Low-Cost Marketing Strategies Prove Effective in Engaging Employees

DENVER—Urging employees to participate in retirement savings plans has always been a challenge. However, the findings of a study by researchers at Dartmouth College, through a grant provided by the National Endowment for Financial Education, show that specific low-cost strategies succeed in boosting employee participation rates.

Annamaria Lusardi, Ph.D., and Punam Anand Keller, Ph.D., focused the study on low-income employees and female employees because, according to their pre-study analysis, those employees appear to be particularly challenged with disproportionately low financial literacy levels and low participation in savings and tax benefit programs.

“We are particularly interested in women and low-income employees because these groups face unique savings challenges,” Lusardi says. “Women, for example, live longer than men and they are normally the caretakers for children or aging parents. To take care of their families, they first have to take care of themselves,” she adds.

During the 18-month study, a unique methodology was formulated involving surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews and ethnographic studies of low-income, young, short-tenured and female employees. Lusardi and Keller identified the primary obstacles and developed a tailored, cost-effective program to overcome these obstacles and increase retirement plan participation. The emerging workplace financial education model resulted in a 56 percent increase in enrollment within 30 days of new-hire orientation.

“[Our research subjects] know what they want to accomplish with savings. However, there is a gulf between what people aim for and their perceived ability to get there,” Lusardi says. “We hear over and over that people feel they are not sophisticated investors and that they do not know where to start. People are very different and those differences should be taken into account when devising saving initiatives,” she adds.

“Participating in a retirement plan at work is one of the smartest financial moves an employee can make, especially if he or she receives matching employer contributions,” says Brent Neiser, CFP®, and director of Strategic Programs and Alliances for NEFE. “Encouraging workers—especially those at risk of insufficient coverage in retirement, like low-income and female employees—is a priority for NEFE.”

Though the findings of the study focused on Dartmouth College, they are applicable to other institutions or organizations trying to increase saving and pension participation. The methodology can serve as a model for any organization challenged to promote action or participation by a particular demographic in any program. Keller believes human resource departments need to design effective, easy-to-comprehend programs to help guide their employees. For example, she recommends low-income workers be offered financial literacy programs, money management seminars and one-on-one counseling to help overcome debt.

The study, which began in 2008, and final report provide recommendations for organizations to follow, including new methods of analyzing the needs of employees and low-cost solutions. For more on Increasing the Effectiveness of Retirement Savings Programs for Females and Low-Income Employees, visit

Lusardi and Keller’s research includes several studies related to building financial capability, and Lusardi recently edited Overcoming the Saving Slump: How to Increase the Effectiveness of Financial Education and Saving Programs, a University of Chicago Press book which includes a chapter about the NEFE-funded retirement savings study.


Paul Golden (National Endowment for Financial Education)
303-224-3514 [email protected]

Dr. Annamaria Lusardi (Dartmouth College Department of Economics)
603-646-2099 [email protected]

Dr. Punam Keller (Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business)
[email protected]


  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
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