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May 27, 2021

By Brian Bender, head of Schwab Retirement Plan Services

There is hardly a corner of our lives that hasn’t been changed in the last year. Even the things we choose to pay attention to have been reshaped by our current circumstances. It’s no surprise that many of us have been rethinking how we approach and manage our overall wellbeing.

And it isn’t just our physical health that we’re thinking about, it’s also our long-term financial health. Alongside this renewed focus of our attention, some new behaviors – you could even say preferences – have emerged when it comes to learning, getting help and managing our money.

Take for example 401(k) plan investors. New data from Schwab Retirement Plan Services shows that not only are more people seeking retirement education and advice, but the increased availability of virtual and on-demand sessions is sparking more enthusiasm for these programs than ever before.

According to the data, participation in online education increased significantly in 2020. What’s more, in the same way people have found some upside flexibility in their new remote working situations, they are also responding positively to the variety of “on-demand” options now available for financial education and advice that allow them to view information whenever and wherever they choose. Compared to 2019, participation in on-demand sessions shot up by over 200%.

That may not sound surprising given that many of us were remote last year, but the landscape was shifting in this direction well before the pandemic hit.

Brian quote

"In 2019, virtual sessions were already outperforming on-site programs by a wide margin, with the on-demand option gaining steadily in popularity. But the acceleration of adoption this past year underscores that self-serve, virtual education is a clear preference for retirement plan investors."

Brian Bender, head of Schwab Retirement Plan Services


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Employers are Equally Enthusiastic about Virtual Education

One of the things we have learned from being forced to embrace virtual services of all kinds is that despite sometimes being unfamiliar to us at the outset, they can be more convenient than traditional in-person alternatives. Employers are seeing some important upside to the current situation as well – namely that it has expanded the options for helping their employees engage in long term financial planning. Because virtual and on-demand programs are so flexible, they eliminate many of the complications that arise with coordinating in-person events. By removing the usual burdens of the old format, such as scheduling and securing meeting rooms and juggling team schedules, the online approach can increase attendance and may ultimately deliver better outcomes when it comes to retirement education and participant engagement.

Our recent data also shows a preference among workers for more holistic approaches to financial education and the virtual, on-demand education model means more room for tailored content. In 2020, we were able to work with employers and use the flexibility of virtual sessions to offer choices including interactive webcasts on topics like expense management and investing, workshops on understanding market volatility, live-panel discussions featuring participant-focused Q&As, and even short, informal “coffee talks” addressing trending topics related to managing personal finances. And many workers took action after attending a session, either on their own, or through a phone or web consultation with one of our professionals. We know that getting help through multiple channels, including one-on-one help when we want it, is simply an expectation everyone has these days.

While it still seems early to talk about silver linings, it’s always encouraging to see more individuals looking out for their financial health. The fact is that workers prefer receiving retirement education at the location of their choice, on the device of their choice, at the time of their choice. We don’t expect this trend to slow down.