When executives for MetLife Retirement & Savings were considering how to make retirement planning easier for customers to understand, Chris McCloy decided to take matters into his own hands.In late 2004, the New York-based insurer had its eye on technology developed by San Francisco-based Macro-media Inc. Using Macromedia's Breeze technology, MetLife could offer plan sponsors and their employees customizable, online multi-media presentations-supported by Flash Player and delivered in a high-impact PowerPoint presentation.

McCloy, vice president, marketing and communications, for MetLife Retirement & Savings, wanted his own proof. He took the software home and zipped it into an old 1980s-style IBM PC in his basement, with the hopes of running an online presentation on the outdated technology.

When it worked, it proved to be the perfect litmus test: "When I was able to get the presentation up and running on the old machine I knew we had a flexible piece of software that could support any type of PC-from ones with all the bells and whistles to an old IBM version," McCloy says.

Most individuals have discarded their outdated PCs, but to aggressively grow its institutional retirement/investment product business-the core of which consists of mutual fund-driven 401(k) plans and group annuities-MetLife executives knew they needed a program that could support participants anywhere, anytime using any version of technology they preferred.

They also understood that retirement business has room to grow. Research shows that 25% of the U.S. workforce does not have a company-sponsored retirement plan. And for many of those who have a plan, industry statistics reveal they don't understand how much money they need to comfortably retire and how to diversify their savings.

With the February rollout of Macromedia's Breeze technology, which can be activated from an employee's desktop at home or work, MetLife Retirement & Savings executives plan to use the tool to educate consumers about retirement planning.

"Historically it had been too cost prohibitive to tailor communication materials for the smallest plans, so most of the communication had to be 'off the shelf.' However, now-with print on-demand technology-we can custom design communications programs and materials for this customer base," McCloy explains. "We used to cross our fingers that a plan participant would take action regarding their 401(k) plan, and that was wishful thinking."

Communication breakdown

MetLife Retirement & Savings accounts for approximately 25% of the overall business generated within MetLife Inc. The unit's customer base consists of employers with assets that range between $1 million and $30 million, and encompasses employee groups ranging from 500 to 2,500. Products are sold through independent agents and brokers along with an internal MetLife agency staff of 18 individuals.

MetLife executives were aware of the challenge their were facing: Only 31% of employees give their companies' current benefits communications program high marks, according to a employee benefits study the company commissioned. Ultimately, many employees often opt not to participate in a company-sponsored 401(k) plan; or they fail to select a plan that adequately fits their needs.

"I make a lot of sales calls with our agents and brokers, and one question we often received when engaging a small employer is, 'Why can't we have customized communications to support retirement programs like large employer groups have.' The answer was, 'We were unable to provide a higher level of communications in a cost-effective way,'" says McCloy.

As proficient as they were in understanding their product line, MetLife's distributors could not always encapsulate 401(k) details for plan participants in a succinct manner. And many employees indicated they prefer to absorb information gradually and at their own leisure.

With these insights in mind, Met-Life Retirement & Savings set out to improve its communications strategy by providing better tools to deliver enrollment and plan information to 401(k) participants.

One conclusion MetLife leaders reached was: Not only was it crucial to deliver information to plan participants, but the information had to be easily accessible.

Using Macromedia's Breeze technology, MetLife representatives can now convert a 401(k) presentation into a customized PowerPoint presentation that can be streamed over the Internet on its own URL. Averaging about 15 to 20 minutes in length, employees can view a presentation to obtain qualitative, targeted information about retirement plan investment strategies.

Customized presentations

Today, when employees affiliated with a MetLife retirement plan want to conduct research, they receive a URL via e-mail from their employer, log onto MetLife's internal network and proceed to study their various options.

After a phased rollout in February to existing MetLife plan sponsors, MetLife is now able to communicate all the particular characteristics of its 401(k) plan features, and explain to participants how they can diversify their accounts to ensure a prosperous retirement.

MetLife is using Breeze to customize presentations for different demographic groups. For instance, one URL could be for employees between 25 and 40 years of age. MetLife could design the presentation to include information about fund balance and diversification needs. For an older demographic, the company could design a presentation on conservative strategies for the sunset years of a retirement fund.

MetLife sales representatives can also use the technology to tweak their presentations. At the end of an electronic presentation, a survey and questionnaire asks plan participants if they understood the presentation, what they liked or disliked about it and what type of follow-up information they need.

Information gleaned from surveys can then enable MetLife to design a second communications program. For the most part, a MetLife representative can develop a presentation in about a day or two, says McCloy.

MetLife can also infuse quality control in the process. Breeze enables the carrier to track and generate detailed reports for each presentation created for a particular company's plan. So if one of the PowerPoint slides is unclear or typically bypassed by plan participants, MetLife can decide to eliminate it.

Thus far, MetLife Retirement & Savings executives have not been able to definitively quantify the results from the Breeze investment, such as increased 401(k) sales, or increased funding per individual account. But McCloy says the company hopes to see its plan sponsors increase overall employee participation.

"One of our employer groups might indicate to us their goal is to increase 401(k) plan participation from 75% to 85% and do it over a year," he says.

"We can tell them, based on their industry's average, here's where they are and where they should be. In the long run, we expect to reap great results from the Breeze investment."

IN FOCUS

* Case study:

MetLife Retirement & Savings

* At issue:

Improving and customizing communication with retirement plan participants was essential to growing MetLife's retirement business.

* The solution:

Using Macromedia's Breeze technology, MetLife representatives can now convert a 401(k) presentation into a customized PowerPoint presentation that can be streamed over the Internet on its own URL.

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