Why Retirement Education is Failing

The Problem: Employees are Ill-Prepared for Their Futures

Numbers Speak

The topic of education is buzzing in the retirement plan industry, and for good reason. There is a jolting realization that conventional retirement education is not working. The major cause for concern is the staggering number of ill-prepared retirees. Lack of education and the lack of saving are widespread topics of discussion as the two combined are a toxic mix.

There are several recent surveys about the general population’s level of financial literacy and overall preparedness for retirement. The results are unsettling.

According to Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of Financial Finesse, “83% of people admit they are not on track to meet their retirement goals.” And for most, having a retirement goal simply means that they will have “enough” to live on. Another recent survey of Americans over age 50 that was conducted by researchers Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University and Olivia S. Mitchell of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The results revealed, “Only one-third of those surveyed could correctly answer all three questions regarding their basic understanding of compound interest, inflation, and diversification.” Combine this lack of financial literacy with a current life expectancy of 85 and a cost of living that continues to rise and it becomes increasingly clear that employees are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to being prepared for their futures.

When we turn to specific behaviors, we catch another glimpse of the problem. For example, in a study by the financial services firm TIAA-CREF, “More than one-third of Americans who contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan have never increased the percentage of their salary they pay into their company’s plan … An additional 26 percent of employees have not increased their contribution in more than a year.” These findings are especially unsettling considering another survey by TIAA-CREF revealed that “44 percent of American employees save 10 percent or less of their annual income each year.” Over 33 percent have never increased the percentage they are contributing to the plan. When calculated over a lifetime, the lost opportunities for these participants are huge.

The Problem Compounds for Christians and Ministers

Unfortunately, this lack of preparation is compounded when it comes to ministers, missionaries, and employees of Christian Ministries. A recent article in USA Today explains, “An aversion to financial matters coupled with a trust in God to take care of things can be counterproductive when it comes to planning for retirement.” Lack of education, failure to enroll in an offered plan, and/or not choosing the right investments all seem to be the biggest indicators as to why ministers, missionaries, and other Christian workers are often floundering when it comes to retirement. All of these things combine to create a serious problem—ministers, missionaries, and employees of Christian ministries are not preparing for their lives once their years of vocational work are over. As a result, there is frustration and potential ministry that is not taking place after retirement.

Aside from the lack of financial literacy, it is important to address a significant issue that circulates among our Christian culture. It is this, a point of view that says, “If we use all of God’s resources now to promote ministry, He will always provide enough.” In some ways this approach is very freeing because it removes any personal responsibility to prepare for the future. Here at Envoy Financial, we have observed countless personal, family, and ministry tragedies resulting from a lack of financial preparedness that comes from this thinking. Scripture urges us, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5).

In the process of planning and preparing, the power of the Holy Spirit is active and powerful. Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down” (NIV). Another example is seen by God’s direction to Joseph to set aside from the 7 years of plenty to provide for the 7 years of famine in Egypt. The result was the growth of the Israelites for 400 years as they were being prepared to spend the next 40 in the wilderness prior to entering the Promised Land. In the New Testament, God prepared the financial way for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to spend years in Egypt funded by the gifts of the Magi. It is reasonable to presume they managed those resources well during their time in a foreign land. All of these examples suggests preparation is integral to God’s plan for our individual ministry. Further, proper preparation allows us to serve more freely and to give the highest honor to Him.

Preparation is not only Biblical, it is also crucial in case the unexpected or a tragedy happens. There is no need for a spouse or a family to be left struggling to pay bills and to deal with unfinished projects when even a small amount of preparation could alleviate this burden. Preparing our families for future service is just as important as preparing ourselves.

Common Misconceptions about Retirement

We have discussed the problems that have arisen from a lack of knowledge and a lack of action. We have also noticed some common, and problematic, themes in the way people think about retirement. We have found these common misconceptions to be extremely influential in keeping retirement Plan Participants from engaging in their retirement preparation.

Here are a few:
1. “I do not understand, finance, savings, and investments.”
2. “Retirement is a long way off and I need to focus on immediate needs right now.”
3. “Thinking about money makes me anxious, so I’d rather ignore it.”

