Jumping the barriers to a financial well-being program

This past August, I had the pleasure of spending two days with a small group of large employers to talk about financial well-being. We discussed what financial well-being meant to them personally and professionally and how we as HR Professionals could help the many Americans who struggle today with financial stress. What was revealed was not a shocker: everyone is impacted on a personal level when it comes to their financial situation, yet every situation is completely unique to the individual. As employers, each person in that room felt it was their role to help their employees get to a state of financial well-being “because no one else is able to offer a comprehensive solution.” However, most employers are struggling to get started.

“The best way to help employees with their individual needs and situation is to provide access to a human advisor or counselor that can help them with their financial questions and goals.” Chelsea Sellars, Director, Innovation

So, what is preventing employers from offering a comprehensive and practical financial well-being program? Engaging employees in the program is key, yet the level of engagement needed is pretty daunting. It takes vast amounts of data and personalized communications to really meet employees where they are and ensure you are helping them with their unique situations. One employer said to me “How do you sustain this level of engagement with limited resources and competing priorities?”

We’ve found there are three ways employers can tackle the engagement burden while also providing the financial well-being services their employees need.

Provide access to advice and counseling.

The best way to help employees with their individual needs and situation is to provide access to a human advisor or counselor that can help them with their financial questions and goals. There are so many tools and materials available today for employees that it can be very overwhelming and may not truly help the employee or answer their questions. It’s also a lot of work for the HR team to maintain engagement and utilization of these tools and services. A MetLife Study confirms that employees are turning to their employers for access to financial advice. And a new survey by the Principal Financial Services and The Center for Generational Kinetics found that the top most valued resource for financial advice was a live financial advisor.

However, this survey also shows that among the younger workforce, 33% do not feel they have the money required to access a live advisor, and 18% don’t know where to turn to find an advisor, and therefore they don’t utilize these resources. Employers can help to address these issues by providing their employees access to these professionals.

Communicate the purpose of the program and tie in with the needs of your employees.

Some employers who have started to offer a few financial well-being services are struggling with utilization because their employees do not understand how the service being provided can help them or why the employer is starting to offer these benefits. For example, employees of one employer were not turning to the financial counselors that were offered because they felt that those counselors were only available to help them with investments – most of the employees did not have enough money to invest. These employees needed help with things like budgeting and paying down debt. While those counselors were available for these needs as well, the employees didn’t recognize the service being provided.

Employers must keep their internal communications simple while also explaining the purpose and goal of these programs so that employees can understand how these services and tools can help them with their specific situation.

Lean on your vendors.

Chances are, employees already have access to many different financial solutions through their current benefits providers. When approaching your current vendors about different services they offer, it is important to find out what type of onboarding, promotional and ongoing communications and engagement strategies they have in place to help employees understand the new service and to keep them engaged. You can go a step further and even demand that these communication and engagement services be included in the solution being provided. Moving the responsibility of communicating and engaging with employees for certain financial wellness services to the vendor will certainly help to alleviate the workload for the HR staff. Keep in mind though that these communications will need to be coordinated and approved by corporate HR and internal communications departments, especially if you have a variety of vendors to manage.

There is still a lot of growth and maturity that will need to happen in the area of financial well-being programs. However, by keeping your program simple and tailoring it to both the needs of your employees and to the abilities of your organization, over time you will be able to jump over these barriers and start to really help your employees improve their financial well-being.

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