How MassMutual Is Reimagining Financial Education

By Lilly Milman |  June 18, 2020

So, you want to retire near the ocean. Do you know where “near the ocean” is? Is it within a 15 minute drive? Do you want to be on the sand? Do you want to be in the Northeast, or do you want to be in the South? 

Ryan White, In Good Company

These are the kinds of specific questions that In Good Company — a MassMutual financial education initiative — wants you and your employees to answer, in detail with their workshops, free of charge. The next step: Building the right financial decision making skills to make those dreams a reality.

In Good Company, led by Ryan White, Head of Innovation & Design at MassMutual Financial Advisors, operates in its own building separate from the MassMutual headquarters. Part of White’s job is to maintain that level of separation, while still frequently touching base with MassMutual and its other innovation projects, he says. White reports to Jen Rutley, Head of Marketing at MassMutual Financial Advisors.

What Is The First Floor of Financial Agency? 

The idea for a financial literacy program was born from the need to reimagine what the first floor of financial agency would look like in five years — “not so much the aesthetics and the layout of the physical space, but how are people being introduced to the value of working with a financial advisor.” 

“We thought rather than [using] marketing campaigns and putting our case out there for people to consume through social media or print ads, an opportunity to meet a need — which was financial education — would be a great way to introduce people to when and how they might work with a financial advisor,” White says. “One of the things we identified was that people don’t want to be sold to. They want to walk into a safe environment, take in some information, process it, and make a decision on their own. So from the very beginning, we approached it in that same manner.”

This user-centered approach to finding new customers is how In Good Company was shaped in 2019. The primary offering of In Good Company is a four-part workshop run by a MassMutual advisor with a curriculum that is tailored to the specific needs of the business, big or small. Classes typically accomdate around 30 people per session, and former clients include a number of life sciences and pharma companies in Boston. 

Prior to assembling their classes into a curriculum, In Good Company works with the employers to distribute polls and surveys to get a better understanding of what they are interested in learning about and “what keeps them up at night.” 

“This is where we’re disruptive,” White says. “Our workshops put the user at the center, and we give them tools to make decisions… [During] the first class, we introduce opportunities to really create clarity around your core values..and aspirations… Throughout the rest of the series, we always point them back to those aspirations… We really try to make it so that they can leave there and have a set of tools to make decisions moving forward [to achieve goals], even if they choose not to work with an advisor.”

Why It Pays To Keep The Program Free

White emphasizes that the workshop is not a sales pitch, and the purpose of running the initiative is not to drive people towards a specific product. Instead, the value of In Good Company’s free program for MassMutual is information. 

“When people first hear that [the workshops are free,] they feel like it’s a trick,” White says. “But there’s a couple ways of looking at this…MassMutual is getting learnings from this. They’re seeing, ‘What do people care about? What are the topics?’ … It allows our advisors in the field to get in front of a lot of people at once. And if they do a good job and if our content is appropriate, it does help people identify gaps that they might have in coverage or opportunities they might want to take advantage of if they raise their hand to work with that advisor.”

Even if people who use the service do not sign up for a financial advisor, White says that using the “halo effect” is beneficial to MassMutual in the long term.

“For a lot of people, this is their first interaction with MassMutual,” he says. “And it’s MassMutual providing this really relevant information…and positioning it in a way that really illustrates we care about you and your financial situation. And if they walk away and they say, ‘I don’t want to work with an advisor,’ but their first impression with MassMutual was great, that brand halo effect is well worth it.”

In Good Company has also succeeded at keeping its costs low and its 12 full-time employees agile, White says. Everyone on the close-knit team wears many hats and is encouraged to discuss ideas as they arise in the open office environment. While there have been some communication challenges for the team remotely, its agility has been integral to pivoting their workshops to a digital model. 

The Benefits of Bringing The Workshops Home 

It took the team about two weeks to reformat the original class structure — which depends on the advisor developing a very kinesthetic curriculum and providing the workshop in the employers’ office — to work with Zoom.  

This required designing a digital workbook that can be filled out on the computer, as well as a printer-friendly version for the new “Remote Financial Education Series,” as well as reworking all marketing materials — which were based around the importance of the human touch — to fit the new brand.  

Seeing people in their home environments — with their partners and children — even spurred some innovation within the curriculum. White, who is also working remotely with young children at home, says he realized that his financial education should include the whole family. In addition to encouraging participants to bring their partner to the course, In Good Company is also creating new content for children ages five to 12.

“We’ve built out a series of classes that talk about…values and goal planning, the importance of savings, online safety…which we probably would never have done before because you’re not going to see kids at an employer,” he says. “At the end of the day, none of those kids are going to raise their hand to work with an advisor and that’s okay.”

By rolling out new content, White says he is taking the opportunity to compare workshops and see what was or was not working with the in-person model.  

“There’s a good chance we might never go back to in person 100 percent of the time. Now that people have seen this offering, if the feedback is good, it might be more like a 60/40 split,” he says.

The pandemic is also bringing attention to a fact that White believes is always important: Everyone should know how to financially plan for their future. 

“The current environment just makes it more obvious,” he says. “If someone’s at home…and they’re just getting inundated with news, you don’t know how much time they’re spending online looking up the stock market, or should they buy a house now, or what should they do with their retirement. So [understanding their finances and being able to plan for their future] does bring that peace of mind, and…one of the benefits is hopefully a little bit greater ability to focus on the task at hand.”