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Why Americans Are Re-Evaluating Work with Jacquelyn Reardon

In a recent study by Franklin Templeton, U.S. workers are re-evaluating their relationship with their employers and the benefits they receive at work. The study found that workers are increasingly interested in non-traditional benefits and the need across the full spectrum of financial resources.

In this episode, Jack talks with Jacquelyn Reardon, Head of Retirement & Insurance Marketing at Franklin Templeton. In her role, Jacquelyn manages a team of marketing specialists to implement strategies for distribution channels associated with U.S. retirement and insurance businesses. She also deploys resources that drive marketing results while reinforcing process best practices, developing talent, and managing the budget.

Jacquelyn talks with Jack about Franklin Templeton’s Voice of the American Worker survey, its outcome, and how the company responded to its results.

What Jacquelyn has to say

“Seventy-six percent of people, as it relates to student loan debt, said that they would’ve made different educational choices if they had realized how much debt they would get into.”

– Jacquelyn Reardon, Head of Retirement & Insurance Marketing, Franklin Templeton

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Welcome, friends. Thanks for joining us on WealthTech on Deck. I have the pleasure of speaking with industry leaders each week about ideas, issues, and strategies that move our industry forward. We discuss a variety of trends in wealth and asset management, retirement, insurance, and annuities, and financial technology. Our guests work to help advisors, investors, participants, and firms enjoy better financial outcomes enabled by combining digital and human advice. Today we’re speaking with Jackie Reardon. Jackie heads up retirement marketing at Franklin Templeton. Jackie, welcome to WealthTech on Deck.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Thanks for having me, Jack.

Jack Sharry: Good to have you here. So, Jackie, let’s start with you telling our audience about your role at Franklin Templeton. We’re going to talk in a minute about some of the research you all have done around the marketplace. But just to establish what you do and where you fit into the Franklin Templeton organization, let us know.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Great. Yes, so I am a member of the US marketing organization at Franklin Templeton, I have the pleasure of leading our marketing strategy for the DC retirement insurance and also 529 groups, so we partner very closely with our strategic accountant and sales partners of those distribution channels.

Jack Sharry: That is great. Jackie, Franklin has conducted research on the marketplace for many years, I’ve been following them all along. I’m particularly interested in the recent research you conducted with the Harris Poll on the Voice of the American Worker. So let our audience know some of the background on the poll itself and why you conducted it. And then we’ll get into what the findings were.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Great. Yeah. So the Voice of the American Worker survey, this is actually the second year that we’ve conducted this research in partnership with the Harris Poll. And the idea for this survey actually came out of a group that we put together called the Retirement Innovation Initiative. So it’s a group of about 20-25 industry experts and partners, really meant to be like a think tank for us to scope out what the future of the retirement industry is. We feel that this research really to go right to the horse’s mouth and find out how employees and participants are feeling I think there’s a lot of anecdotes and trends that we’ve all kind of assumed. So we figured let’s actually validate it and put a data set together. So super excited to share some of the findings that we found in this second round of research.

Jack Sharry: And maybe a little bit more on the group, the 25 folks that, or organizations that you put together. A little more, I’m curious about that. What is that? Who are they? Not by name, necessarily, but just give ourselves a sense of the folks you turn to to understand all this stuff.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Sure. Yeah, no, it’s been a fabulous group for us. Again, the Retirement Innovation Initiative, that was put together early 2020. So it includes some record keepers that we work with, a lot of top advisors and other partners. And really, we get together quarterly, sometimes in person. And as you can imagine, over the last couple of years, virtually too, and it’s really meant to be a think tank. So we’ll go to them sometimes with product development ideas. We’ll hear from them about some of the things that they’re working on, some of the challenges that they have with their clients. And we bring, you know, hopefully some value to them from a subject matter expert. But, you know, we could kind of think something’s great, but unless the advisor community or you know, ultimately the investor community thinks it’s of value, it’s not really worth pursuing. So they’ve been super valuable for us in telling us where not to put resources and money, but then also importantly, where to put resources and money.

