For Financial Professionals in the US

Plan Talk: Engaging Participants in the Virtual World

Retirement Director Ben Rizzuto has been conducting virtual meetings since before it was cool (i.e., before the pandemic necessitated it). In this episode of Plan Talk, he offers guidance on how plan sponsors can make the most of their online sessions, which research shows are highly effective for educating plan participants of all ages on a variety of topics.


Ben Rizzuto, CFP®, CRPS®

Ben Rizzuto, CFP®, CRPS®

Wealth Strategist

May 24, 2022

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Ben Rizzuto: Hi, I’m Ben Rizzuto, and you’re listening to Plan Talk, from Janus Henderson Investors.

I did my first virtual meeting back in 2008 when I was an internal wholesaler for a separately managed account platform. The platform utilized a proposal generation system where advisors could customize client portfolios based on risk tolerance, goals and needs. For me, the system was easy and intuitive since I worked with it every day, but for those who hadn’t it took some getting used to.

Because of this, we would invite advisors to virtual meetings where they could see our screen and we could walk them through a proposal, the investment policy statement and the platform’s functionality. This all seemed easy enough, but again, with any new technology – in this case the web meeting platform – it took some getting used to and, suffice it to say, getting an advisor into the meeting took a lot of instruction and handholding.

I can remember saying to those trying to access the system, “no click there” … “do you see the orange button that says click here?” … “what do you see now?” And in some cases, both advisor and internal wholesaler would throw up their virtual hands and say, “forget it … let’s just talk over the phone.”

Needless to say, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, nor was it as easy as the platforms all of us have become adept at using over the past few years. And many times, me and other internal wholesalers would commiserate with each other, saying that we needed a virtual meeting in order to instruct advisors how to actually access the virtual meeting.

The thing is, when the advisor was able to access the meeting, it was a great tool. And because of that, I’ve been a big proponent of virtual meetings since then. It allows you to present information differently, interact, keep people’s attention, and communicate with a lot of people in different places. In fact, I’ve said many times over the pandemic that I’ve been doing virtual meetings before it was cool (or necessary) to do virtual meetings.

Of course, it became necessary during the pandemic. And for example, in 2020, over 45 billion minutes of virtual meetings were hosted on the Zoom platform.1 And while more and more meetings have been held virtually and I have always felt they are useful, many times it can be difficult to gauge their impact.

This question becomes especially important for plan sponsors as they try to educate plan participants. We know that participants want and need education, and we know that it is important to provide it in a number of different ways to accommodate schedules, locations and varying levels of sophistication. But does it work?

Well, some new research shows us that it very much does work.

In today’s episode I’d like to review this research, but more importantly, give you some ideas as to how to leverage these ideas with participants.

Just taking those amounts into account, over a 30-year period, assuming a very conservative rate of return of 3%, that participant would have an extra $30,000 to $47,000. Plus, that doesn’t even take into account the amounts they are already deferring and how the increased deferral amounts would be increased further over time.

The next piece of research comes from Schwab, who showed that participant viewership for virtual live and on-demand sessions was up 33% in 2021. Along with that, even though many participants returned at least partially to the office in 2021, nearly 100% of education sessions took place virtually. I think that makes sense to all of us as we have experienced and probably scheduled many of those virtual meetings over the past couple years. But we can come back to the question: Did these virtual sessions have a positive impact?

And isn’t that what we are shooting for with any type of education? We want to make sure people have or can find the answers they need and – most importantly – have a more fully formed intention to take positive action.

Topics to Consider

The likelihood of a financial webinar being used does vary by participant characteristics, their age, their contribution levels and their own personal situation, but based on those two studies, it certainly seems that webinars can be impactful.

So what topics are of most interest? Based on the EBRI research, webinars that covered budgeting, tax changes, estate planning, Social Security, investing and health care choices. More specifically, budgeting webinars increased savings rates for lower contributors both young and old as well as higher-contributing older participants. For the younger participants with higher contribution rates, the biggest increase in average subsequent 401(k) contributions came after an investing basics webinar.

Along with those topics, college savings and debt management webinars saw four times the attendance per session compared to other topics in the experience of Schwab.

Being able to provide education and resources through webinars is going to be a great way to help participants of many different ages. You might be surprised to find out that there are actually seven different ways that someone can pay off their student loans, and in my experience, very few borrowers, benefits people and financial professionals know that there are all these options. Providing education to participants in this area can help to ensure student loan payments aren’t back breaking, and better ensure that borrowers will be able to pay down debt AND save for retirement at the same time.

