Improving Retirement Plans with Behavioral Science By: Elizabeth Harris

While saving for retirement is a long, multifaceted journey, it’s rarely revisited after the enrollment stage. As an example, let’s say you have an employee who automatically enrolled 4 years ago, spending less than 5 minutes in the process. She never returns to the participant website to reconsider her decision despite major life changes, including getting married and getting a promotion.

In Voya’s whitepaper “Using Decision Styles to Improve Financial Outcomes,” renowned behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi states, “The reason it’s a mistake to treat the retirement journey as a one-time event, and not an extended journey, is that it fails to account for the risk of getting off track, as well as the opportunity for course corrections.”

Begin the Checkup with Analyzing Decision Styles

People use two modes of decision-making: instinctive and reflective. Most behavior is governed by the instinctive system, like driving or hitting a baseball. Some behavior is more slow and deliberate and engages the reflective system, like taking the SAT. Using these concepts, we can use digital measurements to diagnose how plan participants made their original enrollment decisions. For example, participants who have logged onto the web within the past year, clicked on projected retirement income, or explored different savings rates would be considered to have used thinking that is more reflective when they made their enrollment decisions.

Nine in 10 plans1 are classified by “instinctive decisions” and poor retirement outcomes. Consumers who are instinctive in their decision-making are far more likely to require significant course corrections in their retirement plans.  


Want to see how your plan is performing? This year, Voya will introduce a Reflection Index tool on Sponsor Web that’s specific to your plan. The tool will be available for those who share participant data.

To learn more about behavioral science and improving your employees’ financial futures, download our whitepaper “Using Decision Styles to Improve Financial Outcomes.”

1Voya data from 428 plans with more than 25 participants. Participants with an annual salary below $20,000 or projected income replacement above 200 percent were excluded. Plans with an average Reflection Index below/above 2.0 are categorized as “Instinctive Decisions” /“Reflective Decisions.” In addition, plans with an average income replacement below/above 70 percent are categorized as “Not on Track” /“On Track.” 

For sponsor use only. Products and services offered through the Voya Financial family of companies.

© 2017 Voya Services Company. All rights reserved. CN0213‐30978‐0319D

Elizabeth Harris is the Regional Vice President of Retirement Plan Sales at VOYA Financial.

She can be reached at or 412-400-2188.

Elizabeth Harris

Elizabeth Harris is the Regional Vice President of Retirement Plan Sales at Voya Financial, covering both Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She has been working in the financial services industry for 15 years and has focused solely on qualified plans for the last 13 years. During her tenure in...

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