Case Study

Creating Seamless Onboarding to Expand Retirement Plan Access

Services Engaged

Digital Strategy
User Experience Design
Digital Product Development

Closing the Retirement Savings Gap

Equity begins with access. But for countless small business employees, low-wage, and part-time workers, saving for retirement includes high barriers to entry. Many private sector employers simply don’t sponsor a plan.

State-Facilitated Retirement Savings Programs (SFRPs) are attempting to address this retirement savings gap. As the largest independent retirement and savings services provider in the U.S., our client Ascensus is at the forefront of administering the nation’s first SFRPs.

Ascensus and WillowTree have enjoyed a longstanding partnership. Following a successful mobile app delivery and marketing push that began in 2019, Ascensus embarked in late 2021 on an overhaul of its existing employer registration and onboarding web platform.
With the nation’s first three SFRPs launched — and based on feedback from thousands of employers — Ascensus was looking to improve customer satisfaction and gain insights on how self service options could increase registrations, enable account management, and boost overall employers’ and employees’ financial health.

Ascensus sought WillowTree’s web expertise and product development best practices as they set out to build their first large-scale web platform for managing retirement savings. With a big ‘Wave 3’ of 250,000+ employers set to register for the CalSavers SFRP by June 30th, Ascensus sought to support their contact centers and upgrade customer experience by enabling employers' full self service capabilities.

The clock was ticking. We got to work.

Digital Strategy Consulting

Leveraging Research to Reduce Call Volume

To understand pain points in Ascensus' existing digital touchpoints, WillowTree’s Digital Strategy team dove into qualitative research, including:

  • Facilitating our Outcomes Workshops with Ascensus stakeholders to align on North Star outcomes
  • Interviewing Ascensus call center representatives to identify common issues customers faced during registration and onboarding
  • Conducting user interviews with a diverse cross-section of employers and HR/payroll professionals to unpack their challenges

Through these exercises, WillowTree identified key pain points aligned with possible call reduction strategies:

  • Employer registration flow generated high call volume, indicating a need to simplify
  • Language around pay cycles was confusing for employers
  • Employers wanted more intuitive self service options to reduce the need for phone calls

The strategy was clear: a streamlined registration process would boost employer enrollment, minimize inbound calls, and optimize the overall user experience.

“Employers’ early experiences with the program are essential to its success. We brought in WillowTree’s expertise and capability because we wanted to be sure that every employer — from large corporations to small mom-and-pop shops — would have the most supportive and seamless experience possible.”

George Piquette
Head of SFRP (Ret.), Ascensus
Brand & Experience Design

Empowering Employers With Simplified User Experience

Armed with research insights, WillowTree's designers created concepts to overhaul the employer onboarding experience and its impact on call centers:

  • A redesigned dashboard eliminated the complexity of the registration flow
  • Revised pay cycle website copy and related content clarified the process for employers
  • Additional features amplifying self-service drove call reduction, easing the burden on customer service reps

Our end-to-end design work was completed in only 10 weeks. Usability testing confirmed these new designs reduced employers' challenges, leading to increased interest and higher potential for plan adoption.

The designs enabled a more frictionless process for employers to register and provide employee details to enroll them in the state-facilitated retirement programs.

digital product development

Building an Intuitive Web Platform

With a design vision in place, WillowTree created development-ready assets for Ascensus’ web platform. Further user feedback and A/B testing ensured that all user challenges were addressed before launch.

Our initial approach focused on California, but our vision quickly shifted to Illinois and other states at the forefront of the SFRP movement. The goal was to equip Ascensus with a consistent set of tools that are seamless to customize and update as dozens of new states inevitably come into the fold and adopt SFRPs.

New digital experiences rolled out, featuring:

  • A new, user-friendly employer dashboard
  • Simplified employer registration flow
  • Clear tooltips and help messaging for self-service

These steps culminated in a digital transformation that offered employers easy and efficient ways to enroll their employees while optimizing customer support. Greatly increasing adoption rates will exponentially impact employees who previously lacked access to crucial savings plans.

“Adding help messaging and tooltips was a big deal. This site is catering to all levels of understanding and it can’t be full of legal jargon. With tooltips, we got over that hurdle and allowed people to self-serve on the website. If that alone drives call reduction for customer service, then we’ve already achieved one big objective.”

Robbie McCown
WillowTree Design Director

Revolutionizing Retirement Services

Ascensus and their state partners have now doubled their combined assets under administration since the start of 2023 — surpassing $1 billion — due to an influx of newly registered employers.

“While the $1 billion mark is an exciting threshold, what’s even more encouraging is that this represents nearly 650,000 savers — many who are saving for retirement for the first time,” said Peg Creonte, president of Ascensus Government Savings.

The newly built employer portal has played a key role in this increase in successful registrations, as well as a noteworthy reduction in the time required to complete key enrollment steps, vastly improving the registration process across major metrics:

increase in combined assets under management, representing 650,000 savers
uptick in SFRP employer enrollment
surge in employers completing same-day enrollment
annual reduction in operating costs attributed to decreased call center volume

Empowering Employers

New user-friendly platforms signified a monumental shift for Ascensus, placing greater financial power into the hands of workers previously devoid of such access.

The digital products, while focused on individual user experience and customer support, collectively pave the way for Ascensus to revolutionize the retirement savings landscape.

As Ascensus continues its journey to provide cutting-edge digital experiences to its users, WillowTree is proud to be its trusted partner in creating an empowering ecosystem for retirement savings. Together, we’re elevating user experiences and making retirement planning more accessible for all.

“WillowTree has been an unequivocal delight to work with. Their total engagement to completely understand our customers, users, and businesses has been unparalleled. I have found the entire WillowTree team to be consummate professionals, with the highest levels of intellectual curiosity along with top-notch design and research skills.”

—SFRP Product Manager, Ascensus
Ready to revamp your financial services UX?
Let’s connect
More Case Studies
Secure Conversational AI Assistants for Financial Services