• Rebecca Hourihan AIF, PPC

The Backwards RFP

Updated: May 9



Client experience is at the core of every successful business, and retirement plan advisors have the tough job of serving both plan sponsors and participants. When we ask advisors about client experience, many primarily focus on the plan sponsor experience and overlook the unique opportunity to enhance the participant experience.


User Adoption

Have you ever considered how the retirement plan looks through the eyes of the individuals it was built to serve? Have you ever gone through their specific user experience? Think about the actions that the majority of the employee population will encounter, including completing the enrollment guide, selecting a deferral amount, receiving a quarterly statement, logging into their online account and making any plan related changes. The experience of these common actions could make or break plan adoption, and ultimately participant outcomes, so maybe it is time to consider a backwards RFP.


What is a Backwards RFP?

A backwards RFP is where you start due diligence, evaluation and comparison from the participant’s point of view. You assess the effectiveness of enrollment materials, digital interfaces, quarterly statements, financial wellness resources, change requests and other common participant activities.


This vantage point provides the advisor and retirement plan committee with a way to anticipate ease of use and adoption. Because the goal of a retirement plan is to help participants achieve a confident retirement. If the journey to get there is complicated, cumbersome and riddled with confusion, this employee benefit won’t go the distance to achieve it’s intended mission. After all, we want participants to enjoy this wonderful benefit and use it to achieve a confident retirement.


A Quick Story

Many years ago, we conducted our own backwards RFP. We asked 5 different recordkeepers to email us their enrollment materials, an example quarterly statement and do a screenshare walk through of their online participant portal. The results were fascinating.


We received a couple enrollment guides that were over 100 pages long! Some had pictures of smiling happy people; some had walls of text and some included easy-to-use questionnaires to identify investment objectives. While others had over 30 pages of “important disclosures.” We were amazed by the contrast and variety – each enrollment guide was wildly different.


As for the quarterly statements, some were beautifully colored with asset allocation pie charts. Others were black and white, some showed the account balance in big bold text, some had weather reports, some were hard to read with teeny tiny text and many other visibly noticeable differences.


In the screenshare demos, some participant interfaces had a clean webpage to sign into. While for others, they featured a mystery URL with many clicks and “then go here” style instructions. Once inside the portal, some participants had glide paths, estimated monthly projections, helpful financial resources, easily identified contact information for questions and other intuitive navigations. Whereas, other portals had numeric factual information with point-in-time calculations. Again, all very different.


The point is that while each recordkeeper has spent time, money and continued effort to enhance the participant retirement savings experience, they are all different.



Visual Value

By starting from the participant’s point of view, you can better understand how employees will perceive their retirement plan benefit. Is it a joy or a struggle? Is enrollment quick and easy or cumbersome? Is the act of increasing deferrals done simply with a click or is it a complicated process? Does the quarterly statement provide valuable information and build confidence, or does it seem like a waste of paper and quickly gets thrown into the recycle bin?


Looking at the experience from the end user’s perspective can be very illuminating, it provides valuable insight that could help the retirement plan committee improve plan features. Now, this isn’t an invitation to ignore the tried-and-true RFP process with fiduciary due diligence.


Rather, it’s an idea to explore new ideas to enhance enrollment, deferral amounts, roll-in consolidations, asset allocation changes and more. It might reveal which recordkeepers truly invest in their technology. It could even justify a higher fee for usability because the value is truly visual.


The backwards RFP is a unique lens and could differentiate your firm in a finalist meeting. If you decide to try this approach, let us know some of the great insights you learn through the process.


Thanks for reading and Happy Marketing!


About Us

401(k) Marketing is the modern marketing agency for the retirement plan industry. We are proud to support our clients through custom engagements, content marketing campaigns, sales material innovations, thought-leadership consulting, interactive workshops and speaking events. Our mission is to empower the retirement plan industry with high-quality marketing, ultimately inspiring Americans to become financially prepared for their future.


Retirement Plan Marketing is the solution for retirement plan advisors looking to generate awareness, streamline sales opportunities and earn more 401(k) business. This comprehensive, strategy driven marketing program includes digital content and sales material specifically designed to help retirement plan professionals attract the right decision makers.