Engaging pension plan participants: How emotions, peer effects, and life events influence the effectiveness of pension communication

Worldwide, pension funds struggle to motivate pension plan participants to look into their individual retirement situation. Most participants are passive and not interested in gathering information. Previous studies focus on cognitive factors, such as financial literacy, numeracy or economic preferences as typical variables of interest. We aim to create knowledge on how emotions, peer effects and life events influence the effectiveness of pension communication. We extend and integrate insights from economics, marketing, and psychology to adapt pension communication and empirically test effects on participants’ engagement, both in a defined benefit and defined contribution context. Our results will help to stimulate participants to take actions to avoid a pension gap. This project contains three sub-projects.

First, emotions play an important role for complex decision processes such as pensions, but are often neglected in pension research. We will text-mine emails and essays from participants to identify which emotions drive participants’ engagement and use field experiments to analyze how emotions drive pension communication effectiveness.

Second, peer effects are a classical and powerful driver of individuals’ decisions, but are not well explored in the pension context. We will conduct a series of field experiments to identify how exactly peer effects should be used to facilitate participants’ engagement.
Third, timing and adapting pension communication to participants’ life events is often suggested, but theoretical underpinnings and empirical evidence on the effectiveness of such personalized communication is missing, which our research will add.

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Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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