Throwing employees a financial lifeline

Image credit: Tom Curtis Image credit: Tom Curtis

Financial Finesse is branching out into new territory with its financial helplines.

The company has offered a financial call-in center for more than a decade and through most of its history has had that service available for employees of its corporate clients, said Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of Financial Finesse.

Employers are now looking at the helpline as a way to provide employees with a second opinion on the financial plans they’ve been getting from other financial planners, she said.

Corporations are offering this service to their high-net-worth employees, like those who make over $150,000 a year.

If individuals are getting advice through their workplace or through online tools that they don’t understand, they can call the helpline for advice.

Employers are “recognizing the need for employees [to have access] to someone who doesn’t have skin in the game and can look at everything and say, here’s what this means,” Davidson said.

Financial Finesse recently expanded its contract with the National Football League Players Association to offer a financial planning helpline. The organization, which already vets financial planners for its Registered Player Financial Advisor program, wanted to add yet another layer to help protect players from unscrupulous financial advisors who want access to their money, not necessarily to do what is right for their clients.

The NFLPA can’t recommend any advisors, per U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules, but it hosts a list of approved advisors on its website that members can access. They then can choose who they want to work with. NFL contract advisors, also known as agents, also must register with the program, especially if they are doling out financial advice or encouraging their players to participate with a specific financial advisor in the program.

“Football players get bombarded with financial planners wanting to manage their assets,” Davidson said. There also is a subsector of the industry that will offer loans to new players based on the value of their football contract. The downside of those deals is that they usually come at very high rates, Davidson said. The helpline can talk players through the pros and cons of any financial decisions without having its own financial agenda.

Players are very wary of taking financial advice from just anyone, Davidson said. The first call with a player usually starts with them asking about Financial Finesse’s organization and how it makes money. Once they are comfortable that the company’s advisors are really there to give advice, not sell them anything, they are more willing to talk, she said.

In the past four years there has been an evolution in the questions clients ask the Financial Finesse helpline.

“We’re seeing increased knowledge and the development of much better habits and behaviors,” Davidson said. Ten years ago, the questions people asked were reactive.  People waited to call because they were in serious financial trouble, like a foreclosure, bankruptcy or going through a divorce.

Now, the majority of questions the helpline receives are proactive.

“They are looking longer term and instead of waiting until I am in a crisis and I need to do something, they are saying, ‘let’s build a better foundation,’” she said.

In this economy, people can’t afford to wait until they are in trouble to seek financial advice, Davidson said. “There is so much uncertainty and, while the market is doing good this year, what is to come in anyone’s guess. Post-recession employees are entering into things with the understanding that they need to be prepared, save more and have a better foundation. I think that’s a great thing.”

Companies are also doing a better job of marketing their financial education opportunities. Attendance at company workshops has increased 25 percent in the past year, she said. “They are doing a much better job. They are marketing this as a benefit ,” Davidson said.

Employers are also getting creative in how they use social media techniques to impart financial education.

Davidson believes that corporations have been coming to Financial Finesse asking for additional help in the advice arena because of concerns over fiduciary liability. “The standard is they have to be prudent with their selection of an advisor and it would be more prudent if an advisor was required to put our financial helpline number there,” she said.

Corporations could use the helpline as a way to gauge if a financial advisor they are considering would really have their and their employees’ best interests at heart. If the potential advisor resists having the helpline number available to employees as a second opinion, it is a huge red flag, she said.

“I have been impressed that we’ve had financial planning firms contacting us. That impresses me. It gives me faith in them particularly as a firm. It all stems from Americans cynical about the financial industry…They recognize that there are conflicts of interest there and they have a desire to have someone employees can go to that doesn’t have that,” Davidson said.

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