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Participant Communications: Targeting the Goal Line

Communicating with participants is bread and butter stuff – a reminder that in the end, benefits administration is about real people. Benefits administrators from two employers in a May 1 session of the Plan Sponsor Council of America’s annual conference in Scottsdale, AZ shared their experiences and approaches in communicating with plan participants in their respective retirement plans.

Sharing their experiences were Nancy Faulkner, Retirement Manager at Encompass Health Corporation, and Bethany Marshall, Director of Benefits for the NFL Players Association. The employers and employee populations they serve are strikingly different – and, necessarily, so are their approaches.

Encompass Health is a traditional employer, and Faulkner faces pressures and situations with which most people in comparable positions must contend. Encompass targets its participant management, she says, tailoring the communications by group so they can reach each most effectively. Faulkner reports that they employ a variety of means to reach participants, including:

  • workshop events;
  • live and virtual webcasts;
  • interactive tools;
  • live chats with recordkeepers or service providers;
  • a mobile app; and
  • a learning center on the company website.

Encompass Health may be similar to most conventional employers, but the NFL Players Association is anything but. Marshall faces challenges most other benefits administrators do not – circumstances unique to their industry.

The biggest issue, she says, is career length – which for NFL players is 4.1 years. They consider retirees and those who have terminated employment to be participants regardless of their employment status, so trying to keep them engaged after they retire from the NFL is a big challenge.

Marshall says the participants cover a vast array of generations, from Generation Z, the newest entrants in the workforce, to the Greatest Generation, that preceding the Baby Boomers – which means, of course, that  they customize communications. Their participants are very socially active, she says, have a varying knowledge of investments and often use advisors’ services.

Marshall says that they try to minimalize “legalese” in communications and shorten their length. They also call players, use in-person meetings, a mobile app and texting, which she says players prefer in some situations. They do not use social media, Marshall says, because “it’s not safe for us,” adding that there are “a lot of animosities for us.”

The two employers are polar opposites regarding missing participants, as well. Faulkner says that due to mergers and acquisitions, Empower Health has some plan participants who were never employees but are covered by the plan nonetheless. “It’s a battle in such cases,” she said. The situation is much simpler for Marshall, however. She reports that they have only a small number of missing participants, and “we can usually find them.” She says that if they don’t find them by mail, the camaraderie of the players helps in finding missing participants.

One thing that both share, however, is the trial-and-error experience. “It’s hot when it’s hot, and when it cools, it’s not,” Faulkner said of their efforts with participants. Marshall made a virtually identical observation. “Some things work, some things don’t,” she said, and that when they don’t, “you go back to the drawing board.”