Life events and participant engagement in pension plans

We study the use of life events (e.g., getting married, starting a new job) for effective pension communication. Pension plan participants are often not open to pension communication, nor do they engage in pension planning. Overcoming this lack of engagement is important: participants should form realistic expectations about their retirement finances, discover pension gaps early enough to be able to take appropriate action, and experience less negative emotions and retirement anxiety in case of unwarranted pessimistic expectations. Sending pension-related information when important life events take place is often suggested to enhance the effectiveness of communication. Life events may represent teachable moments and thus lead to more openness to pension communication and planning. In this paper, we first review the literature on life events as teachable moments. Second, we provide an overview of life events that are especially suited to increase engagement. Third, we present empirical evidence on life events and participant engagement. Finally, we derive implications for theory as well as practice. Overall, we find that in theory life events appear to be good points to improve communications. The evidence from in-depth interviews with experts and pension plan participants, as well as survey data from participants, shows mixed results. It seems that several major challenges need to be addressed for successful use of life events.

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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