6 Steps to Bring Financial Wellness to the Workplace
Learn how leading companies such as American Express and Comcast-NBC Universal effectively engage employees in financial wellness
In this one-hour session, learn how leading companies such as American Express and Comcast-NBC Universal effectively engage employees in financial wellness. Jen and SSGA vice president Megan Yost will co-lead the session. They’ll be joined by AmEx’s Barbara Kontje and Comcast’s Jaime Erickson, retirement benefits directors at their respective organizations. Get actionable tips on how to:
- Understand the five employee segments that characterize key phases of financial wellness.
- Overcome four common obstacles in implementing a financial wellness program.
- Consider the six must-ask questions before building a business strategy and vision around financial wellness.
Also Check out the Financial Wellness Framework
Get a copy of the Financial wellness framework: 6 Steps to bring financial wellness to the workplace featuring all the best-practice tips about financial education and communication from leading organizations we covered in the webinar.
This webinar was previously recorded. View the full transcript below.
6 Steps to Bring Financial Wellness to the Workplace Webinar
Megan Yost: Hi everyone. Welcome to 6 Steps to Bring Financial Wellness to the Workplace. My name is Megan Yost and I oversee participant engagement for State Street Global Advisors, Defined Contribution Team. I have a fabulous group of co-presenters with me today, including Jennifer Benz of Benz Communication, our collaborator in this project. Barbara Kontje from American Express Company and Jaime Erickson from Comcast NBCUniversal. I’m going to kick it over to Jennifer to introduce herself and to walk you through our agenda.
Jennifer Benz: Great. Thanks Megan and thanks everyone for joining us today. I’m Jennifer Benz. I’m the founder and CEO of Benz Communications. We were thrilled to partner with State Street on this collaboration, the financial wellness framework. We’re going to talk through today a little bit about why financial wellness is such a hot topic right now. Really why this issue has bubbled up and caught the attention of organizations like us and State Street Global Advisers and large employers like American Express and Comcast NBCUniversal.
We’re going to hear a bit from Barbara and Jaime. They’re going to share their own evolution with financial wellness at their organizations and the way they’ve created their strategies and started to create really, really good success with the early programs. After that, we’re going to walk through how we created the financial wellness framework, which is a new piece available just as of last week. It’s available to download if you haven’t already and we’ll send the instructions for that at the end of the webinar.
It is a guide to help employers of all sizes think through financial wellness strategy and make good progress on this topic. Then we’ll walk through the six steps to build your financial wellness strategy. Those are the six steps that are outlined in the framework. At the end, we’ll have time for Q&A.
Before we dig into it, I do want to let everyone know that the slides will be available after the session as well as the recording. All of that will be sent out immediately following the session. You’ll be able to contact everyone for questions after the webinar as well. Hope you enjoy all the content.
We’re first going to dig into why financial wellness is such a hot topic right now. Megan, can you tee up a little bit about what’s going on with the financial industry and why this has become such a big issue for employers?
Megan Yost: Yeah, absolutely. As you can see from this slide, people are really stressed out about their financial lives. In fact, at State Street, we conducted a survey a few months ago about financial wellness, and 61% of our respondents said that they were moderately to severely stressed about finances. What’s really interesting is not only are people stressed but they’re distracted at work because of that stress. People are even taking days off to miss work to deal with their financial issues.
Poor financial health is taking a huge toll on US employees and productivity in the workplace. About a year ago, SSGA and Benz formed a working group to help our clients better understand this emerging trend. We were hearing so much from our clients that this was top of mind for them. We hosted a hack-a-thon in December with a dozen or so large US plan sponsors in all types of industries and businesses.
Jaime and Barbara were part of that effort and this framework that we’re sharing with everyone today is the output from that day. Barbara and Jaime, you’ve been with us on this journey since the very beginning. Can you share with listeners what makes financial wellness so compelling to each of you? Barbara, maybe you could start.
Barbara Kontje: Sure. Thanks Megan. I think the question is why is financial wellness so compelling now. I think for us, we’ve been looking at our data for a number of years now. I think people are more open and ready now to hear about financial topics and not trying to bury their heads in the sand. They’re prepared to actually talk about it.
I think the public press has really helped people become more aware. Everybody is citing some of the statistics where people are very concerned about their financial issues and are dealing with them while they’re trying to do their day job. I think it is about being ready to talk about and prepared to hear solutions.
