Future-self Visualizations in Pension Communication

That old guy there isn’t me: People have problems identifying with their future selves. Developing visualizations of ‘hoped-for’ and ‘feared-for’ future selves to help activate pension plan participants.

Project title

The influence of future-self visualizations in pension communication

Summary

People often cannot identify with their future selves. For that reason, they may not plan ahead and thus save too little. Recently, NYU Professor Hal Hershfield proposed an innovative way to make people more future-oriented: age-processing their pictures so they better visualize themselves at retirement. We adapt this idea in a mass communication context and develop different visualizations of retired people. These visualizations reflect “hoped-for” versus “feared-for” future selves in general as well as in a material and social setting. The advantage of using such visualizations is that they can be used in regular pension communications such as the cover letter of the Uniform Pension Statement (UPO, a Dutch pension information letter required by law) or in general advertisements. We find that visualizations of future selves makes participants more safety-oriented during retirement. The general hoped-for visualization makes participants more willing to consume less today and save more for retirement when compared to a control group.

Method

We crafted pictures that reflect “hoped-for” versus “feared-for” future selves.

The pictures used looked for example like

Future-self 1

Future-self 2

We use the pictures in a field experiment with employees of a large Dutch insurer and pension provider. Approximately 200 responses were received to a survey in which one of the pictures was shown on the top of every page as a banner.

Results

Visualizations of future selves makes participants more safety-oriented during retirement. The general hoped-for visualization makes participants more willing to consume less today and save more for retirement when compared to a control group.

Implications

Visualizations can activate possible future selves. Activation of future selves affects peoples’ risk and time preferences. Apparently, this tool stimulates people to choose more safety for retirement. Using the general hoped-for visualization might be the best choice for pension communication.

Lead researchers Lisa Brüggen (Maastricht University), Ingrid Rohde (Maastricht University), Mijke van de Broeke (Aegon)

Project partners Aegon, Netspar

Project status finished

Full project report Different people, different choices

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