Jack Sharry: Very smart. I like that. I know you identified four key highlights or takeaways at the high level just we’ll tick them off, then we’ll get into them in detail in a moment. So why don’t you talk about the four key takeaways.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Sure. So the first is a little bit of like a temperature check of how people are feeling, workers and participants after the pandemic. So we found there that unsurprisingly, workers are reevaluating what they think about work and that employer-employee relationship. We also went back to a concept from the year before around financial independence. And we found here that more people are focused in on financial independence than they are on traditional retirement. And then we also took a peek into wellbeing, what’s included in wellbeing? And how are people feeling across all spectrums of wellbeing? And then ultimately, we had some great takeaways around resources. So all of that’s great. But then now, what do we do? How do employers really think about the types of solutions and resources they should be bringing to their employee base?

Jack Sharry: So clearly, our world has been rocked over the past few years and mindsets and thinking have changed and you guys are digging in, sounds very wisely so. Let’s talk about point number one, American workers are reevaluating how they think about work and what they expect from employers. So talk about that if you would.

Jacquelyn Reardon: So I think, you know, if we all had a nickel for every time we’ve heard the term, the great resignation, over the last couple months, you know, probably even coming closer to a year, we’d all be very wealthy and could probably retire. So, I don’t think that there’s anything here that’s going to be surprising. But we, again, really wanted to make sure that we had a data set. And we confirmed some of the anecdotes and trends that we’ve seen. All in all, I think we can agree that the, you know, pace of folks leaving jobs, or kind of reevaluating what they want from the work, their work, their employer, etc, their work life balance, a lot of those trends were in place before the pandemic, it’s just that they’ve, you know, significantly expedited over the last two years. So we found that 67% of employees and respondents in this survey said yes, I have definitely reassessed what they want from their employers, because of the pandemic. This was not meant to be a pandemic survey, of course, but it’s kind of hard to ignore sort of what the last few days have done to some of these trends. We also found that nearly half, so 44% of workers have either left or have considered leaving their job in the last year. So again, I mean, not surprising, why that term, great resignation is out there so much. But again, good to kind of validate that’s the case. Just one additional point on that, which I think is really interesting. Myself, as a manager, I know that I felt this within my own team is that 55% of people have said, it’s not even just the fact that they’ve left or considered leaving, but seeing other colleagues consider leaving or leaving has kind of made them reassess what they want from their employer. So I think that that’s something also to keep in mind. So it’s not just people leaving, but it’s kind of like, oh, what’s my colleague doing? They’re leaving? Should I be leaving? Should I be considering? You know, the grass is greener sort of situation.

Jack Sharry: And is that age weighted? Or, in other words, is that… are people that are older doing that more? Or did you find anything along those lines?

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yeah, nothing too noticeable. But we did find that, you know, in the millennial group, for example, there’s a slight uptake there. We found some interesting stats around culture. So, you know, if people are leaving, or people are considering leaving, why is it and what are they looking for in other opportunities. So there were some some call outs there to, you know, really wanting to make sure that their employer’s values align with theirs or that they are working in a culture that sort of feels good to them. They feel like they’re being treated well by their employer. And in those questions, definitely the younger group are amplified considerably.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, totally. I’m seeing that with my own children who are in their 30s and their partners. It’s a very different way of thinking about work. Very different than I grew up in, I was much more regimented, and did things a particular way. And it sounds like people want to have flexibility, they want to have choices. They want to make sure their values are recognized, appreciated, incorporated into the ethos of the company. Am I getting that right? That’s my anecdotal take, but it sounds like what you saw in the research.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yeah, love it. Definitely, for sure. And again, like, you know, some of these things we found, particularly in kind of like the upfront temperature check are not surprising. It’s just great to, instead of feeling like they’re just anecdotal that we actually have kind of a data set. I think the other thing that I found interesting, I saw, again, the great resignation every day, there was a new article about it. I saw one article, though, that really stuck with me in that, instead of a great resignation, folks have suggested that we call it the great renegotiation. And that’s for sure, something that we saw in the data as well, because you know, if people are leaving or considering leaving, why is that? One of the things we asked was around considerations for new opportunities. And we found it was almost split exactly down the middle. So 51% of folks said salary is number one important to me. Whereas 49% of people said, actually, no, it’s benefits, it’s kind of like the total package there.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, yeah.

