Measuring Client Financial Knowledge

Participant poll reveals gaps in understanding of fundamentals, shifts in education preferences

By Melissa Musial

Ms. Musial is Marketing Research and Data Manager at OneAmerica. She was recently named by LIMRA as one of the 10 Rising Stars of Marketing and Communications under 40 in the financial services industry. Visit

The idea that someone is practicing what you’ve preached is welcome news, and a recent OneAmerica® survey focused on retirement readiness showed progress when it comes to basic budgeting, credit scores and monitoring and debt management – cornerstones of personal finance and topics fundamental to an effective financial wellness curriculum. As a recordkeeper interested in aiding employers with their employee-retirement-plan objectives, we often question whether retirement plan participants have ample education on those financial fundamentals and whether increased education on these topics is needed. Given the continued interest from plan sponsors in providing these topics in their financial wellness offering, it would seem to illustrate that it is. But participants suggest that it could be time to build on those efforts.

The recent survey of over 12,000 respondents shows that participants report the highest knowledge levels on the topics of budgeting, credit and debt management – with 95 percent indicating knowledge on this topic ─ which is great news, as it indicates educational efforts are influencing audiences.

The survey also shows that 60 percent or more of respondents lack knowledge on basic investing, retirement plan features, insurance planning and withdrawal strategies at retirement. Additionally, more than one quarter of survey respondents indicate they are only knowledgeable on two or fewer of nine financial wellness topics ranging from budgeting to college planning to personal taxes and that those who are less knowledgeable are more open to receiving education.

A Clear Opportunity To Educate

Given these results, there is clearly an opportunity for education. Although participants report high knowledge levels on personal finance cornerstones, given national reports of skyrocketing debt and continued data security breaches, it appears that actions speak louder than words. It is important to continue to provide education on topics of budgeting, credit and debt management, as participants do not appear to be applying their reported knowledge.

Equally as important is including education on those topics that participants report lower knowledge about and that are often a barrier to full plan participation – for example, investing and retirement plan features. The industry is making it easier for participants to begin preparing for retirement with the use of automatic enrollment. However, without education on investment fundamentals or retirement plan features, participants may be under-preparing or feel that the automatic features are enough to prepare them for a successful retirement. Tailoring education for pre-retirees relative to withdrawal strategies is also critical. Without education on withdrawal strategies, those near or at retirement may continue to work due to a lack of knowledge on how to begin the deaccumulation stage. This could provide additional concerns for plan sponsors – such as increased benefit costs and struggles to bring in new talent due to lack of attrition.

60 percent or more of respondents lack knowledge on basic investing, retirement plan features, insurance planning and withdrawal strategies at retirement...

The survey provided a very clear direction as to participant educational preferences. When asked how they prefer to receive financial wellness education, 65 percent of respondents indicated that having online resources sent to them was their preferred delivery channel.


The OneAmerica survey also inquired about the value that participants place on educational resources and found:
• Web-based tools such as webinars, video and podcasts was reported the most valuable resource by 42 percent of survey respondents, favored as much by men as women and across all three age ranges, but resonating the strongest among those aged 35 and over, as well as those with higher household income.

  •  ‘Real-time chat’ tallies in second, at 15 percent, which resonates more strongly with the 18-to-34 demographic (at 21 percent).
  • More traditional methods – direct mail flyers/postcards (13 percent) and posters and flyers at work (four percent) – rank fourth and sixth respectively.

The survey results clearly show a shift in education trends. Traditional communication channels such as print and items posted in the workplace have less value to participants. Plan sponsors should embrace those mediums that participants prefer when selecting education deliverables, and when creating their retirement plan’s participant education and communication goals.

This survey was the third conducted by OneAmerica in five years, and the insights will be used (as has been done in the past) to assist retirement plan sponsors in working with participants to improve their financial wellness and overcome retirement planning hurdles. Do you want to know more about the OneAmerica Survey? Download a free infographic and whitepaper at ◊




1. From Aug. 25, 2017 to Jan. 31, 2018, more than 12,200 OneAmerica retirement plan participants responded to an online poll, sharing their thoughts on financial wellness, education and resource preferences, and potential roadblocks to retirement.
OneAmerica is the marketing name for the companies of OneAmerica. Products issued and underwritten by American United Life Insurance Company® (AUL), a OneAmerica company. Administrative and recordkeeping services provided by McCready and Keene, Inc. or OneAmerica Retirement Services LLC, companies of OneAmerica which are not broker/dealers or investment advisors. Provided content is for overview and informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be relied upon as individualized tax, legal, fiduciary, or investment advice.