Is effective member engagement an art or a science?

AMY BRADDON from SUPERFUNDS magazine explores the power of connecting with members through experience, entertainment and gamification.

Member engagement is a long-standing item on the superannuation industry’s agenda, yet the strategies and approaches encompassing it are in a constant state of flux. Amid the continuous flow of emerging technologies and digital innovation in Australia and across the world, the question is no longer if digital platforms should be integrated into an engagement strategy, but how.

The Australian super industry is itself exploring new ways to connect and engage with members, particularly via a raft of digital platforms. It is interesting to consider what role gamification techniques and interactive tools play in this space, and how effective they are in terms of tapping into the psychology behind behavioural change.

James Coyle, head of sales and marketing at digital financial advice provider SuperEd, explains that the firm embeds the principles of andragogy—the science of how adults learn—and gamification into its digital application.

“The concept of andragogy strongly intersects with member engagement. Adults learn by doing and solving problems relevant to their circumstances. Embedding these adult learning principles into interactive tools and further enhancing these with gamification elements will have significant benefits for member engagement and education,” said Coyle.

“Enabling members to solve their own problems in an interactive environment can help them learn. Gamification techniques provide ongoing motivation, as well as enable members to deal with progressively more complex issues.”


Throughout 2015 and 2016, SuperEd facilitated research with focus groups about online education and advice. Their findings showed that many people preferred interacting and solving problems online, as it was seen as a safe and judgement-free environment.

“Our focus group participants said they wanted to read, investigate and understand more about their financial situation by going online before visiting a financial planner. This is where online interactive tools helped them – offering them the ability to explore at their own pace, in a secure and comfortable environment. Then, if they wanted or needed to speak with someone, they could do so with some base knowledge and feel better equipped,” said Coyle.

“Effective engagement can be created with tools and messaging that reinforces good behaviour and provides users with achievable goals. As people achieve greater mastery, competency and knowledge when using a tool or playing a game, the next stage is to slowly increase the complexity to enable them to cope with more challenging problems.

“I think funds can build this thinking into their interactive tools. It’s important not to overwhelm members with complex ideas, but help people build up their knowledge and competency with simple messages in a way that encourages good behaviour and rewards them – even if it’s in the form of congratulatory messages.”

Coyle says that while utilising interactive tools, adult learning and gamification principles in a member engagement strategy are important, they are not the whole answer. “At SuperEd, we’ve noticed that some people want to have the reassurance of a human backup, whether it’s phone or face-to-face. Sometimes it will just be psychological – knowing someone is there if you need them. Displaying a contact phone number or offering a pop-up chat box for assistance on websites are steps that may help to address this,” said Coyle.

“Digital education and advice tools should therefore often be considered as an ‘and’ strategy, not an ‘or’ strategy, and should supplement and complement a number of other engagement channels. However, for some people, it will be their only channel and a great one.”

In early 2016, SuperEd and Sunsuper tested an online education prototype with approximately 90 of the fund’s members to assess the effectiveness of online engagement and advice tools. The findings revealed that interaction improved confidence and understanding across a range of measures. “The research we conducted revealed a willingness to participate, an increase in user confidence and knowledge, and a willingness to add additional data,” said Coyle. “For example, after one interaction with the tool, members’ knowledge and understanding of the kind of income they are likely to get in retirement increased from 35 per cent to 57 per cent.

Similarly, knowledge about their retirement income needs increased from 31 per cent to 52 per cent. “From an engagement perspective, 66 per cent of those Effective engagement can be created with tools and messaging that reinforces good behaviour and provides users with achievable goals Superfunds June 2017 33 gamification that participated said that they would want to use a system like this again. Seventy-five per cent of participants were putting in additional “known only to member” data beyond what the fund would typically hold.

“What we found is that once people are online and interacting, they’re solving problems in their own context. As they put in more relevant and accurate data, they discover the tools become more useful to them. For example – whether they have a mortgage, debt, other investments, or if they have children. This is also very beneficial for the fund in terms of the quantity and quality of data held, which then enables them to build a better picture and understanding of those members, and importantly, provide a more personalised and comprehensive service.”


While an increased quantity of data should always be beneficial for funds, the high volume of data received can prove problematic if it is not captured, held and used wisely, suggests Coyle. “There is a treasure trove of data available—in administration systems, third party sources, in interactions across service channels, in the members’ stated and implied preferences—that can be used to design highly personalised and relevant experiences that will lead to higher levels of engagement,” said Coyle.

“If you can combine administrative data and transactional data and try and capture members’ preferences whichever way they’re dealing with you—whether it’s phone, email, online— you can start to use that information to your advantage. “The capture of good data is critical to member engagement. Data can help funds see what their members are doing across all channels, so funds need to think about how they are integrating all of those channels. Ultimately, being able to capture data across all touch points and use that data to give an integrated experience is going to be essential for the entire industry.”


Lack of engagement and awareness of insurance within super has become a growing area of concern, so to address this, SuperEd recently partnered with AIA Insurance to further develop the insurer’s advice and education tools. “As an industry, we talk about members being disengaged with their super, but default insurance in super is just as concerning. This low level of engagement and understanding is a big issue and plays out in many of the problems and complaints the industry currently sees,” said Coyle. “AIA’s recent research shows that three in 10 Australians are not aware of the existence of insurance in super, let alone what they actually have or need in terms of insurance. “AIA has been very active in seeking to address this issue by developing their online education and advice tools to help super funds help fund members with their decision making on life insurance, to better understand what insurance they have and what it covers, why it’s important, what they really need in terms of cover, and any trade-offs they might need to make.”


According to Suncorp’s Attitudes to Superannuation report, over half of Australians (56 per cent) agree that super is the key source of retirement funding, yet over two in five (42 per cent) feel frustrated because they simply don’t understand their super. Suncorp’s research also found that almost one in two Australians (45 per cent) continue to find super complicated, however many people (44 per cent) who are not interested in super would be more engaged if their super account operated more like a bank account. Cathy Duncan, executive manager wealth products at Suncorp, explains that in response to this and earlier research, Suncorp has focused on ensuring all its super accounts are simple, easy to understand and operate, and link to internet banking where possible.

It was this thinking that led to the creation of Suncorp’s Super Slinger game – a multi-level, interactive game showing how small, additional contributions to super can make a big difference in retirement. “Suncorp’s Super Slinger game was designed to help educate and engage our customers about their super, and promote the benefits of salary sacrifice through the use of an interactive, online game,” said Duncan. “By playing the game, you can see that adding a little extra to your super now, could help to provide a better retirement. “It’s important for us to create products that are simple, provide value for money and have streamlined features and benefits to help drive greater engagement and connectivity with superannuation. “Ensuring customers are well equipped with a product they can understand and engage with is key in helping them build an adequate retirement and greater financial resilience for the future.

Reproduced with permission from Superfunds magazine, June 2017