Workers attended more virtual education sessions last year than ever before to learn about their 401(k) plans and other financial topics, according to new data from Schwab Retirement Plan Services. Participant viewership for virtual live and on-demand sessions was up 33% year-over-year in 2021 as the number of onsite in-person meetings dropped to near zero because of the pandemic.
“The pandemic accelerated the migration to virtual education, but the trend has been building for several years as both workers and employers have discovered the advantages of digital delivery,” said Nathan Voris, Director, Investments, Insights and Consultant Services at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. “Increased attendance and fewer cancellations prove that a combination of virtual live and on-demand sessions is attractive to employees and allows employers to reach their workforce more efficiently and more effectively.”
Of the workers who attended Schwab’s education sessions in 2021, 42% chose to watch via on-demand sessions instead of attending live virtual meetings, up from 33% in 2020. Cancellations and reschedules were also down significantly, decreasing 69% from 2019, when 76% of education sessions were delivered in-person. The decline in cancellations and increase in on-demand engagement has driven a sharp rise in efficiency with 48% fewer meeting days scheduled by employers while reaching 43% more participants in 2021 compared to 2019.
New opportunities for engagement
Even as many employers began encouraging workers to return to the office in 2021, they saw the value in keeping education virtual rather than in-person. Nearly 100% of education sessions for Schwab clients took place virtually in 2021, up from 82% in 2020 and 24% in 2019. General retirement education and financial wellness sessions were particularly successful in the virtual format. Wellness-related topics like college savings and debt management garnered more than four times the attendance per session than topics focused on companies’ specific retirement plan features.
“Virtual meetings require fewer logistics, giving employers more time to thoughtfully plan content for workers,” Voris said. “A successful virtual session can’t just use the same slides and voiceover from an in-person presentation. We construct virtual content differently, with shorter sessions that encourage interactivity through polling, links, and personalized suggestions. Smart, consumable content encourages workers, who are already on their devices, to take action.”
Post-session surveys confirm the effectiveness of Schwab’s approach. Ninety-three percent of respondents said they were better prepared to take their next financial step after attending virtual education meetings, and 95% were confident they knew where to find the resources they needed to take that step. In terms of format, 98% said the virtual sessions were the right length, and 96% said the speakers presented the content in an easy-to-understand and engaging way.
While virtual education is here to stay, in-person meetings can still play an important role in participant education. “We believe that offering both virtual and in-person sessions is the best way to meet workers’ educational needs, driven by context and content,” said Voris. “Virtual meetings have created new ways to engage employees, especially those who may be reluctant to raise their hand in an onsite group meeting.” Schwab does expect to see some increase in onsite education this year as workers return to the office. “In-person meetings can help to build trust, especially when we’re covering more complicated topics such as provider and plan design changes or introducing plan features that are more complex,” Voris added.
About Charles Schwab
At Charles Schwab we believe in the power of investing to help individuals create a better tomorrow. We have a history of challenging the status quo in our industry, innovating in ways that benefit investors and the advisors and employers who serve them, and championing our clients’ goals with passion and integrity.
Through its operating subsidiaries, The Charles Schwab Corporation (NYSE: SCHW) provides a full range of securities brokerage, banking, money management and financial advisory services to individual investors and independent investment advisors. Its broker-dealer subsidiary, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (member SIPC, www.sipc.org), and affiliates offer a complete range of investment services and products including an extensive selection of mutual funds; financial planning and investment advice; retirement plan and equity compensation plan services; compliance and trade monitoring solutions; referrals to independent fee-based investment advisors; and custodial, operational and trading support for independent, fee-based investment advisors through Schwab Advisor Services. Its banking subsidiary, Charles Schwab Bank (member FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender), provides banking and lending services and products. More information is available at www.schwab.com and www.aboutschwab.com.