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Author: Don Obrien

Curated, Customized And Current Financial Wellness Strategies


As we all know, it is not uncommon for employees to be stressed about their finances, particularly coming off a year of so much uncertainty. PwC’s 2021 Employee Financial Wellness Survey revealed that 63% of workers claim their financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic. What was more shocking was to hear that employees still do not know about the financial wellness programs offered by their employer and do not realize that they can get personalized support that can help them reach their financial goals in a meaningful way.  

 Financial wellness, like physical wellness, is not something people should ignore. Moreover, it can be difficult to improve any part of wellbeing when financial stress looms over everyday activities. When employees are anxious about bills and other financial burdens, their overall wellbeing slips, including their career wellbeing, as they may be distracted and lose their ability to stay focused on work projects. Most employees do not take the time to understand their financial wellbeing goals or their company’s health and wealth benefit offerings. Education and awareness are important but won’t necessarily lead to behavior change. Financial wellness must be an important part of the company culture, a priority, and the norm within the organization, and it must be personalized to each individual.

It is essential for the employees to understand their WHY. What is their purpose in saving money? Is it about getting out of debt, paying credit cards off, paying the house off, saving for the kid’s college, or maybe having the ability to retire at a reasonable age, and just have overall financial freedom and less stress? Without that intrinsic motivation, it is hard to modify one’s behavior and manage impulse buying, often resulting in maxing out one’s credit card, only to pay off the interest.      

Employers can positively impact their employees’ future by equipping leaders and managers with the skills to start a discussion about financial wellbeing.  Simply starting the conversation with new hires about the wealth and health benefits at the organization, such as healthcare, retirement, bonus, vacation, and even time off, will help employees understand the total compensation package and that the employer cares about their wellbeing. When an employee is new, it is the perfect time to educate them about the financial wellness resources, tools, and personalized coaching.

However, it is also very important to keep the communication about these benefits consistently and especially during key milestones that an employee may go through such as a marriage, new baby, promotion etc.  When employers do not prioritize financial wellness, an opportunity for a new job may come up for the employee, and they could end up leaving their job for $5-10K more and not realize they left a lot of money on the table by not understanding the value of the healthcare benefits, the 401K matching, the stock options/bonus, the personal time off, the training and development investment, etc.    

The Positive Impact on Employee Financial Wellbeing when a Manager Cares 

Nearly two decades ago, a very prominent beverage company had an impactful benefits manager.  He would spend nearly an hour with each new hire and make sure they understood the total compensation package, including the health benefits, and the financial and physical wellbeing programs. He spent copious amounts of time explaining the Health Savings Account and the opportunity to grow that as an investment fund to employees. He would even create an excel spreadsheet based on the individuals age and income bracket to help them see the potential wealth they could create for their future. He was a legend, and when he retired, many employees wrote letters and emails with stories of doubling their wealth due to his guidance as well as stories about passing up outside opportunities due to the financial wellbeing program offered within this organization.  It certainly became a recruiting and retention strategy for the organization.  

 Twenty years later, financial wellbeing is even more critical and a strategy that can genuinely provide an employer a competitive advantage.  Financial wellness is essential. According to Prudential,  83 percent of employers offer some form of a financial wellness program, which makes everyone more satisfied. 

Nancy DeRusso, Head of Financial Wellness at Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management, shared 4 key points that employers and employees should focus on:  

  1. Ways employers can help alleviate financial stress and foster financial wellness 
  2. The role of company benefits to enhance total employee wellbeing 
  3. How the pandemic impacted financial wellness/trends in financial wellness 
  4. Corporate America’s role in providing financial wellness resources 

 Nancy stated that poor financial wellbeing is costing employees AND the employer; she said employees are stressed, distracted, and less productive due to worry about finances because;  

  1. Employees do not know where to start with their financial wellbeing; so, they do nothing 
  2. Employees do not always want to talk to their employer about finances; but a coach is ok 
  3. Education is essential, but it is only part of the solutions; action is critical   
  4. Employees have not spent time on understanding their WHY? (intrinsic motivation will help them anchor to something bigger than just money; i.e., Supporting their family, giving back to the community, retiring comfortably, paying for their children’s college, providing, reducing their stress and being more present.    

 In her experience, Nancy stated that the top employers prioritize financial wellbeing and try to alleviate this source of stress. Specifically, these forward-thinking employers remove barriers by offering financial coaches to talk to employees. These financial coaches provide education and awareness of the tools and resources. However, even more importantly, they work with the individuals to create a specific and customized financial plan based on the individual’s short- and long-term goals. Together the financial coach and employee identify their most significant barriers and co-create strategies and plans that are achievable.  There is no one-size-fits-all; these coaches are trained to get the participant to identify their unique challenges as well as identify the solutions that are achievable. Together they set goals and have regular check ins to ensure the pursuit to financial freedom is achieved. The coaches help participants build in “nudges” to make the experience seamless, such as auto enrollment and key financial investment strategies and program pushes around typical life cycles such as having a baby, marriage, divorce, high school graduations, birthdays, promotions, moving.  Nudging people to act takes a more complicated task, breaking down the complexity, and makes it simple, timely, and personalized.   

 There is no longer a one size fits all, and big data has also helped curate this customized and automated approach. Nancy works with a client to integrate the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy to ensure that all employees get their needs met.   Each member within the corporate community is seen, heard, represented and involved in this creating a financial plan that is meaningful and relevant for them.     

 Nancy notes that over the last five years there has been a real focus on financial wellbeing, but there is still room to expand and scale.  She shared the top five tangible tips that could be implemented immediately:  

  5 Tangible Tips  

  1. Make it relevant and meet the individual where they are right now  
  2. Create Clear, Concise, Consistent, and Creative Communications 
  3. Partner with an independent financial advisor (not an internal employee) that can provide financial coaches, financial content, customized strategies, and relevant products  
  4. Meet with every new hire and pair them with a financial wellbeing coach day one, and check in with long term employees as well  
  5. Providing relevant benefits and give choices; (salary options, student loan or 401K match options, High Deductible plan with Health Savings Account saving opportunities, auto enrollment, auto escalation of retirement savings  

 Post Commentary: What will be interesting is to see how AI and Machine Learning may impact personalized finance.  Here is a quick read if this is of interest. Can Machines “Learn” Finance? was named the winner of the 2020 Harry M. Markowitz Award. Machine learning for asset management faces a unique set of challenges that differ markedly from other domains where machine learning has excelled. This article discusses a variety of beneficial use cases and potential pitfalls for machine learning in asset management and emphasize the importance of economic theory and human expertise for achieving success through financial machine learning.



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Oliver Bolt

Oliver Bolt

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