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Responsively Designed Retirement Websites

How plan providers are approaching this digital trend

by Olivia Jack

Ms. Jack is an Analyst on the Retirement group at Corporate Insight which consists of the Retirement Plan Monitor and Retirement Plan Monitor — Institutional research services. She has conducted extensive research on the retirement industry during her time at Corporate Insight, examining the online platforms and technological innovations leading firms offer clients. She graduated from New York University in 2015 and has been a member of the Corporate Insight team since April 2016. Visit here.

As consumers manage more aspects of their financial lives from their mobile devices, more retirement plan providers are turning to “responsively designed” websites to deliver the best possible digital user experiences.

What exactly is responsive design? Responsively designed webpages automatically adjust the layout of content to fit the user’s screen size. This approach helps retirement plan providers ensure that their websites function seamlessly on any device, mitigating the need for dedicated mobile apps and allowing providers to deliver more robust content than traditional mobile sites. For retirement plan providers—whose customers often review their retirement portfolios less frequently than other financial accounts and therefore may be slightly less inclined to download a dedicated app—that’s a significant advantage.

When we last published a report on responsive design in August 2016, 55 percent of the firms we tracked featured at least some level of responsive design on the public and/or private defined contribution (DC) participant websites. The findings from our latest report, Responsive Design: A Mobile Approach,” show that number has now risen to 85 percent—a 55 percent increase in less than two years.

Rise in Responsive Design Reflects Other Key Trends

The increase in responsive design has accompanied the rise of two other trends in the retirement space: retirement-readiness tools and mobile transactions.

Retirement-readiness tools help participants estimate how much income they will need in retirement, and how much they are on track to have. These resources are playing an increasingly central role in the retirement planning process for many participants. As such, many providers have integrated responsive design into these tools to ensure participants can engage with them, regardless of the device they are using. Today, 55% of firms’ main retirement planners are responsive, compared to a quarter in the last report.

Prudential and Voya Financial integrated responsive design into their existing tools, while Nationwide recently overhauled and introduced responsive design to its retirement readiness tool. Vanguard also replaced its tool, and although the previous version was responsive, the new, far more robust tool exemplifies some best practices in responsive design. For example, Vanguard’s tool communicates its results through a bar graph at the top of the interface within all layouts; however, in the mobile layout, when users scroll down and the graph results are no longer visible, a small section appears at the bottom of the screen that lists the participant’s income projection and goal. The data dynamically updates as users make adjustments, eliminating the need for them to scroll up to see how their results may have changed.

Providers have also expanded the availability of mobile-accessible transactions in response to consumers’ preference for completing routine tasks without being tethered to a computer. While app-housed mobile transactions have increased since our last report—five firms introduced capabilities since 2017 alone—responsive web-based interfaces have more than doubled, going from 30 percent to 65 percent. Prudential optimized all of its transactions for tablets, and notably, two firms—Charles Schwab and Principal—introduced responsive design when overhauling investment data pages and transactions. Outside of the plan homepage and a participant profile page, the only responsively designed pages on Charles Schwab’s site are also investment related, such as the Fund Performance and Investments pages and the rebalance, fund transfer and future investment election transactions.

Blended Approaches to Mobile Accessibility Accommodates Different Consumer Preferences

Retirement-readiness tools help participants estimate how much income they will need in retirement, and how much they are on track to have. These resources are playing an increasingly central role in the retirement planning process for many participants

Firms often take a variety of approaches when it comes to providing participants with mobile access to their retirement plans. Corporate Insight’s Retirement Plan Monitor tracks the digital participant experiences of 20 leading record-keepers. Most of the firms in the coverage group offer both responsive websites and native mobile apps. However, the degrees of responsiveness and comprehensiveness of apps vary. Some firms, such Empower Retirement and Vanguard, provide fully or mostly responsive participant sites and offer mobile apps with strong selections of participant account data and resources, such as transaction capabilities or profile management functionality. Other firms, such as AXA, invest in making participant sites fully responsive and offer mobile apps with limited selections of information and resources. Firms like Charles Schwab, however, take the opposite approach and offer robust mobile apps but limited selections of responsive participant site pages.

TIAA and Voya Financial take similar approaches: neither offers a responsive participant site and both provide strong mobile apps as well as fully responsive public sites. Therefore, these firms’ participants can use mobile apps to access their retirement accounts but still have mobile-optimized access to the firm’s public sites, which both house significant selections of educational resources.

In 2016 we conducted a survey of more than 1,500 defined contribution plan participants, and the results served as the backbone for our syndicated report, Satisfying Today’s Retirement Plan Participant. The survey found that savers logged in from apps more often than from mobile sites. Among respondents who logged into their accounts from any mobile platform in the previous six months, most did so from iPhone apps (52 percent), followed by Android apps (34 percent), iPad apps (20 percent) and mobile websites (15 percent). Thus, our analysis shows that in order to accurately assess the holistic digital user experience, it is important to consider both responsive design and native mobile apps.

Because many participants appear to prefer apps, it is seen as a best practice to offer at least a phone app with key account data and site resources. Nonetheless, we still recommend firms integrate responsive design into the most important areas of the participant site, including the homepage, retirement income projection tool and contribution rate transactional interfaces.

Responsive Design Can Help People Save Responsibly

The rise in responsive design makes it easier for participants to review and manage their accounts, particularly for those participants without consistent access to computers and whose record-keepers do not offer robust apps. Firms can help participants progress toward their goals and drive positive account management by making it easier for them to review their information, access educational materials and manage their accounts. ◊