There's been a good deal of talk lately about broker concerns over their future because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and how that could force them out of the industry. But the fact is there's just a different type of opportunity now. Brokers today must be more than expert sales professionals—they need to be consultants.

The new broker role focuses more on helping employers with their HR objectives than it does on simply presenting a variety of products for the employee benefits plan. It involves assisting employers in understanding PPACA and its impact on their employee benefits plans. It means providing guidance on a number of benefits trends. And it includes educating employers on the status of their employees' financial well-being, its effect on the company, and the various ways, including through voluntary benefits, that employers can help employees improve their financial wellness.

Brokers who've gravitated to this new role are now helping employers structure voluntary benefits programs to improve employees' financial health and provide a financial safety net.

Employees' financial problems are employers' problems, too

One of the most important concepts brokers can impart to employers is that their employees' financial problems are their problems, too, and if they want their business to run smoothly, employers have to consider how to obtrusively help employees with their finances.

Why? Because employees don't leave their financial problems at home. They bring them to work not only in the form of stress, but they also deal with their financial issues while they're at work. A study by McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union reports 36 percent of Americans spend two hours to a half-day handling or worrying about their personal finances each day. And when they're worrying about their finances, they're not concentrating on their work.

There's a great deal of stress associated with personal finance issues. Stress over money takes both a mental and physical toll on workers, affecting health-related costs and hampering productivity.

Many employers today fail to recognize and address the importance of a financially healthy employee. Most employers understand that wellness programs can improve employees' health and may even help the employer's bottom line. But not all employers realize this same concept carries over to their employees' financial health as well. Employees who are financially sound and without significant money worries at home are happier and more focused at work.

What employees are saying about their finances

The numbers speak for themselves. Employees are anxious about their finances and they worry almost daily about them. Cash flow issues continue to top employees' financial concerns with anxieties about insufficient emergency savings for unexpected expenses (49 percent), delayed retirement (45 percent) and not being able to meet monthly expenses (22 percent) close behind, according to PwC's 2013 Employee Financial Wellness Survey.

A nationwide survey of 1,029 working U.S. adults employed full-time by companies who provide employee benefits was conducted online in June by Harris Interactive. The purpose of the survey was to gain a greater understanding of employees' status of their financial wellness and how they deal with those issues.

Survey results show that nearly half (44 percent) of respondents indicate they're much or somewhat better off financially today than they were a year ago. However, 41 percent of respondents report they still have at least a fair amount of financial stress. Further, 28 percent have trouble meeting monthly household expenses; 49 percent weren't able to make major purchases (such as computers, appliances, electronics, furniture) over the past year that they want or need; and 44 percent don't have at least $2,000 in emergency savings for unexpected expenses.

Respondents were asked how their finances affect them at work in terms of worrying and spending time dealing with financial issues. Their answers show how financial concerns are impacting their focus and productivity at work:

  • 44 percent of respondents indicate they worry about their personal finance during work hours.

  • 46 percent of respondents say that on the average they spend 2-3 hours per week at work dealing with personal finances.

Finally, the survey asked respondents how they'd pay for it if an emergency expense came up, such as a car breaking down or a refrigerator needed replacing, if they did not have the cash on hand. More than half (57 percent) would use a credit card; 26 percent would borrow from a family member or friend; and 8 percent would use a bank loan.

Using workplace benefits to improve financial wellness

When employees' personal financial problems spill over into the workplace, bad things happen that can actually cut into company profits:

  • Absenteeism. Financially stressed employees use more sick leave and are absent from work more often.

  • Presenteeism. Although employees are at work, they spend time on activities unrelated to their jobs, such as talking to creditors. The Integrated Benefits Institute reports presenteeism can account for three times more lost work than absenteeism.

  • Health concerns. Unhealthy workers produce lower quantity and quality of work and bring higher health costs. Distress over financial matters is contributing to irritability, anger, fatigue and sleeplessness for more than 52 percent of Americans, according to a Financial Finesse study.

