Employee Education and the Ostrich

    I read many articles about ERISA plan governance, including articles about fiduciary duty, proposed changes to legislation, and the delivery of advice.  One article, in particular, did an excellent job describing the ineffectiveness of employee education.  Admittedly, I was a little off put by the premise, especially considering how hard I work as making these meetings interesting.  But by the time I finished reading, I had to agree with the author.  The author describes education material that includes an overwhelming amount of charts and graphs with a delivery filled with industry jargon and terms that the average person cannot understand.  What does work, however, are personal stories and relating the topic in plain English.

     Story telling also helps to pique interest, especially when the story is memorable.  One such story I tend to share is how people often act like ostriches.  An ostrich is a very fast bird, among its other notable characteristics.  We too are like ostriches, in that we are often distracted by the speed of life.  Our daily routine is predictable and busy.  We wake, we work, we pick the kids up from their extracurricular activities, we go to bed, and then we do this all over again.  Rarely do we take five or ten minutes out of our day to focus on other important matters.  Rather we will put it off for another day. 

     Retirement plan participants are often very driven by their work schedules and things that need tending to after work.  The education meeting, if structured properly, serves as motivation for the participant to take action with a sense of urgency.  After all, if something is not addressed immediately following the message or shortly thereafter, then the attitude of “take care of it tomorrow” will turn into next week and next week will turn into next month, and so on.

     So what can we do?  Start by having meaningful conversations and consider changing the way participant education is delivered.  It’s okay to open up and share personal stories if it helps deliver the message.  Have fun with the presentation because humor helps take the edge off serious matters.  Most importantly, be available to answer questions.  Participants are more likely to seek advice after the education meeting, especially when they know you’ll hang around to answer any questions.

Neal Nolan CFP(R), AIF(R)
Director of ERISA
Senior Financial Advisor

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