Each of these could be overcome with just a small amount of insight, encouragement, and education. But for many of us, the thought of actively educating ourselves about retirement and investing is usually extremely overwhelming. Because of this, we here at Envoy Financial excited to present you with a way to empower each of your employees to address and change these detrimental misconceptions. You will learn more about our innovative solution at the end of this paper!

An Example of the Problem

A number of years ago Bruce Bruinsma, CEO of Envoy Financial, was enrolling the staff of a Christian college in their new and improved 403(b) retirement plan. Upon receiving the list of staff that enrolled, he noticed that a well-known professor was not in the plan. He made a special effort to connect with him and the dialogue went like this:

“Dr. X, I noticed that you are not listed as participating in the college’s retirement plan, is that accurate?” He replied, “Yes, I guess that’s right. I’ve been meaning to sign up. The paperwork must be around here somewhere. Let me try and find it.” He then got up from his desk and walked around eying high stacks of paper intently. “Oh, here it is!” he said as he extracted some forms from the middle of one of the stacks and handed them to Bruce. “See, they are even already filled out and signed”, he said with a smile. Bruce looked at the paperwork and eyed the date, “Doctor, these papers were signed almost 10 years ago.” “Yes, I know”, said the professor dejectedly, “you know how it is … time flies when you are a teacher.” Bruce provided the professor with a new set of documents, he signed them, and Bruce left.

Now, what would those 10 years have done for this professor? If he had contributed $200 per month at 7% interest, those contributions might have grown to around $35,000. That $35,000, using the same assumptions, might have grown to around $135,000 in 20 years. Then if the professor lived to 85, we can calculate the additional opportunity cost. As a consequence of his choosing not to participate in his plan, he was now starting from zero when just a little engagement would have likely grown his retirement savings to an estimated $135,000+!

Why Should You Care?

You may be thinking, “What does any of this have to do with me?” After all, isn’t it the personal responsibility of each of your employees to make sure they are prepared for their futures? The answer is “yes,” ultimately it is their responsibility, but their lack of education and preparation can have unintended consequences for you as the employer or Plan Administrator. One unintended result is that people are forced to work longer, which ends up costing money for the ministry. The ministry will feel a responsibility and contribute a large sum of money to “take care” of their future income needs. Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of Financial Finesse explains, “After all, if they can’t retire, your company pays the price-estimated at an additional $10,000-$50,000 per employee for every year an employee postpones retirement (mostly healthcare and higher salaries that more tenured employees earn vs. less tenured employees that would otherwise replace them).” So the lack of preparation for retirement not only has negative consequences for the employee, but for the employer as well.

We know that you genuinely want to have a positive impact on the lives of your employees. Most employers see the main purpose of their retirement benefit being to attract and retain employees. There is no doubt that having a great retirement plan is a huge perk. However, as a Christian employer, your retirement plan is also a way to have meaningful impact on the lives of your employees, their families, and their future ministry. By promoting your plan and encouraging your staff to participate in retirement education, you can help them to be confident and prepared for a future where money is not in the way but where ministry and relationships are the focus.

The Solution: Reinventing Plan Participant Education

The problem can be overwhelming, but we believe it is possible for each of your employees to defy the statistics and be prepared for an amazing future…full of ministry. Our solution involves the following four components: a kingdom perspective, personalization, education, and inspiration.

A Kingdom Perspective

We invite you to join with us in a crusade to transform the way the faith-based community thinks about retirement, thinking that will result in changed behavior and lives full of impact. We believe it is time for a completely new and different approach, time to reinvent retirement and to focus on impacting lives through a lifetime of service. Your staff needs to be inspired with a fresh name for retirement, and a kingdom-focused perspective, so we have completely redefined retirement. Let us agree that retirement is in the future, it has to be funded, and the call to ministry remains. With this in mind, we would like to introduce a new name for retirement … Future-Funded MinistryTM. In addition to the new name, you also have a new definition….a time when the paycheck stops but the call to ministry remains. Finally, retirement is not only about celebrating the past, but it is also about ministering into the future.