I think the other thing is to try to make it easy for people by breaking it down to smaller pieces. I’ll talk a little bit more about what we do in our program, but it really is making it easy for people to take action.
Megan Yost: Absolutely. Jaime, can you share your perspective from Comcast NBCUniversal?
Jaime Erickson: Sure. Similar to what Barbara mentioned, it’s definitely the readiness factor. I think for so long, for folks like myself and Barbara within the retirement space. We’re really seeing a paradigm shift recognizing that retirement is just one piece of the overall financial wellness journey. If you are hiring a millennial who’s coming out of school with $100,000 in student loan debt, it’s really getting to know that individual better. While maybe, right now, we don’t want to have that retirement discussion, we want to make sure that all of our employees are at the right stage from a retirement perspective.
Number one, we want to work with each individual depending on where they are in the life stage and have the right conversation. It’s not just completely one size fits all. Number two, it’s about knowing the population and segmenting the population.
Again, it doesn’t matter whether you earn $30,000 or $5 million. I’ve talked to a number of our employees across the spectrum and they all say the same thing to me, Jamie. They first apologize because they find this financial stuff so confusing. As plan sponsors, it’s really our job to make this financial maze, so to speak, as easy as we can so our employees aren’t intimidated and to provide our employees with the right tools and resources.
Megan Yost: Great. Maybe both of you can now share with our listeners a little bit more about who you are and the types of initiatives you’re leading now with regard to financial wellness in your organizations. Barbara, why don’t you lead us off here?
Barbara Kontje: Sure. Thank you. Again. I’m Barbara Kontje, I’m director of retirement for the Americas and Smart Saving, which is our financial wellness program. Here’s a little snapshot of American Express and who we are and what we’re all about. Hopefully, you’ve heard of us, but we’re more than just a credit card company.
We are a global company. We are a payment services business. We have a wide variety of platforms where we can facilitate payment for people globally and make it easy. We have 21,000 US employees and that is part of the focus on where Smart Saving began and then we’ve also extended that program a bit more globally.
I think one of the points about our business, customer service is our core competency and that does drive all the way down through the company even to us in HR as we try to deliver exceptional customer service to our clients who are our employees.
Financial wellness wasn’t even a term a few years ago. Like Jaime said, we were out doing retirement education and the overwhelming thing that I kept hearing was, "I can’t afford to save. I don’t know where to start. This is overwhelming. I don’t understand. I don’t want to manage my own finances. I don’t get all of this stuff."
It was really complicated for people and what we try to tell them was, "With Smart Saving, we’re going to try to simplify this and make it quick, easy and free." We wanted our data to help us identify areas of concerns and where we should focus first. Again, we were focusing on our 401(k) plan. If you think back to 2009, it’s at the bottom of the economic cycle. It was right before we came out of the recession, and our numbers indicated what everybody was feeling.
There was lots of volatility in the market. In 2009, our participation in our 401(k) plan had dropped from the mid-80% down to 70%. It was just reflective of what was going on in the economy, but we kept hearing from our employees and the vendors that they wanted more. They needed help and our goal was to help them make good financial decisions by giving them the tools and resources to help them do that.
We really tried to make sure that we were looking at something that was really simple and easy. We had programs that were underutilized and we really wanted to make sure that employees could take advantage and use those programs to help themselves.
Again, going back to what Jamie said before about the holistic approach, it’s not just about retirement. It’s trying to find ways to manage your money on a day-to-day basis so that you can afford to save and you have the ability to put money aside with simple steps. We were offering some options.
We really wanted to get to our employees so we went with an event that we called Smart Saving Fair. We created an environment that tried to bring people back to a less stressful time where they might have been kids going to a country fair. We then had our vendors and our programs segmented into four different groups so that employees could easily identify which area they might want to get additional information on.
We ran seminars on site. We tried to come up with catchy titles to engage the employee to manage your money on a day-to-day basis. We communicated simple things like how to have insurances in place and how to make sure that they could find the resources that they needed. We created a virtual environment where we had the Smart Saving Fair for the people that could not physically attend the actual fairs when they were hosted at our large location. They could access the website 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Also, their families could access the website because we also found out that it wasn’t always our employee that was making the financial decisions for the family. Sometimes, it was the person at home. It was really about trying to get information to the people that needed it when they needed it. We had what we called table events where we had some of our vendors answer questions that attendees had such as, "I need to know more about the retirement plan." Or, "I understand we have this financial planning service. Never heard of it. How can I get access to it?"
