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Using behavioural design to successfully increase savings retained at retirement

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Tools delivered

Contextual enquiry

Journey mapping


Customer profiling

User/Choice Context design



Pilots and A/B testing

1. The challenge

Many people draw down a large chunk of cash from their retirement benefit at retirement age, spending it all too quickly and leaving insufficient funds to cater for their lifestyle and health needs. As part of a team of applied behavioural economists, I was asked by a global insurance provider to increase their customers' likelihood of continuing to save for retirement and to increase the value retained in retirement savings.





Build capability

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Financial Services and Products

2. Approach

Initially we explored and identified key time periods for decision-making prior to retirement, mapping out the customers' retirement decision points from a representative set of customers. We realised we needed to start influencing customers up to 10 years prior to retirement, before they had mentally accounted for their funds.  I designed a series of communication prototypes for the key channels, including text messages, emails and call centre scripts, to be sent at key decision points to influence and better assist members to make an informed retirement savings decision. A/B testing, conducted with the help of the client's member solutions team, was used to select optimal text messages.

I worked with the client’s legal, product and customer experience teams to revise and refine the prototypes to ensure they were impactful, system ready, legally compliant and brand relevant. Along with a consulting assistant, we ran a series of role playing and training workshops with call centre agents to refine the script and to embed guiding principles of behavioural science.


Customer experience team, Legal team, Product owners, ABE partner and assistant, Call centre manager

3. Outcome

Through redesigning the conversation blueprint and embedding behavioural economics concepts into these conversations, the client saw a 140% increase in the value of retirement benefits conserved over the course of a six-week pilot period. Our team was then retained to roll out these learnings across the contact centre, resulting in a 155% increase in the value of retirement benefits conserved.

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Anchor 1

Retirements savings are too often cashed in, leaving insufficient funds for retirement

At retirement, people hope to live in the same way they've become accustomed to throughout their working career or, better, to enjoy travelling and adventures with their newly found retirement freedom. Yet, many people take a large cash chunk of the funds they've built up in retirement savings products over the years and spend it all too quickly. Typically the availability of the funds at retriement age is too much to resist and many have already mentally accounted for the funds. In addition, the financial decision options at retirement are complex and are often presented to customers with so much information that the choice becomes overwhelming. We discovered our client was contacting their clients after many of them had already mentally accounted for the funds and expected to receive it imminently.


To improve South Africans' ability to retire comfortably in later life (one of Treasury’s key objectives) and meaningfully impact on the savings rate of the population (one of South Africa’s key hindrances to economic growth), our client asked us to identify a solution to help their customers make better retirement fund decisions.

Mapping out the retirement decision points

We explored and identified the key time periods for decision making prior to retirement: mapping out the retirement decision points within the customer journey. Rather than focusing on the customer journey, we focused on the key decision points to identify points to influence and better assist members to make and informed annuity decision. I listened to customer care recordings and reviewed the client’s documents, processes and points of contact.

The insights that surfaced during the “understanding” or discover phase of the work revealed that the proposition communications were information heavy, unclear on the customer benefit and did not provide a salient course of action for interested customers. ​We determined that communication was needed in the 10 year period prior to retirement, and then again within three month window of retirement.


To cater for the different user or customer scenarios, I developed rough desciption of customer scenarios or personas to provide specific communication and information solutions for these different scenarios. Different customers had different annuity products, a range of level in financial knowledge and were subject to very different legal rules regarding savings withdrawals.

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Designing communication solutions and nudges for decision points

We developed three text message prototypes and two emails for each time period, to deliver on these two key intervention periods, and developed a suggested script for the call centre to use in decision making phone calls with customers. The text messages primed members to expect a call from the client, incorporating options to act or to be more passive. Integrating behavioural science tenets to increase engagement, the communication was designed to nudge people into maintaining the savings balance during retirement to generate monthly income. We were unsure as to how customers would respond to the text message and so used A/B testing to identify the optimal messages from the prototypes, enabled by the availability of click-through rates as metric to assess impact.

The 1 year and 10 year prior emails were designed to reduce the effort to understand the process and choices thereby helping customers make decisions. I focused on simplifying the communication (while balancing legal communication requirements), using images and graphics to increase engagement around the options, and providing access to the client's wellbeing programme - a key objective for the client. We also primed people to invest their balance at retirement rather than to mentally account for the funds in hand.

A script outline was prepared for the 'pre-commitment' outbound call, made to retiring members in the three months prior to retirement. In our contact-centre pilot, we revised scripts, objection-handling guides and conversation guides. We incorporated many well-known heuristics into these materials such as personalisation, social proof, self-generation and messenger effect.


We focused on building capability with the call centre agents in using nudges to direct customers to navigate discussions effectively, rather than requiring adherance to the script. We ran training sessions with the call centre agents, building their capability in using conversations guides to navigate discussions effectively.

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Resulting in a large increase in the value of retirement savings benefits

After redesigning the conversation blueprint, planning for earlier and better intervention conversations and embedding behavioural economics concepts into these conversations, the client saw a 140% increase in the value of retirement benefits conserved over the course of a six-week pilot period.The improved communication channels included the initial campaign text messages, emails and the customer contact-centre. The success of the project was not only based on an increased response rate to text messages and initial emails but also on the higher funds retention rate from contact-centre agents who used a behaviourally informed call script. 

Our broader consulting team was then retained to assist in the roll out of these learnings across the contact centre. At this point, the team was able to refine the communication based on learnings from the pilot. For example, we had used too many graphics which were distracing and could offer customers the option to make a choice without using the client's financial wellness programme.  


From the roll-out, funds retained increased from R250-million annually to R600-million (a 155% increase), realising considerable value for the client and delivering a 19-times return on investment, whilst ensuring retiring individuals had retained their savings securing a better and happier lifestyle in retirement. Customer retention increased by 24% resulting in better customer financial wellness, and increased investment with our client.

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