Jacquelyn Reardon: So I think we kind of assume that people are like, “Oh, I get a better paycheck over here. I’m gonna go, you know, down the street and switch companies.” It’s not, that’s not the whole story. They really want the complete package there. What’s everything I’m getting from, from this job or this opportunity?

Jack Sharry: Yeah, and it sounds like just a whole reassessment on quality of life. Is that a fair take?

Jacquelyn Reardon: For sure. Yeah. And there’s, you know, stats in here about, you know, kind of the totally obvious that folks value, like hybrid work or the opportunity to work remotely like, of course they do. And so yeah, I agree with that statement for sure. It’s just a complete reevaluation of the work life balance, so much more of, so much of a bigger part of our life work than it probably had been in the past because of technology, which makes things good, but on the other, there’s evil to it too, where just kind of the scope creep of work can be significant.

Jack Sharry: Oh, yeah. We’ve all experienced that, I’m sure. So another finding, the second finding that I found particularly interesting was workers remained focused, more focused on financial independence than traditional retirement. You and I have talked about this in other contexts, but talk about that. That’s, I find that fascinating.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yes, I love this concept. And this is something that bubbled up from the first year that we did the survey. So we wanted to go back and reconfirm and now hopefully kind of have a trendline in years to come. But this whole idea that the concept of traditional retirement isn’t really resonating with most folks. And you mentioned earlier, Jack, kind of the difference between younger and older populations. This one for sure, we’ve seen that younger populations are saying like, you know, my parents’ retirement, my grandparents’ retirement, like that’s not for me, you know, the traditional idea of, oh, everyone’s working to a specific age, call it 65, and then they’re going to stop working, and then they’re going to start an income stream, and then they’re going to go play golf in Florida. Like, that’s not the concept that everyone is looking for. What, instead, people are really focused in on, 84% of people, in fact, are saying, no, it’s actually financial independence. That’s my goal. That’s what I’m working towards. You know, I think that’s, for sure make sense. The issue or challenge, I guess, I should say, the challenge is that my idea of financial independence is going to be different than your idea of financial independence. So the milestones and goals that people are working towards, and we checked in on those as well, and you know, things like, having enough money to stop working when they want to, living comfortably for the rest of my life, feeling financially secure, like, those things are so individualized. Those are the goals and milestones that people are looking for. So the challenge there is how do we as an industry sort of meet that need with more personalized solutions? And you know, give, set up each person kind of with their own little financial journey, it’s, it’s definitely a challenge and, and hopefully, one that we’re able to meet.

Jack Sharry: Yep.

Jacquelyn Reardon: It’s needed.

Jack Sharry: We’re gonna get into that in a little bit talking about, so what do we do about all that, but I’ll just throw again, anecdotally, this may come as a shock to you, Jackie, but I hang out with people that are retired or thinking about it. And what I hear pretty much in every conversation is what they want to do in retirement that doesn’t look like playing golf in Florida. Yeah, I know plenty of folks that moved to Florida for the winter, or whatever, and play plenty of golf, but they also are active as volunteers, they’re active in work, some kind of work, some kind of contribution to the community, that kind of thing. I’m seeing a lot of that. Does that, was that in the research as well?

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yeah. And you know, I think, again, anecdotally, you hear a lot about, you know, keeping your mind and body active. And, you know, we’ll talk in a moment about kind of all aspects of well being where there’s physical, mental, and financial. So some, for some people working for the rest of their life might be the goal, you know, they might want some sort of goal, job, you know, whether it’s part time or full time. Kind of assuming that everyone wants to stop working at some, some point doesn’t really do anyone justice.

