Making Small Changes to Save Big: Redesigning Mexican Retirement Account Statements

Apr 26, 2016 | By Andrew Fertig in Blog

For most Americans, in addition to warmer weather, Spring means tax season. Compiling a year’s worth of financial records can be a tedious and confusing task, but it can also be a time of reflection—to thoughtfully consider how we used our money, and where there might be some room for improvement. We’re also able to correct past foibles if necessary, such as making yearly tax-deductible retirement contributions to an individual retirement account for the previous year, something that too often falls by the wayside for many of us.

We know these same struggles exist for many people in Mexico, where adequately planning for retirement often doesn’t happen. Under the current system, Mexican workers will retire on just 40% of their current salary unless they actively make additional voluntary contributions to their individual accounts throughout their working years. This is widely known, and yet the vast majority of Mexicans aren’t taking this crucial step to improve their savings and overall future financial health.

With the support of the MetLife Foundation, we partnered with the Mexican retirement industry to try to solve these persistent—and nearly universal—problems.

On the heels of a report detailing our recent in-depth look at behavioral bottlenecks preventing retirement savings as well as proposed solutions to increase long-term savings in Mexico, we got to work with the Mexican retirement industry to turn our recommendations into testable behavioral interventions to be launched this year.

The first solution, launching at the end of this month, will be a re-design of the account statements sent to accountholders. The quarterly statement represents a key potential touch-point for impact, as it is sent to tens of millions of accountholders nationwide. Statements are issued by varying individual financial companies in different parts of Mexico, but we are able to make an impact as key information in all of them is regulated by CONSAR, the government’s retirement agency.

Our new account statement includes many tweaks designed to address the various behavioral challenges we found in our diagnosis of the Mexican retirement system, and encourages accountholders to take action and save today.

From our work in Mexico, we found that most people are unaware of the ‘health’ of their retirement savings accounts. If they’re unaware that there’s a problem with the rate at which they’re saving (or not saving), they’re unlikely to take action and get on track. This insight led us to the cornerstone of our new statement: a savings “thermometer” on the document that gives account holders specific real-time feedback on their retirement situations.

No matter where you are, retirement savings are easy to put off until tomorrow (or much later), and it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about how much you need to start saving. To combat this reality, our redesigned statement includes simple, intuitive graphics that demonstrate the importance of saving now instead of later, as well as personalized rules-of-thumb to help individuals determine how much to start saving now to reach their desired monthly spending amount in the future.

Finally, because we know from behavioral science that it’s critical to create a link between providing information and taking action, a key feature of the new statement is the inclusion of a set of clear, easy to follow ‘action steps’ for account holders. A simple checklist savings plan can be one of the most useful tools to prompt action and encourage follow-through. Pre-filling the first step in the checklist with a checkmark, as we did on the redesigned statement, helps show account holders they’re already on their way to saving more.

We’ll be testing these components next month in a large randomized controlled trial with over 120,000 account holders in Mexico, aiming to scale our most effective designs to all 54 million account holders in the Mexican retirement system. Stay tuned for results from this study and others in our comprehensive package of behavioral solutions designed to increase retirement savings in Mexico.