BY DENNIS HEALY
In characterizing 2020, many have said, “We are all in the same storm; we are not all in the same boat.” Our experiences and the long-term impact can be tremendously different. Similarly, employees move through varying levels of financial wellness across different stages of their lives, from starting their careers to nearing retirement — and through myriad ups and downs along the way. For employers that want to provide programs and benefits that address employees’ personal fiscal needs and goals, there is usually no one-size-fits-all approach.
However, there is a common denominator when it comes to financial wellness, or the lack thereof: more employees than ever admit to being stressed about their financial situation. And according to PwC’s 9th annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey, more employees say that financial matters cause them the most stress than any other life stressors combined.
The need for an increased focus on employee financial well-being comes at a time when they may be in a very different place than they were just a year ago. The stress and uncertainty in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has illustrated that for many Americans, one medical disaster, accident or stock market dive could mean going from financially solvent too deep in debt overnight.
How do your clients define financial wellness, and is it a priority for them? Furthermore, what can you do to ensure they are able to proactively provide the programs and tools, especially during these challenging economic times, to help their employees reach that next level?
FINANCIAL WELLNESS DEFINED
The term “financial wellness” generally refers to an individual’s financial health and the process of understanding how to knowledgeably manage their assets. Cautioning that traditional measurements such as income and net worth don’t always tell the full story, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) expands on the definition of financial well-being, adding such factors as:
- Having an ability to meet financial needs day-to-day and over time
- Having the capacity to absorb a financial shock
- Feeling secure in the financial future, and/or
- Having the financial freedom to make the choices that allow you to enjoy life.
GAUGING THE VARYING LEVELS OF FINANCIAL WELLNESS
As employees come in to work each day, they’ve got a lot on their minds from a financial perspective. Among the most pressing questions is how they’ll pay their bills and meet their essential financial obligations. In the aftermath of the pandemic, it makes painfully clear for many the importance of fundamental financial planning concepts, like managing cash flow, addressing debt challenges and saving for emergencies. Yet for employers, it’s often difficult to determine what employees are going through — as people usually don’t enjoy talking about their financial status and struggles.
Here are some illustrations that may help you visualize employees’ financial frame of mind – and some of the actions they may be taking (or putting off) – to gauge their different levels of financial well-being:
- Financial survival: Struggling with paying bills, credit card debt that can’t be paid off each month. Constantly searching for the means to pay for essential items (food, gas, rent/mortgage) and living paycheck to paycheck. No emergency savings started and no financial plan in place. Potentially depleting retirement accounts to cover shortfall.
- Financial management: Taking initial steps to analyze spending habits, creating a budget (like 80% of Americans) and starting to save for emergency situations, such as car repairs or medical bills. Also forming an action plan to pay off credit card debt and other bills. Saving more proactively for retirement.
- Financial direction: Has met or plans to meet with a financial planner or advisor. Implemented both a short- term and long-range financial plan and is investing regularly in a retirement savings plan. Has more fiscal flexibility to take on new endeavors, like a remodeling project or a family vacation.
- Financial freedom: Through disciplined and proactive financial management over time, the employee has minimized debt while maximizing savings potential, can look forward to a comfortable retirement, has created an estate plan as well as arrangements for long-term care, and as the CFPB suggests above, is enjoying life to the fullest without financial
WHAT YOUR CLIENTS CAN OFFER TO HELP EMPLOYEES GO TO THE “NEXT LEVEL”
More and more employers are recognizing the need for employees to take control of their personal finances and the impact on their overall well-being. In response, workplace financial wellness programs are offered by 53% of firms, twice as many as four years ago, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Keeping the above financial categories in mind, what programs or benefits can your clients offer their employees to help them go “next level” when it comes to financial wellness?
A pivotal first step is to find programs that offer the information and assistance employees are actually looking for. Though the vast majority (91%) of workers who have participated in office programs spoke to their overall effectiveness, there can be a disconnect between what employers offer and what people are seeking help with.
For instance, employers surveyed believe that budgeting and handling income or expenses are the most important financial skills, while employees prioritize saving and investing for the future.
Consider this: workers would also like to focus on individual items one step at a time, while companies are instead looking more holistically at the impact of employer benefits on overall personal finances. So, start by better understanding your employees’ priorities and different levels of financial literacy. This could be done through employee surveys and workplace assessments.
The CFPB offers these additional suggestions for clients to help their employees improve their financial wellness.
These considerations include:
- Making your financial wellness program an ongoing education experience proves to be much more effective than a “one-and-done” program. Create multiple touchpoints over an extended period of time to create behavioral
- Connecting employees to “just-in-time” information that is timely, relevant and actionable is that is timely, relevant and actionable is is important. People are more likely to pay attention if the information is connected to an important life event or their desire to achieve a goal.
- Keeping your presentations and content short. Webinars and seminars should be less than an hour and printed materials should be brief.
Part of your solution to help employees improve their financial wellness may be right in front of you. The CFPB suggests reviewing existing human resources programs and employee benefit resources that can be leveraged as part of your financial wellness program. For example, your organization’s financial, banking or life insurance partners may have tools, programs or websites designed for your employees that you may not be fully promoting.
Also consider what benefits could supplement your existing programs – and help employees get a leg up on the financial wellness ladder. This could include offering benefits like a student loan repayment plan that can help employees eventually break free from college loan debt and focus more on savings goals.
Another benefit to consider offering is legal insurance. It helps mitigate financial risk as it often includes a financial education feature that could contribute to employees’ financial wellness. Legal insurance plans can provide assistance for employees facing debt issues, needing financial counseling and looking to set or meet financial goals, among other things.
Helping employees get to the next level of their financial wellness is a win-win initiative for both you and them: they achieve more financial goals, which in turn leads to less stress both at work and at home. Plus, you open the door to higher levels of employee well-being and workplace productivity in the process.
DENNIS HEALY is a passionate advocate for legal insurance because he has seen firsthand how it helps people receive the protection and legal help they need. He has nearly 30 years of insurance industry experience, with a primary focus on the sale of group voluntary benefit products to employer groups of all sizes through the broker and consultant community.