The power of personalization to help drive employee engagement

The personalization of workplace benefits and financial wellness education is no longer a nice-to-have—it’s a necessity for greater employee engagement and to attract and retain talent. At our recent Client Conference, Amanda Ross, managing director, Bank of America Workplace Benefits Participant Experience, moderated a panel discussion that explored this critical topic and provided frontline perspective from those leading the way on personalized employee experiences, including panelist Jillian Verspyck, managing director, Workplace Benefits Participant Communications. Amanda and Jillian sat down with Workplace Insights™ to offer highlights from this conversation and share additional insights.

Workplace Insights (WI): How would you describe benefits personalization, and why is it important?

Photo of Amanda Ross

Amanda Ross

Amanda Ross (AR): No two employees are exactly the same when it comes to their financial needs. Needs can vary by life stage, gender, ethnicity, household composition, income and, of course, each person’s individual goals. Employer benefits play a key role in helping employees along their financial journey, and how we engage employees in their benefits and support their financial goals is equally important. We need to connect with them in the moments that matter with relevant information and insights. We need to deliver personalized experiences that resonate, and we know that the more we personalize, the more likely the individual will be to take action.

And, if you ask me what personalization means to employees, I would say it is expected—it’s embedded in their lives, whether through personalized viewing recommendations on streaming services or shopping suggestions on e-commerce sites. The same applies to their workplace benefits programs—employees expect the companies they work for to understand their wants and needs. A recent McKinsey study found that 71% of consumers polled expect personalized experiences, such as those related to a milestone, key moment or triggered by a behavior.1

In my own life, personalization creates efficiency. I’m a mother of four kids under the age of 10 and a caregiver for my 82-year-old mother. Balancing these responsibilities with my job means I don't have time to weed through a pile of information to sort out what’s relevant to me and my family. I think people are hungry for information that can help make their lives easier and improve decision-making.

Photo of Jillian Verspyck

Jillian Verspyck

Jillian Verspyck (JV): I agree. Personalization is establishing that one-to-one relationship with each employee to support their unique needs, bringing information to them and action steps they may not have thought of to help improve their journey. Relevancy is a key and powerful component of personalization. For example, if we know an employee has credit card or student loan debt, we wouldn’t recommend that they set aside 10% or 15% of their pay to their 401(k) plan. That employee might instead receive messages encouraging short-term steps to pay down debt. This type of personalization can be transformative for employees—helping them harness their financial potential and support longer-term goals.

WI: Can you provide some examples of how Bank of America is personalizing the employee experience?

JV: We use an AI-enabled proprietary platform to deliver relevant messaging to employees that can help inform financial decisions in key moments and help them identify their next steps. Those messages are delivered through Benefits OnLine®, Erica®, emails, or push notifications on their smartphones. In 2023, more than 2.2 million active participants received at least one next-step message with more than 1.4 million transactions taken against those messages—that’s a 64% response rate.2

AR: We should add that personalization isn’t just delivered through technology. The human touch is crucial and effective. Alongside our AI-enabled platform, we offer employees the opportunity to participate in live webinars on a range of financial topics and one-on-one consultations with one of our specialists to answer specific questions and get personalized guidance. The consultations could address anything from paying for children’s education to the financial care of an elderly parent. These have proven to be very popular, and we’ve seen that about 35% of employees who participate in the consultations take action based on the guidance they receive.2

What is needed to deliver this personalized financial wellness experience to employees?

AR: The good news is that it doesn’t require extra work on the employer’s part. It just takes some planning and some collaboration. It also takes access.

JV: Yes, that’s exactly right. Let me take a moment to break down what we mean by access. There are three components to delivering personalized and relevant experiences. All three must work together—not one is independent of the others.

1. Data

Data is simply a value that conveys information. Data is critical to recordkeeping and reporting, as well as delivering the participant experience. Data used for personalization could be as basic as incorporating a first name to using a range of data elements within a structured algorithm to determine if an individual qualifies for a specific message or suggested action.

2. Permissions

Permissions define what data can be used for which engagement. When permissions are limited, the level of personalization is also limited. Permissions on data depend on the actual data element and whether the data is held by the plan or by the participant. For example, an individual’s prior employer 401(k) balance is not considered plan data, but if the individual were to provide that balance information and ask that it be used to generate their next-step suggestion, that suggestion would be more aligned to the individual’s current situation and goals.

3. Controls

Controls define how a participant wants to engage. The participant is always in control of their experience and level of personalization. They can turn features that drive their experience on or off at any time—they can say “yes,” “no” or “not now.” Their data is never used by us for another purpose. In addition, personal data that is held away but has been shared to tailor their experience is not accessible to their employer. We fully respect participants’ privacy.

AR: We want to work with our clients to provide the best experience possible and arm employees with what they need to advance their financial journey. Today, we’re delivering personalized experiences in support of your employees and their benefits. And we are committed to working with you to provide greater access to integrated personalization tools and strategies that can help employees meet their financial needs today while preparing for tomorrow. Reach out to your Bank of America representative to learn more about strategies to enhance the employee experience.

1 McKinsey & Company Next in Personalization 2021 consumer survey, September 7-8, 2021 (1,012 sampled) and McKinsey Consumer Pulse Survey, August 25-31, 2021 and February 18-22, 2021 (2,076 sampled).

2 Bank of America data as of December 31, 2023.