If your retirement plan provider hasn’t yet entered the mobile app market, you could be missing out on an important opportunity to educate your 401(k) plan members.

“The boat has sailed,” says Evelyn Varner, director of interactive platform management for Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s personal wealth and retirement business. “If you are not in this space already, you are in trouble. We are not looking forward to a mobile revolution. It has happened. You need to be there now.”

In a straight up competition between desktop computers and mobile devices, mobile devices win, she says.

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People in the United States are very attached to their mobile devices so Bank of America Merrill Lynch continues to enhance what people can do on the go, Varner says, from changing their user ID, to enrolling in the plan, to updating beneficiaries and scheduling a call outside of the mobile environment.

And the company isn’t alone. Many retirement plan vendors have jumped on the mobile bandwagon.

MassMutual Retirement Services just released a mobile app called RetireSmartSM, which gives consumers 24/7 access to their retirement savings account information as part of a broader, multi-app mobile technology strategy.

“Our customers expect instant access to information through their mobile devices and that includes access to their retirement account information,” says Heather Smiley, chief marketing officer for retirement services and worksite insurance. “The launch of the RetireSmart app means our customers and agents now have anytime, anywhere access to important plan information to help them make smart decisions about retirement savings.”

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MassMutual will introduce additional apps during the course of the year to meet a wide range of goals, including continual improvement, ease of doing business, retirement education and motivating retirement plan savers to become more retirement ready.

“Overall, outpacing the market for customer experience is our number one priority,” Smiley says. “We are making more changes in investments and customer experience than anyone in the industry. Part of our larger strategy is to pay attention to what people are actually doing.”

MassMutual found that more than 30% of the hits to its RetireSmart website come from mobile devices. Since it launched its new app a few weeks ago, the app has been downloaded 16,000 times, she says.

“From a worldwide trend perspective, I heard over the past week that there is better access to mobile phones across the globe than even modern day sanitation facilities. So that’s extremely important,” she adds.

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So what does a mobile-first strategy mean in actuality? It means more focus on biometrics and “how we use that to drive access,” Smiley says.

Varner says that for her company, it isn’t just jamming their current website information into the confines of a smartphone.

“It is driving those transactional areas into their hand when they need it and allowing them access to outside support as they need it,” she said. “Going forward we need to do more. It is not just enough to move content and transactions. We need to look carefully how people consume information.”

That also means delivering the same mobile experience across different mobile devices.

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The company wants to take what it has learned from its Merrill Lynch Clear apps and the interest it has seen in its educational content and use that to beef up employees’ overall financial wellness.

That means offering hyper-personalized experiences, Varner says.

“It is not just about good content but taking the know-how about an individual and what they want to accomplish and using mechanisms we can build into the mobile experience to turn it into action,” she says.

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Merrill Lynch Clear offers a more comprehensive way to help people navigate to and through retirement. The new framework helps participants prepare for retirement by exploring seven life priorities, including health, home, family, finance, giving, work and leisure. It also provides education and insight about priorities and concerns through a series of videos, guides, seminars and other rich content to help people make informed decisions, the company says.

Merrill Lynch offers a number of iPad Discovery Apps to help facilitate deeper conversations between advisers and clients. The first apps in the series focus on Social Security, health care, lifetime income and knowing your investment personality.

“When we developed our mobile technology, we wanted it to look and feel like something someone wanted to play with,” Varner says.

New technology, such as the Apple Watch, is fueling even more changes in the retirement mobile technology space.

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Having plan information in a mobile-friendly format “keeps it top of mind,” says Smiley.

MassMutual also offers MapMyBenefits, an app that allows participants to prioritize their financial needs, see what insurance coverage they might need and helps them plan a route that will help them make the best decisions based on what they can afford. The company plans to incorporate retirement projection tools into this app.

In the company’s FutureSmart app, participants can upload a photo of themselves and the app will age their photo to what they might look like at retirement age.

“It is kind of fun, but kind of depressing,” Smiley says.

“We want to stay up to date with cool technology and how it is being used. We are probably not going to be inventors of those things, but we are a fast follower and will capitalize on those trends,” she adds.

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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