  • Work conflicts. Tardiness, incomplete work tasks and accidents result when workers' personal issues interfere with their jobs.

  • Dissatisfaction and lack of commitment. Financially stressed workers are less satisfied with their pay regardless of the amount they make. Their disenchantment with work can lead to lack of pride in their jobs and negative feelings about employers.

In the never-ending quest to improve employee engagement, retain employees and maintain high levels of productivity, many companies have recognized the effect employees' financial health has on performance and morale.

A growing number of companies have discovered that they can build employees' loyalty, increase their productivity and improve job satisfaction by providing programs that help them achieve financial wellness. Many have discovered new, no-cost and easy-to-implement options to help employees develop healthier relationships with money. These programs can deliver significant value for both businesses and their workers.

Progressive companies recognize this need and the potential upside for employers who address financial stress. They're offering financial education and financial wellness programs at work in an attempt to help employees change their money behaviors and increase their financial literacy, including on-site money management and financial planning seminars. Others are providing no-cost and no-liability voluntary benefits that include employee purchasing programs.

Employers and voluntary

Voluntary benefits are a cost-effective method for employers to offer a comprehensive benefits package while at the same time giving employees a way to protect themselves against the key risks they face, as well as choose benefits that fit their lifestyle.

Most employers are on board with the growing voluntary benefits trend. According to MetLife's 11th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, the percentage of employers reporting that they make voluntary benefits a significant benefits strategy has grown year over year, from 32 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2012. In addition, 47 percent of employers who currently offer voluntary benefits say they are likely to increase the number of voluntary products they will offer in the next two years.

From an employee perspective, voluntary and employer-paid benefits are surprisingly close in their importance for staying with their company. When employees are very satisfied with the range of voluntary benefits offered, they are nearly twice as loyal as those who are not satisfied, and loyal employees are more likely to remain with the company, according to the MetLife study.

Why employees like voluntary

The employee benefits package is valuable to employees and they are particularly interested in benefits that meet their diverse personal needs. With voluntary benefits employees can customize their benefits package and choose what suits their individual needs. In the process, employees can build a financial safety net by adding on voluntary insurance products as well as non-traditional voluntary benefits such as employee purchase programs, financial education, pet insurance and identity theft policies.

Employees perceive voluntary benefits as having a number of advantages including:

  • more convenience because of payroll deduction

  • access to a wider range of useful benefits

  • employer has done the research for them

  • costs lower than outside the office

Voluntary benefits are popular with employees and they say they'd like even more options. The MetLife study showed that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of employees say they're interested in having their employer provide a wider array of voluntary benefits than is currently offered. That's a huge opportunity for brokers.

Voluntary benefits that can help an employee with their financial wellness include financial education programs and employee purchase programs. For many employees, paying cash isn't an option when it comes to making big-ticket household purchases. An alternative is an employee purchase program offered through the workplace as a voluntary benefit through payroll deduction.

An employee purchase program promotes disciplined purchasing through manageable payments; a 12-month payment term; and pre-set spending limits and controls to prevent over-spending. For the employee, there's no down payment or ballooning interest, no late fees and no additional fees beyond the all-inclusive price.

The typical employee participating in an employee purchase program as a voluntary benefit at the worksite is a 35-44-year-old married woman with at least one child in the household and earning a mid-income, according to a 2012 Harris Interactive nationwide study. This profile shares similarities with the demographic groups most vulnerable to financial stress.

In a nationwide Harris Interactive survey conducted this year of employees working in companies that provide employee benefits, a majority indicated that they would be at least somewhat likely to use an employee purchase program if they had access to it.

In the survey, when asked “if they had access to an employee purchase program that some companies offer to aid their employees in purchasing big-ticket items by deducting a set amount from their paychecks to cover the cost, how likely would they be to use it to purchase appliances, computers, electronics, furniture, educational services, etc.,” 59 percent of respondents said they would be at least somewhat likely and 24 percent said they would be very or fairly likely.

The benefits of financially healthy employees

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including and

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.