Workplace financial education programs can be delivered digitally and help with work/life balance by reducing financial stress. Marci Stewart and Annette Grabow of Sonepar USA discuss keys to success for retirement plan sponsors.
Schwab@Home with Marci Stewart
Transcript of the video:
MARCI STEWART: Hi everyone. I'm Marci Stewart and I'm responsible for Communication Consulting and Participant Education for Schwab Workplace Financial Services. This includes the many 401(k) plans that we serve as part of Schwab Retirement Plan Services.
I'm thrilled to be here today with one of our clients. Annette Grabow is Retirement Plans Program Manager for Sonepar USA. Annette, hello, welcome and thanks so much for joining us.
ANNETTE GRABOW: Thank you for inviting me, Marci.
MARCI: Annette, we asked you here today to talk about retirement education, and, more specifically, how it's really transformed as organizations first move to a virtual environment, and now as we're seeing the return to office, to an increasingly more hybrid environment. We know from our research that workers really flocked to online education in 2020, and it's a continuing trend that we're seeing in 2021. They were much more likely to choose on-demand sessions rather than attend scheduled events when we compare data that we saw from 2019, as well. And our sponsors were actually less likely to cancel or reschedule their education events. So in terms of both participant engagement and flexibility for our plan sponsors, virtual education certainly seems like a big plus.
I'd love to hear your perspective as a sponsor, and I'd love for you to share a little bit about what you've observed at Sonepar in terms of that shift to digital education for both your retirement plans, as well as your overall wellness.
ANNETTE: Sure. Before the pandemic, across Sonepar, the focus has been on digital transformation that puts our customer at the center of our efforts. We'd already been working hard at building a seamless experience for the customer, providing new and different ways to let them engage with our business. The pandemic forced us to adapt and adjust more quickly than our original plan was to serve our customers and our associates. As a matter of fact, we were just recognized by the Electrical Distributors Magazine in their best of the best edition for our digital marketing pandemic response. During a time of physical distancing, company-wide, we were able to make people feel closer.
When it comes to our associates, specifically, we've been using a similar lens to consider how we can use digital touchpoints to enhance the employee experience, especially with our retirement plan. Currently, we have over 12,500 associates with over 1.1 billion in assets. We have a pretty diverse workforce. We're spread all over the country in large and small groups, sometimes as small as two or three employees. Associates cover the whole spectrum, from Gen X, our largest group, to Millennials, to Baby Boomers and then Gen Z is our smallest group.
Initially, we built out a platform for our communications to provide more flexibility and customization for our associates, while still, you know, being lower cost and better for the environment, plus everyone loves less paper for many reasons. The use of digital platforms internally keeps growing. Working with you, we've now moved to e-delivery of our 401(k) statements, and our legal notices, and our summary plan descriptions will be next.
MARCI: So, Annette, your experience sounds like it's been very positive for your customers, for your associates, and for your organization overall, and that's very consistent with the experience that we're hearing from our other plan sponsors. What's interesting to me is that this type of transformation does not happen overnight, and especially with a large and geographically diverse workforce. I would love for you to share a few more of the details on what you think has been really key to that successful digital transformation.
ANNETTE: Integration has been key. 401(k) participant education is integrated with our health wellness program as another platform for our financial wellness initiatives, which we've been building on since about 2015. Measuring our progress is key. We are constantly evaluating our efforts to make sure they're working for our associates. Currently, we're going to add a new hire survey. It's being put in place to be completed a few months after someone is hired, and we're hoping to get a lot of good information from that. Externally, through our vitality wellness partner, we can track engagement as we offer vitality points for healthy financial behaviors. And, also, assessing engagement with your suite of digital resources, which are vast.
The last key would be alignment. It is very, very important to us to be working with partners who are on the same page with us in terms of being passionate about the success of our participants, and aligned on how to leverage the digital solutions to improve participant engagement and experience with the plan.
MARCI: Integration, measurement, alignment, so important in any type of transformation. Annette, I know it won't surprise you when I tell you that we saw the number of our onsite education events drop almost 88% in 2020 when compared to 2019, largely as a result of the pandemic. What's really interesting to me is that when we look further back, we actually see a trend toward virtual delivery that started as early as 2018, when attendance at our virtual education sessions were two to three times higher than their onsite counterparts. So we don't really expect to see onsite education meetings returned to those pre-pandemic levels. In fact, in just the first half of 2021, attendance for our virtual universal webcast series open to all participants is double the full year 2020 figures that we saw. I'm curious as to whether you have the same expectation as you're looking ahead.
ANNETTE: Well, Sonepar was already a step ahead in this respect before COVID. We have not historically done a lot of onsite education because of how spread out we are, as I mentioned earlier. So we had already achieved some degree of comfort with digital.
Going forward, we plan to continue to look for new ways to educate, new topics to educate about, new ways to promote engagement. Right now, we're looking at how we can improve by determining the why of participant behavior versus just the what are they doing. We want to be more focused on true understanding around motivation, and what will foster engagement and financial wellness growth. Why does one participant do it right? Why does the next participant not do it right? We're suggesting that the why will help us improve participant behavior. We're hoping to use what we learn to build and shape our ongoing communications. Engagement in this process is what enables participants to be successful.
MARCI: Annette, thank you for joining us today. For more information about Schwab Retirement Plan Services and our solutions, please visit us at workplacefinancialservices.schwab.com. I'm Marci Stewart and this has been another edition of Schwab @Home.
"Schwab" in this video refers to Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc.
References to Schwab Retirement Plan Services business data as of 6/30/21 and based on internal data sources.
References to Sonepar business data as of 9/21/21 and based on internal data sources.
The Electrical Distributors Magazine, Best of the Best edition, Digital/Social Media Campaign, 9/8/21.
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