Retirement Planning on the Go: DC Participants Rely on iPads, Smartphones

Providers must adapt mobile technology for plan participants

Two-thirds of defined-contribution plan participants use smartphones and one-quarter use tablets, a report released in October by Spectrem Group found.

While more participants say they own smartphones, they say spend more hours per week on their tablet and use the different tools for different activities. For example, smartphones are used primarily for checking balances and communicating with advisors, while tablets, most likely as a function of their larger size, are used for investment research and trading.

“Plan providers must allow participants access to their personal account balances via tablet and smartphone immediately,” Spectrem writes in the report. “Work should be done to quickly link to the major providers and then develop the ability to interface with multiple mobile providers.”

Apple products are the most popular, but Blackberry smartphones trail the iPhone by just 10 percentage points. The iPad dominates the tablet space; 81% of participants use it.

Regardless of the type of mobile technology, users were most likely to use it to check their accounts and to pay bills. Smartphone users use their phones for investment research and to correspond with their advisors, while participants with tablets use them for investment research and to plan and analyze their financial goals.

Smartphone users spend about 10 hours per week on their phones. Of that, about 8% is spent on financial matters. Men and users under 35 are most likely to use their phones for financial matters.

“In all cases, younger participants are most likely to conduct various financial activities via their smartphones,” according to the report. “In most cases, however, the differences are not significant.” Spectrem did note that older participants were more likely to use their phone for contacting their advisors, but theorized that that may be because they’re more likely to have an advisor.

Between men and women, however, there are significant differences in how they use their smartphones. Men are much more likely to use a phone for investment research and trading and for contacting their advisor. The differences are less dramatic among tablet users. Women are slightly more likely to use a tablet to pay bills, and both groups use tablets primarily for checking account information.

Participants use their tablets more than their smartphones (12 hours versus 10). Likewise, they spend a greater portion of that time on financial matters. While smartphone users spend 7.7% of their phone use on financial matters, tablet users spend 13.6% of their tablet use on their finances.

Participants are interested in apps for both smartphones and tablets, while the most popular app for both is one that allows them to access personal account information and to view balances from multiple providers at once. Tablet users, however, were more likely to use an app that includes research and articles on financial topics (47% compared with 34%) and to get advice from financial experts (40% compared with 28%).

Apps should be seen as a “fundamental piece of the overall employee communication strategy,” according to Spectrem. Participants who use apps use them frequently, and providers that can consistently provide fresh information can build a trusted relationship with participants.

Spectrem surveyed almost 2,500 people for “The Use of Mobile Technology by 401(k) and Defined Contribution Plan Participants.” Surveys were conducted during the summer.

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