This Is the $16,122 Social Security Question

This is part 4 of the Twin-Peaks-style saga, Retirement Isn’t All Sunshine and Palm Trees, following part 1, part 2, and part 3.

During our chats with people preparing for or in early retirement, many mentioned that they wouldn’t be able to afford to retire without Social Security supplementing their other savings. They aren’t alone. One in six Americans currently receive Social Security benefits, and the number of elderly recipients is only increasing. By 2031, Americans age 65 and older are projected to nearly double.

While Social Security is only a part of people’s retirement plan, it is an essential part for many retirees. 61% of aged beneficiaries received at least half of their income from Social Security in 2014. One in four rely on Social Security for 90% of their income. No wonder so many people are intrigued by the “$16,122 Social Security bonus”.

But if so many people were interested in learning about Social Security and struggling to manage their whole retirement portfolio — exactly what our Rule Your Retirement and Social Security package targets — why were so many new customers canceling their orders?

A Deeper Look at The Current Experience

We conducted usability testing and analysis of the the Fool’s existing Social Security report, “Money for a Lifetime: 7 Simple Steps to Getting the Most From Social Security”, and found that people struggled to navigate the decision tree and determine which sections applied to their situation.

“How do I work this thing??”

They also couldn’t tell that this was related to their new Rule Your Retirement subscription and how to get to the product site (nor were they enticed to do so). It was clear we had found some great optimization opportunities.

We’re Here to Help

We wanted to run a test that addressed the usability and branding issues, believing it could increase information comprehension, bump up the number of people that made it to the RYR product, and ultimately drive down new membership refunds.

Balsamiq Mockups — Heart!!

We worked through wireframe prototype tests and improved the concept based on user feedback through

This eventually lead us to “The Interviewer”, which felt more like a conversation with an expert than a generic online report.

We all need a little more Bro in our lives

Put a Little Bro in it

Rather than dumping the user on the report immediately after purchase, we added a page to introduce Robert Brokamp (“Bro”), the lead advisor behind Rule Your Retirement. He is quite possibly the most “Foolish” person I know at The Motley Fool (a good thing), and cares deeply about each of our members. Therefore, we wanted to give his personality a chance to shine through.

A touch of Bro throughout

We even sprinkled “Bro heads” throughout the experience to maintain the thread of personality and make it feel like readers are not alone in trying to understand Social Security.

Improving Comprehension, One Question at a Time

The existing report was challenging to navigate because it flowed users through a decision tree of jump links and had all of the repot text in a single section at the end. It was unclear how someone was supposed to use it and how tidbits of information provided in the decision tree related to the nearly 30 pages of content that followed.

Question and focused content

To make the experience more intuitive, we broke each question out into separate pages. Based on the user’s response, we either asked follow-up questions or provided specific insights and explanations that applied to their situation. In usability testing, we found users had a much easier time understanding the guidance we provided and digesting the information.

So What About This B(r)onus??

The current report left users wondering if the “bonus” mentioned in the advertisement was or was not available for them. In our test, we added explicit information and guidance to help users determine whether or not the strategy could be available to them. Because this product is not regulated, we collaborated closely with our legal team to ensure we were being as specific as possible without implying personalized advice.

The Results

We let the test run for 90 days (which felt like an eternity) to ensure we had sufficient volume. After that time, we saw:

  1. Information comprehension improved. Our usability test showed people were able to navigate and comprehend the interviewer better than the control. We received helpful (and anticipated) feedback that they would still like to be able to print out their report.
  2. Repeat Rule Your Retirement site visits jumped 7%. And 8.4% more people made it to the Rule Your Retirement product (many never make it in from the Social Security report at all).
  3. The exit rate decreased from almost 40% to 2.3%. We’re generally cautious about driving users through a large number of pages, worried that the drop-off rate through pages would add up significantly. Surprisingly, we saw that a huge percentage of people made it through the entire experience (at least five to six pages) and continued on.
  4. 30-Day cancellations were flat. There wasn’t a statistically significant difference in cancellation rates. However, we were able to see in the test that a large number of cancels came from people that had already claimed Social Security (and to whom the report doesn’t apply). We hadn’t been able to determine claim status in the past, so now we’ll be able to serve up alternative information that is more applicable.
Public display of affection

Spreading the Word

Sharing research and testing results in a way that gets others excited about what we’ve learned is always a challenge. My colleague, Holly, has done an amazing job creating enticing infographics with her results, and she’s gotten more traction with them than any report style we’ve tried in the past. Hoping to get a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings to think Social Security is the coolest, I created a physical, interactive infographic that I pinned up in a high-traffic coffee area at Fool HQ. Our CFO said he found himself sucked in while waiting for his coffee to brew.

What’s Next?

I’m currently working on the next iteration of the Interviewer, hoping that a few improvements can make a dent in the stubborn cancellation rate. These are the new features we’re currently adding:

  1. Saving user’s answers. Users will no longer have to remember how they responded to questions.
  2. Generating a printable report. It’s still hard for users to get through the dense content, especially on the computer. Once we’re saving users’ answers, we’ll be able to provide a full, printable report to each user who completes the questionnaire.

So, What About Those Palm Trees?

I hope that once our work is complete, we’ll take the weighty and complicated decision of when to claim Social Security and make it feel a bit less complicated and overwhelming. Social Security itself is frighteningly convoluted to many people, and it’s only one of
many confusing decisions soon-to-be retirees contend with.

Personally, I still have hopes of a fun retirement on the beach, but I would say I have a much less romanticized view of it these days. It’s clearly not just about choosinga cushy retirement community and parking my golf cart.

Now I talk more with my parents and in-laws about their plans and concerns as they make their own retirement transitions. They seem relieved that I’m interested and happy to talk about their concerns. My dad got so excited about my interest in the subject he ran off to the library and copied his favorite retirement book for me, page by page, on an old Xerox machine. (I’m pretty sure he was rocking his 80’s fanny pack while he did it.) I hope the changes we’ve made (and continue to make) help The Motley Fool’s members feel like they, too, have an interested, knowledgeable advisor helping them along their journey.

It’s been awesome seeing where we ended up and the journey that we took to get here. I look forward to seeing where we go next.

See you in 25 years.

A special thank you to my friend, Sara Hov, for taking the time to edit this endless saga for nothing but love and lulz.