Challenges with Communications in the Retirement Services Market

The retirement investment market – primarily 401ks, 403bs, pension plans – has a unique B2B2C communication pattern. What do I mean by B2B2C? In this context, the Plan Provider (a business such as TIAA-CREF, Prudential, etc.) communicates via the Plan Sponsor (a business such as Doculabs) to the Plan Participant (the individual customer, such as James Watson). Practically speaking, the provider’s customer-facing documents (e.g. statements, forms, and correspondence) are created the same way as in a traditional B2C context (Chase Bank – James Watson), but typically the materials need to be personalized by plan sponsor, not just by participant. For example, some firms call their employees “associates,” while other use different terms, such as “crew” or “cast” members. Employers (plan sponsors) will also want unique branding and imagery in the communications with participants, such as logos and colors used in headers throughout the documents.

Given these requirements, most Plan Providers have built a vast array of customized templates to serve each employer (Plan Sponsor), resulting in a very cumbersome maintenance and change management process. For example, a simple fund line-up change requires a communication to be sent. And fund line-up changes are very common. But if each plan sponsor has a different template they use for these types of communications, each needs to be modified and tested.

Further compounding the challenge is the need for communications to be distributed in a number of different channels: paper, email, and web pages, at a minimum. So the problem I described above just got three times bigger!

So what guidance are we giving our clients to address these challenges?

First, firms need to embrace the notion of modular design of their communications documents. In doing so, they will need to go through a potentially exhaustive inventory of communications templates to identify content that will be common and reused, as well as areas where variable data (Plan Sponsor name) or content (logo) is needed. Then redesign and development takes place.

Given the magnitude of such efforts, we focus clients on the communications that are used most frequently. And these efforts must include communications used across multiple channels. Ask the web site folks and the email folks for a list of their templates. And while the technologies to publish each might be different, designing a macro-view of modular content usage can and will pay dividends in the future, as the technologies continue to converge toward the write-once, publish-many paradigm.

Rich Medina
James Watson
I’m President and co-founder of Doculabs, serving as executive sponsor on consulting engagements for financial services clients.