September 12, 2006

Game-changing ideas aren't always born in the boardroom. Ian Sheridan, VP of MassMutual's retirement services division, was on an airplane when he jotted on a paper napkin his first thoughts for an interactive, self-service enrollment system to replace yawn-inducing meetings and ineffective paper forms.

The result from that in-flight brainstorming session is the Electronic Enhanced Enrollment Experience, or e4, which has garnered industry accolades and dramatically improved enrollment rates for MassMutual, known officially as Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance. The wireless system helped earn the company the 31st spot on this year's InformationWeek 500.

Wireless Innovation -- Illustration by Carl Weins

Illustration by Carl Weins
E4, developed by Sheridan and a team of technology and communications experts, fits into a suitcase that MassMutual communication specialists carry to client sites throughout the country. The reps educate employees about retirement financial planning, help them sign up for 401(k) plans, and reallocate allotments.

In an e4 meeting, each employee is provided with a Pocket PC that synchronizes with the software on a MassMutual specialist's laptop via a wireless router. Participants retrieve from the laptop their personal information, including their current enrollment status and retirement target date, and they follow along on their Pocket PCs as the specialist presents information about options and risks, rebalancing, goal setting, and more. Employees use a stylus to enroll or make changes to their plans on the Pocket PC screens. If a participant has a question about her particular plan, the specialist can instantly view that person's information on the laptop. Following a meeting, clients receive electronic reports that outline each employee's actions.

Grab Their Attention

Ingalls Health System in Chicago last year was one of the first MassMutual customers to use e4 and has been using the system ever since. Nearly all employees who attend the e4 meetings participate in MassMutual's retirement plan, says benefits manager Cindy Smith.

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For many businesses, a retirement-plan meeting consists of an instructor plowing through a PowerPoint presentation, after which employees are sent away with a pile of forms to help them make investment selections. They're responsible for completing and returning paperwork. It's a faulty process. Before e4, only about half of Ingalls Health employees who weren't enrolled in a retirement plan signed up following such meetings. "We found that even if we could get employees to the meetings, not a lot of excitement was generated from a verbal presentation," Smith says.

Every two weeks, Ingalls Health sends MassMutual updated information about its employees that's uploaded into the e4 system before an instructor shows up for an enrollment meeting. "When we can get employees to the meeting, they find it interactive and fun," Smith says.

Ingalls Health's experience is typical. Before e4, 54% of a MassMutual clients' nonparticipat- ing employees would enroll within 90 days of a meeting, according to the company. Since e4 was deployed, MassMutual says that on average 90% of employees have taken action or enrolled in a plan during a meeting, and 24% of those enrolled in retirement plans have increased their contributions.