By Cyril Tuohy
The 401(k) is, after all, a special provision in the U.S. tax code. Shouldn’t it deserve special treatment, like having its own Web platform?
Guardian Insurance & Annuity Co. seems to think so. The company has announced a separate Web platform for its 401(k) programs at www.401k.guardianlife.com.
The site is separate from Guardian’s regular home page at www.guardianlife.com.
Robert McIsaac, an analyst with the consultancy Novarica, said a separate 401(k) platform should help Guardian differentiate its 401(k) plans from the “sea of retirement plans,” particularly in terms of paid Internet searches.
“You want to be above the fold on the search,” he said, in reference to a newspaper term for stories that appear on the top half of a page. To have search engines recognize your company’s retirement pages or entire websites is “hugely valuable,” both in terms of exposure and in terms of where to spend marketing dollars, he said.
“Unless you are a national player like MetLife or Prudential, you want to be careful about the way your brand shows up at the top of the list,” McIsaac said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet. Guardian’s site also gives distribution partners — financial advisors and plan sponsors — a unique place to go on the Web instead of to the home page.
On the 401k.guardianlife.com home page, the look is clean, fresh, uncluttered and aimed at retirement professionals, not consumers. There aren’t even any drop-down lists to gum up the view, just four tabs at the top of the page for participants, plan sponsors, third-party administrators and financial professionals.
“It’s really about marketing and explaining a complex product and being a support vehicle,” McIsaac also said.
Jason Frain, vice president of 401(k) product management and development with Guardian Retirement Solutions, said in a statement that the site is part of the company’s commitment to “educate and motivate people to start the planning process early and to begin saving for post-career living.”
The site will make life easier for plan participants and advisers, no doubt, and the interface is designed to be “iPad-friendly and easily accessible via mobile devices,” Guardian said.
But there’s also a good deal of self-interest at work in moving the Guardian 401(k) program to its own platform and uniform resource locator (URL).
With individual retirement accounts holding $5.4 trillion in assets and employer-sponsored defined-contribution plans holding another $5.1 trillion in assets at the end of 2012, according to the Investment Company Institute, the Web channel offers sellers of retirement plans a huge opportunity.
Guardian’s stand-alone 401(k) website is likely to become a metrics gold mine, according to McIsaac.
Often referred to as “marketing splash pages,” this site will make it easier for the insurer to collect reams of data on Web traffic, segregate the traffic, and see how many plan participants and financial advisers are clicking on which products, and plan features.
Particularly since retirement plans are sold through different channels, collecting as much data as possible on what participants, plan sponsors, third-party administrators and financial advisors are looking at through the website is “very instructive,” McIsaac said.
Guardian isn’t alone in breaking out the 401(k) on its own platform. Hartford Retirement Services also promotes its retirement plans through www.retire.hartfordlife.com, a Web platform separate from the company’s main home page, www.thehartford.com.
John Hancock Retirement Plan Services streams participants, plan sponsors, financial advisers and third-party administrators through www.jhrps.com, as well.
Other big life carriers with marketing splash pages for retirement products include Prudential, MetLife and Nationwide, but those pages are built off of the company’s home page. They don’t dwell on separate platforms.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. He can be reached at [email protected].
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