Jack Sharry: So, Jakcie, what I’m hearing you say basically, is people, this has become a buzzword, sadly, but true… hyper personalization. That’s sort of the latest buzzword. Customization. People want it their way. And of course, I’m not sure that was ever not the case. But now certainly with technology, we can do it. But talk a little bit more about what it is that people want in terms of how they want to be served.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yeah, you know, I think if everyone’s kind of on their own path, people are going to be looking for very personalized, I love that, you know, term you throw out, hyper personalization. So if they’re going to want to be engaged for their own unique goals and resources, we as an industry are going to need more information from them. So we actually asked respondents, hey, how comfortable are you sharing more information with your employer? We saw sort of a little bit of an edge. So 55% said, yes, actually, I’d be comfortable sharing as much information with my employer as possible so that I would get personalized benefits and solutions, versus 45% of people who said, Actually, I’d prefer not to share any more information than I need to and just give me the same benefits as everyone else. So I think that there’s a seed to build upon. And there’s definitely an ask there, because we found that 68% of people said, I just want to be able to count on my employer to recommend solutions for me based on my own sort of unique goals. So there, the ask is there, we kind of have to figure out how to build the transparency and education around making feel… people feel more comfortable sharing the information that we need to in turn, kind of give them more personalized solutions.

Jack Sharry: So I’m not sure if this was in the research, but certainly, again, anecdotally I’m seeing and hearing… one of our colleagues used this writing for us that the workplace retirement space is essentially the lobby for wealth management. It’s basically the door into wealth management. And certainly you’re seeing that across the industry where the wealth management side of a business, Franklin Templeton being a good example of that, and its asset management business and then also its workplace retirement is converging. We’re certainly seeing that. A lot of firms are seeing it with Financial Engines, we’re seeing with Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, so many firms are trying to get that workplace thing and that wealth management thing, pardon the expression, but coming together where people and then they start. And that, this is the interesting part. And I’d love to hear your comments. They start basically in the 401k or wherever they start on the workplace side. And that matriculates, or advances over time to a more complex situation, more need for, for greater services. So I’d love to hear your comments on that, or if you have any research that bears my, my observation out.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yeah, no, I think we need to, that’s some research that we definitely need to validate, I do have some beloved colleagues who often refer to the workplace as the epicenter, and I think it’s completely spot on. And definitely jives with what you just mentioned, Jack. It’s just the logical place to engage with folks, you know, people are already used to sort of their health benefits and kind of going to their employer for that and going to their employer for retirement savings. So why… we should be adding more and more solutions to that sort of epicenter, because people already have a level of comfort and trust, really, we do find that people trust their employer. So, and I mentioned earlier, there’s a need for more transparency and education. So let’s just go right there where people are already going. And then we can get, you know, the right solutions to the right people at the right time.

Jack Sharry: I see that. So your third finding was workers continue to seek improved well being and need support in addressing existing roadblocks. And sounds like it might be a corollary to what you were just talking about?

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yes, yeah. And this was another topic that we came back to after the first year survey. So this idea of well being which you know, talk about buzzwords, we hear about wellbeing all the time…

Jack Sharry: Financial wellness, I want some of that.