With this new name, definition and perspective of retirement, we believe your employees will be able to connect on a deeper level with the importance of saving in order to go wherever God calls them in the future.

Finally, retirement is not only about celebrating the past, but it is also about ministering into the future.


One thing we have realized is that each person’s Future Funded Ministry cannot be one size fits all. Each person is unique in their perspective, personality, and goals. Taking this one step further, we have also found that most people aren’t inspired by numbers they are inspired by their relationships and their hopes for the future.

With this understanding, it is important to help employees understand the “why” behind their future. This means, not only telling employees how to save for their future logistically but helping them find their own reasons “why” they should save. Employees’ “why” might include their goals, dreams, family, and/or their Kingdom purpose. We aim to help individuals engage with the preparation process in a way that satisfies and reflects their individual perspective of money and emphasizes sustainability.

Bethany Palmer, President of Envoy Financial along with her husband Scott have spent many years studying behavioral finance, or how people’s view of money impacts their decisions. What they have discovered is that if a decision is not consistent with the lens through which individuals view money, they will soon reverse that decision or decide not to act at all. In other words, their plan is not

This is an important insight. Typically, preparing a Future-Funded Ministry (retirement) plan consists of understanding a person’s current financial situation, knowing when their paycheck will stop, calculating how much they will need, telling them what they should save, and explaining what investments they should choose. However, this is missing a key component – that person’s individual approach to money. Unfortunately, we usually recommend a plan in which all the numbers line up, but we do not consider their individual personality and ingrained view of money. For example, if they are a conservative investor by nature and the numbers point to them being in aggressive investments, they will not stick to that plan long-term.

If the plan designed for employees does not fit their ingrained view of money, their goals, or their relationships, it will not work. They will become disillusioned with the whole process. For these reasons, it is important to deploy a tailored approach.

Education: 3 Big Ideas

We talked earlier about how ministers, missionaries, and Christian workers are not preparing for a lifetime of service. With a new educational approach we can change that! As Christian employers, we have a responsibility to help them become better stewards of the resources entrusted to them and of the resources our Ministries provide for them. The exciting news is, “Research shows that ‘92% of employees who participate in retirement education make a major change to their retirement plans within 30 days of receiving the education.’”

It is our desire to activate each employee’s Future-Funded Ministry with an exciting, new, all-inclusive approach to education. We would like to introduce you to our educational program, called Activate: Put your Future-Funded Ministry in Motion. Activate provides education that is not exclusively focused on the numbers, but is focused on the individuals, their personality, their kingdom-purpose, and their “why.” This approach will have rewards today and even bigger rewards your employees’ Future-Funded Ministry

Activate is composed of the following three components: Enrollment, Engagement, and Excitement. Let’s talk briefly about each of these…

Enrollment – Quick or Guided

Enrolling into their Future-Funded Ministry Plan is a crucial step towards your employees’ futures of impact. During enrollment, they have the opportunity to confirm their contribution amount as well as identify investments and beneficiaries.

At Envoy Financial, we have found that 80% of employees need assistance setting up their plan. Because of this, we provide a Guided Option where virtual advisors will walk your employees through choosing their investments and determining a contribution amount. If your employees don’t need assistance and generally like figuring things out on their own, they can choose Quick Enrollment.

Engagement – with a new state-of-the art program called Impact U

Impact U is an exciting and innovative way for each of your employees to custom-design their Future- Funded Ministries. This interactive, four-course eLearning program will only take about an hour to go through and will simplify investing and inspire them with a fresh perspective of money. Your employees will get insight into their 2 Money PersonalitiesTM and the impact of those personalities on their decisions and relationships. Then we will talk about relationships and how friends and family influence your employees’ money decisions and the way they plan for their future. Next, they will be educated with the basics of investing. Finally, they can self-direct their investment selection or be guided towards a portfolio tailored to their 2 Money Personalities, age, and their risk indicator, called the Money Personality Portfolios. These Portfolios create sustainability and are designed to put your employees’ minds at ease, knowing that they’ll be taken care of through their Future- Funded Ministries. Whether your employees’ are in their 20’s or 70’s, they will be empowered to walk confidently towards their Future-Funded Ministry goals.