate and participants’ investment allocation. Financial health analytics can track the average retirement readiness of plan participants and show how well participants are allocating their savings to different investments, given their age.
The ability to perform administrative duties also differs among recordkeepers’ systems. Besides providing information on participants’ accounts, some systems allow sponsors to act for participants, depending on permission levels. Other systems can tailor the access permissions granted to third parties. For instance, a plan can assign a unique login credential to its consultant and then restrict what the consultant can view, such as blocking access to participants’ Social Security numbers. Another example of managing third-party permissions involves the annual audit requirement for larger plans. “Some sites offer an auditing package, or a sponsor can give their plan auditor direct access to the site to go in and get the information they need in order to do the year-end audits and things of that nature,” Way noted.
A Shifting Focus
Corporate Insight recently surveyed 338 plan sponsors, representing a range of plan demographics, to learn what those sponsors liked and disliked about their recordkeepers’ sponsor-facing websites. Among the key findings:
- Ninety-one percent of sponsors said their site experience is either of equal or greater importance to the participant site experience.
- Seventy-six percent of respondents said the plan sponsor website is very important or extremely important in terms of professional responsibilities.
- Sixty-eight percent of sponsors log in to the plan sponsor website at least once per week; 18% log in daily.
- While most plan sponsors report being satisfied with their current plan sponsor website, only 31% responded that they are very satisfied.
The survey asked respondents to rate plan sponsor site features in terms of importance. Many of the listed digital features were rated as important, but Way said security was the top concern, with 83% indicating it was either very or extremely important. Plan health tools, which give sponsors access to data-based analytics in intuitive dashboard formats, scored relatively low. “I was surprised to see that on this list where we listed nine primary features for example, plan health tools came 8th out of 9, with only 68% of respondents indicating that it’s very or extremely important,” he said.
An Opportunity to Add Value?
Way observed that plan sponsors’ digital experience is becoming much more important during the RFP process when a plan is up for bid and an organization is trying to determine what recordkeeper it will hire. “We put the question in the survey asking when your plan is up for bid, what is more important to you, the plan sponsor digital experience or the plan participant digital experience and we gave them three options” he explained. “We allowed them to say the sponsor site is more important, the participant site is more important or they’re both of equal importance. I was surprised to see that it came out that more sponsors indicated that the sponsor experience is more important in terms of deciding which recordkeeper to go with than the participant experience is.”
These findings are useful for consultants who work with their plan clients to evaluate plan sponsor websites. By helping sponsors determine which digital features and functions they value from the recordkeeper, a consultant can add value during the RFP process and help increase the plan’s subsequent satisfaction with its recordkeeper.