Jacquelyn Reardon: That’s another one, if you had a nickel for every time you heard.. For us, we have, you know, sort of engaged with this respondent population across three different levels of wellbeing. So, physical, mental, and financial. And we ask them to rate the importance of those three areas. Year over year, people rated them equally as important. So all three are important to them. Think about it like a stool with three legs. The only way the stool is staying afloat is because all three legs are working. We also ask people though, okay, great, which of those do you feel the least in control over and, spoiler alert, it’s financial. So people need help with their financial well being, they feel out of whack. You know, we could probably spend nine podcasts debating all the roadblocks that are, exist for people to not feel in control over their financial well being. But going back to our advisory group, the RII, they suggested that we take a little bit of a deeper dive into debt as a topic and kind of, you know, scratch that a bit and figure out what kind of broader well being impact does stress on your financial well being give you and, again, not really surprising at all, but we found that, you know, people are super duper stressed out about their debt, they’re not positive that it’s going to change. We actually validated you know, just making sure this isn’t pandemic related. And they’re like, nope, this has nothing to do with the pandemic, I would be this stressed out, I’d have this much debt without it, and I have no hope that it’ll change in the future. Super duper depressing. I’d love to share one specific call out that really, you know, gutted me a bit, but 76% of people as it relates to student loan debt said that they would have made different choices for their education if they had realized how much debt that they would get into. So I know that personally, and I, you know, for sure know that many, many people have dealt with that. So there’s this huge, huge issue of debt here. And it’s not just that it’s making people stressed out in their financial lives, because we just talked about well being as being multi faceted. So, if we have this stress financially, it’s going to impact your physical health, it’s going to impact your mental health.

Jack Sharry: Interesting. That whole behavioral aspect of what we do day to day fascinates me. Still seems early days in terms of understanding it. But, love that you’re uncovering this. So the fourth and final of the key findings is there, there’s a focus on well being that continues to include urgency in improving financial health and with key opportunities for employer support, so fill us in on that.

Jacquelyn Reardon: So if we think again, about you know, what we just mentioned about the epicenter, people are so comfortable to go to their employer, they’re really looking to their employer for help. We wanted to be very specific about what that looks like. So we found that you know, when asking people what type of resources do you have access to and you use or you don’t have access to, and you would use. Things like advice, so access to advice, access to a financial professional, financial planning tools, and education. And specifically I’ll mention here because I get this feedback a ton from all of the, you know, my marketing partners at insurance and record keeping firms etc is, what resources and tools do you have that are not retirement specific? So we get it, we should save for retirement but help us with budgeting, like, help us save for college, like, help us across the spectrum. Stop, just, you know, kind of pushing retirement down our throat. We need holistic financial tools and resources, which for sure came out in the research. They also, you know, want to be held accountable. So 80% said they’d love, like, incentive programs from their employer. Some of our listeners may work for companies where they’ve done like Fitbit challenges or like, you know, let’s meditate for a month or something, but really not like, oh, let’s budget… budget club or like a budget challenge or saving challenge. So I think that there’s an opportunity there for employers to sort of take that holistic view of well being and put some incentives and resources in place. I think the benefits stuff. So going back to kind of how we started the conversation around people really caring about benefits. One of my favorite findings and would love to kind of plaster this on the wall of every building in the US is a punch list of benefits that people are looking for. So we asked like, if your employer had some extra cash, what’s the benefit that you’d either like added or enhanced, and the salary increased and increased 401k match are at the top, unsurprisingly, but the rest of the list is, I think, a lovely punch list for any employer to sit down and kind of think through what they offer. So things like access to guaranteed income in retirement, help paying down debt, help funding my college… my kids’ college education, contributions to an emergency savings account, contributions to an HSA. So folks are really thinking beyond just, give me a raise or, you know, help me save for retirement, they’re really saying to their employer, I need your help across the full spectrum of financial resources.

Jack Sharry: Oh, so what you’re saying is holistic means more than having IRAs and taxable accounts and having a budget which no one seems to help anyone with, or financial wellness that’s defined as actually helping me figure things out about college or emergency savings… Holistic is like everything, is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Jacquelyn Reardon: Yeah.

Jack Sharry: Interesting.

Jacquelyn Reardon: No brainer, right?

Jack Sharry: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, interesting. So, as we mentioned at the top of the show, there is this convergence underway between wealth and asset management, workplace retirement and annuities, technology, it’s all coming together. And your CEO, Jenny Johnson, is, who I’m a huge fan of, is a real leader across the board, all the above, all the different elements I just talked about. So I’m curious how you’re applying the research, because it’s one thing to find stuff out, but what do you do about it? And certainly, Franklin Templeton is a leader in all the different aspects of holistic approach. So what are you guys doing about it?

