The Emergence of Employee Financial Wellness Programs

Over the past few years, financial institutions have significantly increased their investment in initiatives to grow consumer and small business financial literacy.  An even more recent development has been the emergence of workplace-based financial wellness programs: a 2018 survey by Strategic Benefit Services found that 59% of employers offer financial wellness programs or planned to do so.  And recent research by Alright Solutions found that 64% of employers say their organization’s financial wellness program is more important now than it was two years ago.

This rise of workplace financial wellness programs has been driven by several factors, including:

  • The overall growth of investment in financial education programs by the financial services sector in response to concerns about gaps in financial literacy levels, and the proven positive impact that financial education programs have in driving smarter financial behavior by consumers and small businesses.
  • Employer desire for additional benefits and services to attract and retain staff. 
  • Employee need for financial education: PwC’s 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey found that 41% of employees say their employer’s financial wellness plan has helped them get their spending under control.
  • Recognition of the value and critical role the workplace channel can play in teaching financial concepts, as well as in providing advice and potential solutions. 

Financial firms providing workplace financial wellness programs include banks, investment firms, and employee benefits providers.  Many of the leading firms in these sectors have launched new or enhanced existing financial wellness programs over the past year:

  • Principal launched Principal Milestones, which provides personalized information based on an online assessment.
  • MassMutual introduced MapMyFinances, a financial and benefits planning tool that features a financial wellness score.
  • Morgan Stanley Wealth Management launched an enhanced Financial Wellness Program for employees of mid-to-large sized corporations, which features a digital portal, a catalog of financial wellness materials, financial assessment as well as the option to collaborate with a Financial Advisor or through Morgan Stanley’s online investing program.
  • Prudential introduced a range of new financial wellness capabilities, including expanded digital and on-demand solutions, as well as needs-based and life-event solutions.

Unfortunately, financial wellness programs do not tend to be immediately embraced by employees.  This can be attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of interest among employees, perceived complexity of the programs, and the lack of resources to manage the program. To overcome these challenges, employers must clearly communicate to employees how they will benefit from engaging with the financial wellness program.  To that end, financial institutions need to support employers in marketing the program to employees. It’s also important to gather feedback from employers in order to enhance features and improve the user experience.

The growth in workplace financial wellness programs shows no sign of abating, and we expect financial institutions to further improve and differentiate their programs through new features and options (such as enhancing access to the program via digital channels), as well as continue to develop financial wellness-related content.

Strategies for Marketing Your Financial Literacy Program

As financial institutions seek to position themselves as trusted providers of financial advice and solutions, one of their key areas of focus is financial education.  Many of these firms have focused attention on establishing comprehensive financial education programs.  However, equal attention should be given to how these programs are communicated.  If you want to maximize the impact of your financial education program, consider the following methods to build client awareness and engagement.

  • Partner with national and local organizations seeking to grow financial literacy. Partnering with these organizations can take many forms, including publishing surveys or providing funding. In June 2017, Wells Fargo announced a $100,000 donation to Junior Achievement of Chicago.  Operation Hope has partnerships with a number of leading banks (including SunTrust, Regions Bank and First Tennessee Bank), who all offer the Operation Hope Inside financial well-being program in several of their branches.
  • Host or sponsor events.  Events constitute one of the key ways for firms to build direct engagement with their financial education programs.  Firms have many options on how they wish to scale and direct their investment.  MassMutual hosts FutureSmart Challenge events to provide financial education to middle school students, reaching 40,000 students in 17 cities to date.  In June 2017, SunTrust launched the “onUp on Tour” to promote its onUp movement in 45 cities.  And In October 2017, American Century Investments partnered with Investopedia to launch a Financial Fitness Tour, featuring a 45-foot bus, called “The Financial Coach.”  These firms have extended the impact of these live events with tweets and postings on online portals, and also host virtual events, including podcasts and webinars.
  • Generate engagement through games and contests.  In our highly interactive world, online games and contests can be very effective in enabling people, especially the younger demographic, to gain important financial knowledge in entertaining ways.  For the past four years, H&R Block has been running the H&R Block Budget Challenge, an online game that teachers can use to teach financial concepts to high school students.  In December 2017, The Hartford partnered with Junior Achievement USA to launch JA MyBiz Builder, an online experience that teaches entrepreneurial concepts to teens.  And GOBankingRates recently launched a competition (with a top prize of $1,000) to identify the best tips, tricks and tactics for navigating one’s personal finances.
  • Reinforce the financial education message via social media.  A number of financial firms are using Twitter hashtags to generate interaction around their financial education programs. Examples include Ally Financial’s #WalletWiseWednesday twitter series and Regions Bank’s @FinancialFitness hashtag (part of its Financial Fitness Fridays program).  Other ways of using social media to promote financial education include events (Jump$tart Coalition’s Facebook Live event to discuss deposit insurance) and social communities (Canvas Designed by Citi, a beta-testing community that enables Citi customers to co-create products and digital capabilities promoting financial wellness).
  • Leverage online and mobile banking platforms.  As consumers become comfortable with using online and mobile banking to perform a wide range of financial activities, some providers are starting to incorporate financial education tools into these platforms.  Bank of America recently added a money management and financial education tool into its mobile banking platform.  And Wells Fargo is planning to launch Greenhouse by Wells Fargo, a mobile banking experience that includes financial management tools.