The other thing that we did with Smart Saving is implement more marketing around the programs that we already had. Our programs were underutilized and employees were not aware that these services were available to them. We re-promoted all of the programs and tried to do an integrated approach between our physical well-being program called Healthy Living and our work life program, which again talks about employees with their work-life endeavors. It’s really about how do you do work and life at the same time.
We’ve been very fortunate in that as we broke down our segments of our programs into retirement, day-to-day expenses of planning and protection, wills, and insurances to make sure that you’re protecting your assets. Another segment was family and children specific for people who are trying to take care of their kids as well as trying to take care of elderly parents.
People are going back to school or helping our employees help their children get through school and into college and manage their day-to-day expenses. One of the big programs that everybody seem to focus on is deals and discounts. This is a great way to tell people, "Here, we can help you find some money to save. Just take advantage of some of these deals and discounts that we have."
Looking at the next slide, we took a look at our Smart Saving program and this year we decided we wanted to do a big push on a global scale. We’ve had Smart Saving in other markets around the world, but this year we decided we were going to do a global activity as part of our innovation grant. This is something our leader provides for us to support new programs. We partnered with four other markets and produced live events of financial wellness assessment as well as some online calendar alerts that could populate people. These calendars included some tips and activities for them to do related to Smart Saving.
In the US, we had the event on April 8th and we had over 700 employees attend. On our intranet site, we have several pages dedicated to Smart Saving. It lists all the programs that we have with easy links to get people to those programs.
We’ve been looking at our data, and we are actually doing a deeper dive into some of the metrics that we get from the vendors that we work with. We have the financial wellness assessment where we can target areas of opportunity and take it to the next level. We’re really pleased with how this worked out. We’re on our way, and we’re hoping to continue to evolve the program. With that, I’ll turn it over to Jamie to hear about Comcast.
Jaime Erickson: Great. Thank you so much Barbara and good afternoon everyone. My name is Jamie Erickson, Executive Director of Retirement Benefit Plans where I oversee roughly seven and a half billion dollars in retirement assets. It is truly a pleasure to be a part of today’s webinar.
For those of you that may not be familiar with Comcast, we are one of the world’s leading media entertainment and communication companies. We are organized into four primary lines of business. Comcast Cable being the largest followed by NBCUniversal, Comcast Spectacor and Comcast Ventures. Our Q1 2015 consolidated revenue increased 2.6% to approximately $17.9 billion and we have roughly over 120,000 employees across our various businesses.
If we go to the next slide, I think it’s important that I share highlights from where our benefit philosophy is because everything that we offer really is tied back to our benefit philosophy. It’s all about helping our employees perform at their best. We want our employees to be 100% energized and focused at work, whether they’re installing cables, producing news, running theme parks. We don’t want them stressed out whether it’s on the health side or the financial side.
When you look at the next slide in terms of where we’re moving, our benefits experience is focused on an assisted consumer approach. What I mean by that is whether you need help from a health perspective or a financial perspective, our employees access two different hubs.
On the health side, they reach out to Accolade, and we refer to them as our healthcare concierge. On the financial side, we offer free financial counseling through AYCO. By going through the two different hubs, that allows the vendor to make sure that they’re accessing the different benefit plans and programs to enable them with physical, emotional and financial well-being.
Then second, you’ll see over to the right that last year we went through a completely new overhaul on our benefits portal. Again, back to my statement earlier, we want to make sure that we’re messaging correctly to our employees so that when they go to the benefits portal, they’re seeing messaging that’s specific to them.
For instance, if I’m 50 years old and older and I’m accessing the benefits portal and I may not be contributing on a catch-up perspective, I’m going to see a pop-up reminding me that, "Hey, are you aware that you can contribute an extra $6000 into your 401(k) plan?" Again, we’re really working hard to segment our communication so that all of our employees are not receiving one message but rather a message that’s specific to them.
In terms of financial wellness, we all know it’s important. We heard Megan share the stats, we go on site, we meet with all of our employees, but what we try to do at Comcast NBCUniversal is really better understand what does financial stress mean to us from an employer perspective as well as an employee perspective.