Jacquelyn Reardon: So I think, you know, we mentioned earlier this idea of an epicenter, and this research is really helping, you know, validate some of the investments that we’re making internally around digital capabilities. And I love that you mentioned Jenny, because I think she really has an eye on what’s what’s next gen, right. What are the solutions that we need to be thinking about crafting. So for us, our focus is really putting money and resources around the right development internally. But I think more importantly, finding the right partners externally, whether they be record keepers, whether they be advisors, whether they be insurance companies, etc, digital firms, and really thinking with them, validated by this research, and also driven by the advisory group I mentioned earlier, kind of going back out into the market and saying, do you think this is a good idea? Would this work? Would this help you with your business? Is this a solution we should be solving? So really getting the right partners aligned and putting resources around thinking about what are the solutions that don’t exist in the market that are being asked for. You know, the benefits conversation we just had and your comment around holistic resources, like, nobody’s really solved for that yet. And we would love to be one to solve for that at some point.

Jack Sharry: So a little commercial break for Jenny and Franklin Templeton, I’m a student of smart strategy and people that have executed and she’s right at the top of my list in terms of people that are doing it all right. That’s, early days still. It’s a lot going on, but Franklin Templeton has made investments in the technology side, clearly. They’ve done it on the product and capabilities front with mergers and acquisitions over time, like Legg Mason and others. And what they’re doing in terms of their, their development of all the different capabilities you’re describing, partnerships with other record keepers and with others in the business. So, super smart strategy for those of you who are, who want to check it out. I’d heck out what Jenny’s up to she’s been on a, I noticed on a roadshow of late, talking at T3 and I saw her last fall at Tiburon. I know she’s talked to a number of other groups. But check it out. I think there’s a super smart strategy in terms of what an asset manager can do that starts to stretch the bounds of what, at least what traditionally has been done on the asset management side. So also part of that convergence as we were talking about so, but our time grows nigh. So as we do at this point in our discussion, what are three key takeaways you’d like to share with our audience about the research that you’ve found and what you’re doing about it?

Jacquelyn Reardon: So number one, employees, participants, whatever you want to call them, their goal is financial independence. It’s not traditional retirement, it’s time for us to retire the word retirement. Number two, though, they have roadblocks in sort of meeting that goal. And number three, the good news, though, is that employers can step in and help them. They can really think about the benefits they’re offering, they can make specific tools and resources available to help employees reach that goal of financial independence.

Jack Sharry: And again, a plug for Franklin Templeton, but I do this with anyone that we talk to that’s doing smart stuff. It’s great to see a company as big and as important to the industry as Franklin Templeton really leading the charge and figuring this stuff out. Because it’s going outside the bounds of the traditional asset manager to figure out how to work with, whether they’re fintech partners, or whether they’re investment partners, or even some of the venture capital work that you all have been doing. It’s how do we create solutions for the benefit of advisors and, and their clients or, or participants. So bravo, and congratulations. And I will continue to observe and applaud and root you guys on so. So, for our last question, my favorite with each of our podcasts, and that’s where we talk, it’s a little more personal… What, I’m curious, Jackie, what is something you do outside of work that you’re excited about or passionate about, that people might find interesting or surprising?

Jacquelyn Reardon: So I’m a huge music fan. In fact, my boyfriend’s a musician. If you saw the other side of our office, it’s just filled with guitars and speakers, etc. So we spend a lot of time at live shows. Probably by the end of this year, we’ll have gone to maybe like 40 concerts. Very busy summer coming up. I’m excited that we’re kind of in this late stage of the pandemic for many reasons, but one of them is that live music is definitely back.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. I love it. I love it. So thanks, Jackie. This has been a great conversation. Thanks for the research. Thanks for your perspective on it. Very timely and useful. And I look forward to seeing how you guys play it all out. So, for audience, if you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please rate, review, subscribe, and share what we’re doing here at WealthTech on Deck. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, Jackie. It’s been a real pleasure.

Jacquelyn Reardon: Thanks so much, Jack.