 

Key Considerations for Effective Financial Education Programs

Banks and other financial providers have recently increased their focus on developing financial education programs, driven by a number of factors:

Numerous studies have highlighted deficiencies in financial literacy among U.S. consumers.  FINRA Foundation’s National Financial Capability Study found that only 37% of people were considered to have high financial literacy in 2015, down from 42% in 2009 and 39% in 2012.  Studies also show that consumer exposure to and engagement with financial education programs leads to smarter financial decision making.  Therefore, the onus is on a range of entities (government, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, industry associations, and of course financial firms) to develop programs to improve financial literacy.

Many financial firms are looking to (re)position themselves as trusted providers of not just products and services, but also of information and advice that can help people better manage their finances.  To that end, financial education programs can act as a means to help banks cement relationships with their clients.

The following are some key considerations for financial firms in establishing a new financial education program—or in enhancing an existing one:

  • Conduct research to gain insights into consumers’ financial literacy levels, attitudes to financial services, preferred channels for consuming financial information, and favored sources of financial information and advice.
  • Create a dedicated and branded financial literacy program that brings together the diverse range of financial education initiatives under one umbrella.  These programs can take the form of an online portal, such as the TD Bank Learning Center, John Hancock Retirement Plan Services’ My Learning Center and MassMutual’s FutureSmart program.
  • Conduct financial education surveys.  Surveys are an effective way to raise consumer awareness and interest, highlight commitment to raising financial literacy, and gain insights that inform financial education program development and execution.  U.S. Bank recently published two financial education surveys: the Parent Financial Education Survey (July 2016, focused on the parents of college students aged 18-14) and the Student and Personal Financial Survey (September 2016).  Last month, Bank of America published the Bank of America/USA Today Better Money Habits report, which was versioned for 7 of its markets.
  • Ensure that financial education content reflects the different ways that consumers process information.  Keep content short, with easy-to-follow tips and soundbytes.  Incorporate images, infographics or video to enhance its visual appeal.
  • Distribute content through a range of channels.  These channels can include online portals (as described above), events, in-person and online courses, and social media platforms. (PNC announced in August that it would be using Pinterest to promote its financial and early childhood education initiative.)  In addition, a number of banks (e.g., First Tennessee, First National Bank and SunTrust) have partnered with Operation Hope to open HOPE Inside offices in its branches.  SunTrust recently announced an ambitious plan to expand the Operation HOPE Inside program from 7 branches today to 200 by 2020.  The number of individuals receiving financial counseling through these offices is expected to rise from 6,000 to 150,000.
  • Partner with schools and nonprofit organizations that promote financial literacy in communities.  This partnership can take the form of joint programs, funding or employee volunteer hours. Fifth Third recently introduced an initiative to deliver its Empower U financial literacy course through 60 local nonprofit organizations throughout its footprint.  And Allianz Life recently awarded $275,000 in financial literacy grants to 14 nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities.

Well-constructed, well-delivered financial education programs improve financial literacy.  This in turn leads to smarter financial decision making, benefitting both consumers and their financial providers.