Mind the Gap: Generations and Public Pension Digital Outreach
It may be hard to believe, but all the marketing hype surrounding today’s different generations i.e. baby boomers, Generation X’ers, and millennials, is grounded in research of nearly a century ago. “The Problem of Generations,” a seminal work by early 20th-century German sociologist Dr. Karl Mannheim, noted that people are significantly influenced by culture and events of their youth, such as Woodstock, MTV, and the growth of social media. It was Madison Avenue’s genius to take Dr. Mannheim’s research a step further by playing into those shared experiences to sell most anything to the general public.
Taking a page out of Madison Avenue’s playbook, public pension systems have been implementing strategies specifically tailored to the different generations to encourage greater digital engagement. Although some generations, particularly the baby boomers, require more outreach, increased self-service and member engagement can benefit all with increased savings, efficiency, and greater security for member data.
Public Pension Members’ Digital Engagement: The Facts
America’s roughly 6,000 state and local public sector retirement systems1 have 14.7 million active (working) members and 11.2 million retirees.2 Estimated distribution of active and inactive members was 44.3 percent and 21.1 percent3 respectively, meaning that roughly half of the current public pension membership is still working and comprised of Generation X’ers and millennials. Current retirees are, in most cases, baby boomers.
For pension systems nationwide, their goal is hyper-personalized self-service — a fully automated member journey, which leads each member through a convenient, data-driven experience, accessed through a variety of channels, that feels fully tailored to them and comparable to personal interaction. The baby boom, Generation X, and millennial members each have varying levels of engagement, often based on generational perspectives and resulting behaviors.
Generation X’ers (born between 1965-1980) and millennials (born between 1981-1996) grew up during periods of great technological innovation and are comfortable with using technology, preferring it for rapid and seamless communication. Pension systems should continue with their customized member service efforts to this group to encourage frequent use of member self-service for convenience and savings.
Growing up in an era when technology was in its infancy, baby boomers (born between 1946-1965) have traditionally been reticent to embrace it. The one exception is smartphones, which baby boomers use frequently to stay in touch with family and friends. Recent research indicates that 68% of baby boomers own smartphones and 11% of them use their phone as the primary way to go online.4 However, baby boomers and their younger counterparts remain very divided on how much they enjoy trying new technologies; some boomers indicated that engaging with technology is more of a chore than a convenience.5
Baby Boomer Engagement Opportunities
Instead of a challenge, public pensions should view baby boomers’ reticence to engage with technology as an opportunity to make member self-service more inviting. One strategy is to offer on-line portal tutorials to educate baby boomers on the ease and convenience of self-service, as well as its hyper-personalization, security, and cost-saving aspects. Some member unions have partnered with public pension systems to organize in-person sessions for members and retirees on pre- and post-retirement processes and how self-service can expedite steps along the way. Another approach is to introduce member self-service portals to baby boomers via smartphone access, as well as demonstrate online calculators and other programs that can help them track their retirement investment progress. Targeted email and text campaigns about other pertinent self-service portal issues, such as beneficiary naming and retirement vesting, are also valuable initiatives to increase participation and long-term engagement.
Karl Mannheim could never have imagined how valuable his research on generations would become; generational marketing is now a cornerstone of most organizations’ promotional strategies. Public pensions have also adopted targeted generational campaigns to facilitate greater digital engagement for all. With increased digital engagement enabling new opportunities for pension members’ retirements, ensuring that all members, no matter what generational group they belong to, are on track for a comfortable and secure retirement, Dr. Mannheim would be proud.
1 Public Plans Data, National Data, https://publicplansdata.org/quick-facts/national/
3 Annual Survey of Public Pensions, U.S. Census Bureau, 2020
4 Pew Research Data, 2019
5 “Baby Boomers are going digital – here’s what that means for business,” NCR, February 2021