The thing about all of this content is that it affects each and every participant at some point in their careers. Sure, a Social Security webinar may not garner as much interest from the younger crowd, but it is a concern that is front and center for participants in their mid and later careers. On the other hand, a webinar about college savings may not garner much interest from older workers whose children may already be out of college, but it is certainly going to be important for participants in their 30s and 40s.  The point is this: these general, almost foundational topics, things that are associated with financial stress or retirement preparedness, are the ones that are going to be the ones that help the most people.

So those may be several topics to consider, and if you’d like to hear more about getting participants engaged and learning more about what topics would interest them, you can go back and listen to an episode I did last year entitled “How to Engage and Motivate Retirement Plan Participants.” The link for that episode will be in the show notes.

Best Practices

Moving on from what we’ll talk about, let’s next consider how we do it, or what are the best practices for conducting these webinars. First and foremost, make sure you are deliberate in your planning. Don’t just throw an event together because you’ve listened to this podcast; take some time and consider the audience, the content, the time of day, the length and anything else that may bolster OR detract from it.

The first question many ask is, “When do we hold this session?” The best way to answer this is to think about when your target audience can participate. This could be over the lunch hour, but remember some people may work different hours, be in different time zones, or may not feel comfortable taking time away from their jobs to sit through a session.

This is why it is important to offer both live and then recorded, on-demand sessions. For example, for workers who attended Schwab’s education sessions last year, 42% watched via an on-demand session rather than attending live virtual meetings, a 33% increase from 2020. The great thing about on-demand sessions is, of course, people can watch on their own time, but along with that there are added benefits. Maybe they want to watch at home with their spouse, or listen during their workout, or while nursing a new baby. Plus, these types of sessions may be better suited for folks who are more introverted or shy about asking a question in person. Finally, these recording allow people to go back and re-listen to certain content or play back the session at faster or slower speeds. Even though the content is static, on-demand viewers are able to customize the experience.

As far as length, 30 to 45 minutes seems to work best. This gives people the ability to fit another meeting into an hour or have a few minutes after the session to do whatever they need to do before the top of the hour.

Remember that when conducting these sessions, they don’t all have to be live. Based on the feedback of employees, you may know that content about investing basics is highly valued, and as such you may want to simply offer on-demand sessions for that type of content. On the other hand, some topics such as Social Security may prompt more questions from participants, so this may be better to offer live. However, one thing I would always make sure you do is record those live sessions. This gives you the ability to post the on-demand recording, or possibly make shorter clips of the session that could help promote the full recording or be more quickly digestible for employees. The point is that content should be offered in both formats.


The virtual meeting is something that is here to stay. Some may feel that it isn’t as personal and there may be people who have trouble getting into the meeting, but for the vast number of people, these meetings provide a great way to provide information to a lot of people in a lot of different places.

More and more education is moving online and is available on demand, so it just makes sense for plan sponsors and retirement plans to offer these types of resources as much as possible. Based on the research we saw today it makes sense for everyone involved. Costs are lower, education is provided, and employees take positive financial steps because of it … which sounds like something that is in everyone’s best interest.

Plan Talk is produced by Janus Henderson Investors, an asset management firm that hopes to help you connect with your clients through investment and educational resources. As always, please subscribe if you’d like to hear our next episode as soon as it drops. Until then, I’m Ben Rizzuto and you’ve been listening to Plan Talk.


1 “Zoom Revenue and Usage Statistics (2022).” Business of Apps, March 2022.

2 “Field of Dreams? Measuring the Impact of Financial Wellbeing Initiatives on 401(k) Plan Utilization.” Employee Benefits Research Institute, March 2022.

3 “Financial Wellness Webinar Attendance Linked to Higher 401(k) Contributions.” Plan Sponsor, March 2022.

4 “Study Finds Advantages to Virtual Retirement and Financial Wellness Education.” Plan Adviser, April 5, 2022.

5 Ibid.

6 “Student Loans: A Road Map for Advisors.” Morningstar, February 2021.

7 “With Federal Repayments Looming, Fidelity Doubles Down in the Cross-Generational Battle Against Student Debt.” BusinessWire, October 2021.

Ben Rizzuto, CFP®, CRPS®

Ben Rizzuto, CFP®, CRPS®

Wealth Strategist

May 24, 2022