Are Retirement Plan Participants Well-Served?

That’s a question that a new service has set out to answer. Corporate Insight is a New York-based firm that’s been providing “competitive intelligence and user experience research” to the financial-services industry for the past 20 years. Now, it’s moving into the retirement-plan space with a new service called Retirement Plan Monitor, a series of reports that will evaluate and compare the participant-facing materials from plan providers. Essentially, it will monitor the websites, marketing materials, calculators and retirement-planning tools offered to retirement-plan participants by 16 defined-contribution plan providers in order to provide clients with a “firsthand view of the user experience” offered by these firms. The firms being monitored include big names like ADP, Aon Hewitt, Mercer, MassMutual, TIAA-CREF, Fidelity and Vanguard, among others.

“We’ll be looking at things such as how concise the communication is, how prominently participants’ account balances are displayed, the navigability of the websites,” Drew Maresca, senior analyst at Corporate Insight, told me. “People who are planning for retirement these days most likely aren’t going to have a pension to rely on. HR needs to ensure these employees know what resources are available to them, and are acting on them.”

If the information provided to participants is hard to follow, difficult to read or provided in a cluttered, random fashion, it’s less likely they’ll understand it or even read it, says Maresca. In fact, plan providers tend to be behind the curve in terms of their online offerings, with many relying on antiquated navigational systems and sites that lack the crispness and clarity that consumers have come to expect from the web thanks to the likes of Google and Apple, he says.

HR executives who subscribe to Retirement Plan Monitor will be able to see for themselves the sort of user experience that employees who are enrolled in their companie’s DC plans are getting, says Maresca. Although I don’t personally use this service and can’t vouch for its effectivness, I find the idea intriguing. After all, numerous reports have documented the low retirement savings among employees and their lack of preparedness in this area, especially among members of Generation Y. And I can certainly vouch for the fact that the online experience offered by a number of plan providers leaves quite a bit to be desired.