Basketball great Bill Bradley first came to the nation’s attention when, as a freshman at Princeton, he sank 57 consecutive free throws, more than any player before—amateur or professional.

Some might say he was lucky. Others might claim innate skill. While both may be true, this remarkable feat would almost certainly have been impossible without many hours of diligent practice. For more than three hours every day, Bradley honed his craft practicing set shots, hook shots, jump shots, and over-the-shoulder shots. Over time, Bradley could sink that over-the-shoulder shot without even glancing at the basket.

“When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t have to look at the basket when you’re this close in,” Bradley told The New Yorker writer John McPhee. “You develop a sense of where you are.”¹

While we admire this kind of dedication in our sports heroes, few of us have the time or patience to master skills beyond those needed in our careers. Yet an ability to accurately assess where we stand in relation to a goal would be a valuable asset, on the court and in life. This is especially true for long-term financial goals, like retirement.

Only one-third of Americans surveyed could correctly answer three simple questions about money and investing, according to a study on financial literacy by The Wharton School’s Olivia Mitchell and George Washington University’s Annamaria Lusardi.² “Many people make poor economic decisions because they are financially illiterate,” the researchers concluded.

Simplifying decision-making

Here at Vanguard, we realize that drawing up a sound, long-term financial plan rarely rises to the top of a participant’s to-do list. So we spend our time figuring out how to make saving for retirement easier to understand—and to act on. With this in mind, we’ve redesigned our participant homepage to give even the most novice investors an instant “sense of where they are” when it comes to their retirement planning. The new homepage began rollout in late summer, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll see it soon when you log on to vanguard.com/retirementplans.Note: This is a hypothetical example of Vanguard’s participant homepage.
Source: Vanguard

Just as before, account balances will be prominently displayed because we know that understanding “what I have” is the number one reason participants log on. Next to the balance will be an illustration of “what my balance means,” which translates retirement savings into a projected income stream. Participants will know, at a glance, whether they are on track to achieve the income they need in retirement, thanks to the power of Vanguard’s Retirement Readiness Calculator and the sophisticated Vanguard Capital Markets Model®.

If participants find they’re not on track, a likely first question will be, “What should I do?” And that answer is what we aim to deliver. Based on their personal information, we provide the single best action they can take next to improve their retirement outlook. Many will get a suggestion to raise their savings rate. It’s the most immediate change most of us could make to improve our retirement prospects. It might suggest they save a little more to make the most of their company match. Or increase savings to get closer to the 12%–15% that Vanguard recommends. For others, it may be an investing suggestion encouraging them to increase their diversification. Whatever prompt they get, an accompanying “take action” button will make it easy to make the suggested change.

A check on overconfidence

As Americans we tend to be a confident bunch—sometimes too confident. When that happens, we rely on people we trust—friends, family, teachers, mentors, colleagues—to provide a healthy dose of reality.

In this same way, our redesigned homepage can help your employees gain clarity about their personal retirement prospects while they still have time to make improvements. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening.

The pilot phase of the homepage has shown remarkable results. More than three times as many participants are interacting with the Retirement Readiness Calculator, entering additional data and modeling the impact of changes. The more they tell us about themselves, the more personalized and useful the results can become. More importantly, beyond simply engaging, participants are taking action and increasing their savings rates.

While these results are fantastic, we believe we can still do better. We’ll continue to test, learn, and refine the experience so that every participant can make great decisions about their future. Ideally with just one click. When participants gain a sense of where they are, and what they should do next, we’re making progress toward our core mission: To help participants achieve retirement success.

¹ A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee, The New Yorker, January 23, 1965. If Bradley’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he went on to play for the New York Knicks for ten years, then served three terms as a U.S. senator from New Jersey.

² Financial Literacy and Economic Outcomes: Evidence and Policy Implications, by Olivia S. Mitchell and Annamaria Lusardi, January 2015, Pension Research Council, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Notes:

  • All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.
  • Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.
  • IMPORTANT: The projections and other information generated by the Vanguard Capital Markets Model regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results. VCMM results will vary with each use and over time.
  • The VCMM projections are based on a statistical analysis of historical data. Future returns may behave differently from the historical patterns captured in the VCMM. More important, the VCMM may be underestimating extreme negative scenarios unobserved in the historical period on which the model estimation is based.
  • The Vanguard Capital Markets Model is a proprietary financial simulation tool developed and maintained by Vanguard’s primary investment research and advice teams. The model forecasts distributions of future returns for a wide array of broad asset classes. Those asset classes include U.S. and international equity markets, several maturities of the U.S. Treasury and corporate fixed income markets, international fixed income markets, U.S. money markets, commodities, and certain alternative investment strategies. The theoretical and empirical foundation for the Vanguard Capital Markets Model is that the returns of various asset classes reflect the compensation investors require for bearing different types of systematic risk (beta). At the core of the model are estimates of the dynamic statistical relationship between risk factors and asset returns, obtained from statistical analysis based on available monthly financial and economic data from as early as 1960. Using a system of estimated equations, the model then applies a Monte Carlo simulation method to project the estimated interrelationships among risk factors and asset classes as well as uncertainty and randomness over time. The model generates a large set of simulated outcomes for each asset class over several time horizons. Forecasts are obtained by computing measures of central tendency in these simulations. Results produced by the tool will vary with each use and over time.