Defined contribution

Building effective
participant communications

BlackRock |Dec 3, 2019

Every plan communications is an opportunity to address gaps that plan design may not reach and to reinforce the goals of the diversified investment menu. Here’s how you can tap into the full potential that communications hold.

BlackRock has partnered with the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants (NARPP) to help plans leverage the latest research to identify practices that are essential to building effective communications. The culmination of NARPP’s research into effective communications is their Intuitive Sustained Engagement (ISE) system. ISE is a human-centered communications program that has been tested and proven to deepen engagement and change behavior.

What makes effective
participant communications?

ISE works because it combines behavioral finance and intuitive design to address barriers to decision-making, and its core principles can be applied across a range of materials. Key elements of this behaviorally-effective communications system are outlined below and the following elements should be prioritized and designed for in every communication.

Participant communications: trust


Trust is perhaps the most important element. Trust is what drives engagement; it is the feeling that allows us to take action with confidence. Building trust should be the goal of every piece of communication.

This is achieved through:

  • Clear, simple messages, without jargon
  • Peer-to-peer, conversational voice
  • Clear motivations for offering the plan or suggested action
  • Optimism—having and instilling the belief that the reader can do it
Participant communications: empathy


Knowledge of, and empathy with, your audience strengthens all of your communications. Participants want education materials that are:


  • Always in their best interest
  • Helpful in understanding the basics
  • Easy to understand
  • Effective in helping them meet their savings goals
  • Demonstrate care about their long-term financial security
Participant communications: guidance


Provide a clear, easy path—and a goal—that participants will be able to follow. Pull the reader through a series of simple, consecutive and connected messages designed to help them picture the desired future—and how to achieve it. Show the clear path from decision to action.

Participant communications: whole journey

Whole journey

Design the larger journey with a focus on delivering the right amount of information at the right time. Let participants know what to expect from moment to moment—rather than flooding the participant with information at singular, isolated touchpoints, such as enrollment. Doing so will help to create a more cohesive user experience that builds trust and engagement over time.

Participant communications: education


Purposefully contextualize educational information at critical moments to allow the information to be more effortlessly impactful and personally relevant. This approach is reliant on using the absolute minimum of text to explain concepts, so that each piece includes only the essential information needed to advance the reader's knowledge so that they are able to make a specific decision.

Participant communications: behavioral finance

Behavioral finance

Behavioral finance is a useful tool for understanding the psychological, social, cognitive and emotional factors that influence participants’ financial decision-making. In other words, it attempts to explain the reasoning patterns, including the emotional processes, involved in making financial decisions. As such, it can be leveraged to remove cognitive barriers that impede effective decision-making.


Putting principles into practice

To put these principles to work for participants, BlackRock partnered with NARPP to provide example pieces designed to guide participants toward more appropriate contribution levels. These five new pieces, available to review and use now, fulfill on the best practices outlined above to encourage participants to save above the default percentage, take advantage of the company match, utilize auto-escalation, make catch-up contributions and save more in general.

Use these pieces as part of a retirement savings campaign, or year round as part of evergreen efforts to help boost savings. And for more details on these principles and guidance on how to bring them to your plan, select the “download now” button below.

To request these five savings communications, send us an email.

Download now