As an HR director, benefits manager, or people officer, you have spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars on benefits in the past year, trying to make sure your employees are satisfied and that you’ve created a strong organizational culture. You have La Croix in the refrigerator, kombucha on tap, standing desks, health and dental plans, and you just rolled out your first 401(k) for employees. All of these things are necessary to keep up with every other company that now offers similar benefits, but you know that there is something else they would like in their benefits packages. Something that isn’t as commonly offered, and will actually make you stand out from the competition: financial wellness. Maybe you heard directly from employees, or you keep reading about the dismal state of personal finances for most Americans. Either way, you recognize that financial health is a problem you’d like to solve.
Financial wellness is becoming an increasingly requested benefit from employees, especially those between the ages of 22 and 40. When you look at the current state of financial health for American employees in that age group, it’s easy to see why. Nearly two-thirds of workers under forty have no retirement savings. In addition, the average American has nearly $6,000 in credit card debt, over $30,000 in student loan debt, and has never taken any kind of personal finance course. Tasks like setting up and sticking to an effective budget, optimizing retirement accounts, mapping out a path to retirement, investing, starting college savings plans, and eliminating credit debt are constant stressors that leave the vast majority of American workers completely in the dark.
HR leaders field questions from their staff, putting them in awkward positions of supporting employees while being cautious with the advice they provide. In addition, employees tend to be more hesitant to voice their financial concerns, and are left with few options when they have specific questions to improve their financial health. The solution to all these problems is a financial wellness benefit.
Now that you recognize that your employees need a financial wellness benefit, which will make your life and job much easier, now what? You could hop on Google and search “financial wellness benefit” or “top financial wellness companies.” Take note that the financial industry is confusing, and often set up to take advantage of curious well-intentioned consumers. That said, here are the six questions to ask when choosing a financial wellness benefit for your company.
Top Six Things to Consider When Choosing a Financial Wellness Benefit
- Who is actually bearing the cost?
If you find a financial wellness provider or Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who is willing to do “free” group information sessions on different topics, ask yourself why is it free? Are they doing this out of their own goodwill? Unlikely. Many financial services use these so-called “lunch & learn” or info sessions to generate leads. By hosting these events, they typically follow up with people and solicit a financial product (often, insurance products) to get a commission.
Employees almost never benefit from buying these products, so by subjecting them to people who are selling them things they don’t need, you are actually hurting their financial health, not helping them improve it. Look for wellness providers whose cost is absorbed by the employer. Usually these benefits are very affordable and their impact on culture, recruitment, and retention far outweigh the cost.
2. How does the company use your employee data?
Another common way financial service firms make money is by selling consumer data. You may have wondered how many tech-based companies make their money when it’s free to use their platforms. Many of them acquire data on their users, and sell that information to companies who want to market and sell their products. To prevent employees from being solicited products they don’t need, avoid companies that show ads on their platform or sell user data to third party organizations. Make sure to ask companies how they use user data!
3. Is the advice that employees receive unbiased?
Unfortunately, the current financial services industry almost never provide guidance that is entirely unbiased. Financial advisers and planners work with individuals that have at least $250,000 to $500,000 in assets, and charge a fee to manage their money. This not only leaves out the vast majority of Americans who don’t have enough money to receive these services, but the advice is often biased.
For example, an advisor working at a large financial services company gets a commission when they convince their clients to invest or purchase certain products. They are motivated to steer clients to investments that may or may not be in their best interest, which often come at a high cost to the client. When evaluating an insurance or 401(k) broker that hosts a wellness learning session, look for a company that isn’t selling additional products with their advice, and that is truly unbiased.
4. Is the only information that employees receive in a group setting?
In America, personal finances can be a taboo subject, and people don’t want to reveal their financial concerns in a group setting or with coworkers. Many companies host group sessions or “lunch and learns” when providing financial wellness advice, but you probably won’t hear personal questions like “I have $11,000 in credit card debt and no retirement savings, should I start saving for retirement first or pay off the debt, and what’s a good strategy to approach the debt?”
While group sessions are helpful for some people with similar financial questions or concerns, (e.g. as saving for retirement), they’re pretty ineffective at creating real individual progress. In these settings, employees aren’t able to follow up in a one-on-one setting, share their complex financial situation, or receive tailored advice on how to meet their goals. Look for benefits that provide BOTH group sessions and one-on-one meetings. Ideally, seek financial wellness companies that combine a technology platform with live financial coaching.
5. Is the advice that employees receive relevant to their unique financial situations?
The vast majority of “financial wellness” providers are brokers from insurance companies, 401(k) providers, or large wealth management organizations. Each one has a specific set of financial topics they are willing to discuss with your employees, while purposefully not touching other topics. For example, a 401(k) provider will be willing to discuss planning for retirement, but won’t talk about managing credit card debt or buying a home. While saving for retirement is extremely important, retirement planning is not the only financial concern for your staff. Employees have questions on a whole host of financial topics. So if a financial wellness provider will only talk about retirement or insurance, move along! Find a provider that will cover all of the questions and financial concerns your employees are most likely to have they get useful and relevant advice.
6. What are the qualifications of the financial wellness provider?
Because this is a relatively new type of benefit, all kinds of “financial wellness” companies are popping up. When examining/evaluating a prospective provider, ask about their qualifications and credentials. Too many organizations are putting people in front of your employees who don’t have recognized credentials to provide financial guidance. Look for financial coaches and organizations that are registered as Investment Advisors with FINRA, the federal regulatory agency for investing. Without these credentials, individuals are not legally allowed to provide financial guidance to your employees. Protect your employees and their financial goals by ensuring the provider is qualified to provide advice to your staff!
If you’ve made it this far, you are serious about providing a financial wellness benefit for your employees. One organization that meets all the criteria above and deserves your consideration is Holberg Financial (HF). HF is an entirely unbiased financial wellness organization, providing employees with one-on-one financial coaching with registered investment advisors, group learning sessions, and a financial health tech platform. The online platform has learning modules that support employees who choose to learn at their own pace and meet their financial goals. Because employers pay for the benefit, it is 100% free for employees to use, and doesn’t sell user data nor doesn’t display ads on the platform.