Adapting pension communication to different participants

Pension plan participants are different: a one-size-fits-all pension communication strategy is not effective. We need to understand how participants differ and mass customize pension plan communication.

Project Title

Adapting pension communication to the heterogeneous characteristics and needs of participants


Pension plan participants are different. For example, some think positively about retirement, considering new activities such as going on long vacations and having more time for grandchildren. Others experience negative emotions regarding a perceived reduction in social network or an increased chance of becoming ill. Different pension participant characteristics, expectations, and needs imply different pension communication strategies for optimal reach. In this project we identify the relevant dimensions for pension communication on which participants differ and use the insights learned to develop the retirement belief model (RBM).

Retirement Belief Model

Retirement Belief Model


An online survey was sent to 7.000 defined contribution clients of a Dutch pension provider. The survey elicited 638 respondents (9%).


We find that participants are more likely to acquire pension information when self-efficacy is low and perceived benefits and severity are high. Among these factors, we detect several significant differences among participants. For example, women are less sure of themselves when it comes to acquiring pension-related information. They perceive higher barriers, have lower self-efficacy, and feel more anxious about retirement. Their risk aversion (both general and financial) is also higher compared to their male counterparts. Younger individuals (< 36 years) report lower self-efficacy to inform themselves. Participants aged 37 – 46, a time during which important life events take place (having/raising children, buying a house, etc.) perceive themselves as very vulnerable to a pension gap. But, this group is also the most negative and least active in terms of pension planning when compared to other age groups.

Based on our findings, we develop and test a framing intervention with pension plan particpants. In an email newsletter we carefully chose a wording that stresses that participants can prevent negative consequences through the sense of security that they obtain when learning about expected pension benefits. This frame, the Assurance Frame, is very effective in motivating particpants to view an educational video about an important pension reform. Click-through rates are twice as high as compared to an alterntively framed newsletter.

Assurance versus Investment Framing



Our research highlights the impact of emotions and belief on retirement decision-making. In previous models, researchers focused on the cognitive perspective of retirement saving decisions, implying that by processing certain information (e.g. planning aid with how-to steps), individuals would act upon that information. We argue that this focus misses important aspects of the decisions being made. Our solution is to include beliefs and additional dimensions such as retirement anxiety in the RBM. We identify drivers of information search behavior and show that for pension-related information search behavior, perceived benefits, self-efficacy, and severity are most important. In addition, while most research focuses on average effects, we identify the differential effects for different people. Our results provide pension funds guidelines on how to segment participants and adapt communication accordingly.

Lead researchers Lisa Brüggen, Wiebke Eberhardt, Thomas Post (all Maastricht University), Chantal Hoet (Aegon)

Project partners Maastricht University, Netspar, Aegon

Project status finished

Project publications

If you want to know more, contact us.