Financial wellness programs are all the rage these days.
They were a hot topic during a GAO forum on financial literacy earlier this year, when a group of experts discussed how employers are well positioned to offer more comprehensive programs to their employees.
And it’s obvious that employees need help, since they’re not confident about what they’re doing.
Just 28 percent of respondents in a recent LIMRA study said they’re very confident about their own ability to make important financial decisions, and 72 percent take advantage of workplace programs designed to boost their financial acumen about the benefits offered by their employers.
In fact, a white paper from Alliant Credit Union titled “Financial Wellness in the Workplace 2015” cites a study from the American Psychological Association that found how stressed Americans are about their finances—stress that follows them into the workplace.
Seventy percent, it said, “are seriously concerned, if not seriously worried, about their finances.”
So what’s the answer?
Perhaps financial wellness programs, since they offer employees the opportunity to become better educated on a range of financial topics that could otherwise be stressing them out and impeding their productivity.
Here’s a look at the 11 components of financial wellness programs that the white paper says employers are now offering.
The scary thing is that only 11 percent of respondents in Alliant’s study said they are offering their employees all 11 of these strategies.
1. Retirement planning. This is the most popular option being offered by employers, with 65 percent of respondents in the Alliant study saying it’s something they provide to their employees.
But retirement planning education programs overall may have a way to go in making employees feel they’ve gotten sufficient help on the subject.
The LIMRA study, which of course looked at a different field of respondents, found that just 17 percent said they were extremely satisfied with it.
2. Medical/health care cost planning programs. These are provided by 52 percent of Alliant respondents. Considering the high cost of medical care, even with health benefit coverage, such programs can mean the difference between employees successfully managing their finances or failing to be able to meet unexpected expenses because of health issues.
Most employees barely understand how to use their health savings accounts (HSAs), much less are able to grasp the complexities and intricacies of contributions, limitations or investment options.
3. Confidential employee self-assessments of their finances. People may know they have financial problems but be too embarrassed to admit it, or to seek help.
In addition, they may have no idea where to go if they do need help in figuring out how bad those problems are, or how to solve them.
With 44 percent of employers offering assessments, and more likely on the way, employees may finally get some of the help they need in straightening out their money issues.
4. Tracking tools for goal attainment. If there’s one thing people like to do these days, it’s use online tools to help them do everything from lose weight to maintain an exercise program.
Using tracking tools to help them keep track of financial goals is just one more way to keep to the straight and narrow, and financial wellness programs that help to keep employees heading in the right direction can affect everything from their productivity to their actual health—something that’s sure to appeal to more than the 41 percent of employers currently offering such tools.
5. Investment planning programs. These are pretty commonplace, one would think, but as part of a financial wellness program only 38 percent of employers provide them.
Considering how popular robo advisors are, it’s apparent that employees aren’t waiting around for such programs to come to them; they’re going out and looking for them.
6. Targeted/customized financial education. Even if there’s an automated option available, people feel better if it’s been tailored to their particular circumstances.
So the 35 percent of employers providing this kind of specificity are satisfying a need that their employees may never have voiced, but feel nonetheless.
7. Incentives/rewards for participation. Everybody loves a reward, especially when it’s for doing something they know they should be doing anyway.
The 34 percent of employers who are capitalizing on this by offering incentives for employees to get involved with their own financial wellness will no doubt reap their own rewards—far beyond the value of what they’re providing to their employees.
8. Privacy/security/fraud protection advice. To realize how important this is, you only need look at the latest headlines.
How to safeguard one’s privacy and security and protect oneself from fraud is something everyone needs to know in an age of hackers, spammers and phishermen—but few people are savvy enough to protect themselves without at least a little training.
If only 27 percent of employers are providing this kind of education for their employees, the rest ought to consider the benefits to their firms when employees are more attuned to the potential for identity theft to impair their health benefits or for employees to be aware of such hacker strategies as spear phishing schemes that target them to gain entree through the employer’s security systems.
9. Saving for college programs. The high cost of college and the crushing weight of student loan debt amount to a huge burden on employees that more than just 26 percent of employers should be anxious to lift.
Programs that help them learn how to save for their own, or their kids’ college educations can lighten that burden and provide employees with alternatives to raiding their retirement funds when the tuition bills come in.
The Alliant study said,”about 37 percent of U.S. households headed by an adult younger than 40 have student loan debt. This is the highest percentage on record, and the median outstanding student loan debt is $13,000.”
10. Managing debt programs. Twenty-three percent of Alliant’s respondents indicated that they provide employees with programs on how to manage their debt.
In a financial wellness survey the credit union conducted last fall, 11 percent of respondents indicated that they needed to improve how they managed their debt—but considering that many people find it hard to admit that they’re in over their heads, considerably more will no doubt find it helpful to take advantage of such programs.
Particularly since 37 percent say that paying off credit card debt is one of their top financial goals and 22 percent list as a top goal just staying afloat with debt obligations.
11. Day-to-day financial guidance/budgeting. Twenty-two percent of employer respondents say they provide such help to their employees.
The others might want to reconsider, since only 6 percent of employees “strongly agree that their organization does what’s needed to help them manage their finances more effectively.”