We took about a very good year plus in developing a financial business case. We looked at two main sources of data, observable data within our 401(k) plan and then non-observable data really pulling from surveys. Then figuring out from that survey data what does that mean to Comcast NBC.
When we look at productivity, we really focused around work absences and distraction during work. Again, it ties nicely to the side that Megan started off with. From a productivity perspective, looking at US benchmark statistics, 22% of US employees admit to missing at least one day of work in the past year. Then from distraction during work, roughly 15% of the US workforce is financially stressed. When we took the work absences and distraction to figure out how that impacts Comcast, we found roughly a $207 million productivity issue as it relates to financial wellness.
The second thing we looked at is medical costs. We looked at stress-related cost, digestive disorder cost, and severe anxiety. Again, I’m not going to go through the US benchmark, but again looking at the medical cost and the impact from a financial perspective, it’s roughly $110 million.
Then lastly looking at turnover, recruiting and training costs. Roughly 40% of volunteer employee turnover is due to stress and 50% is related to financial stress. Looking at that as it relates to Comcast is roughly $27 million. When you add up the three, what does the impact mean from a financial perspective at Comcast NBCUniversal? You’re looking at roughly $344 million. Again, that is using US benchmark data and applying it back to the organization.
If you go to the next slide where we looked at observable data, we know that roughly 15% of our employees that have some sort of wage garnishment compared to the US benchmark, which is roughly one and a half times where we should be. When we look at our 401(k) data we have money going in and out. We have roughly 30% of our employees have taken a loan out within their 401(k) plan. Again, US benchmark is roughly 21%, one and a half times the US benchmark.
Lastly, when we look at our hardship withdrawal activity, 9% of our employees have taken a hardship within the last year. US benchmark 2% or at four and a half times. The observable data here is really telling. This is something that we will be tracking once we put together our full-blown financial wellness strategy, but this business case that we put together, we needed backup data to really support why financial wellness is so important.
We read about it pretty much every day. We hear about financial wellness when we’re talking to our employees, but tying it back to the company, there’s a huge stress both from an employee perspective and an employer perspective that will help us develop our financial wellness strategy.
When you look at the effect of our poor financial health, obviously you’re looking at reduced productivity, increased turnover and higher medical RX claims. What we’re going to be working on within the next year is putting together a robust financial wellness strategy. The hope is we’re going to look at roughly estimated savings of 2% within one year, which equates to roughly 13 1/2 million dollars.
In year two, we’re looking at roughly savings of approximately 21.4 million dollars, which we feel is definitely a goal that we can reach and something that we’re tracking very closely. That’s more long-term, but where we are today is we’re working with what we’ve got. If you go to the next slide, you’ll see that we’re repositioning our focus on the interconnectedness of physical, emotional and financial well-being. What we’re doing is we’re really breaking down the silos within our departments.
When we communicate with our employees, it’s not just on the physical side, it’s not just on the emotional side, it’s not just on the financial side. We’re having this discussion looking at the total well-being of our employee. You’ll see that right now as we’re working on our open enrollment materials, which traditionally, have always been focused only on the health side.
I want to share some of the communications with you, just so you can see some visuals. We have an annual healthy week, which again, primarily in the past had been focused only on the health side. In 2012, we started broadening that with more of the financial side. As you can see in our listings Thursday was our financial wellness day. It really was a great opportunity for us to showcase all of the different vendors that we offer today and what their expertise is in each area.
The last slide that I’m going to share with you is a campaign that we have going on right now, Small Changes For A Better You. Again, you’ll see the total aspect of the communication where we’re not just focused on the financial side, but rather on the physical, emotional and financial side. We’ve been partnering really closely with our communications group. We’re also going on a tour starting next month where we’re going to be testing some of our current branding so we can make sure that all of our messaging and tools are connecting with our employee base. With that, I’ll turn it back to Jen.
Jennifer Benz: Great. Thank you Jaime and Barbara. Great overview. Those are two fantastic case studies of starting to build a strategy and build a strong business case around financial wellness. Next, we’re going to walk-through the steps to create your own financial wellness strategy and what is outlined in the financial wellness framework.
We’re going to talk about understanding the financial landscape, how to define financial wellness for your organization, the best practices both in 401(k) plan design as well as overall benefit strategy that can help make financial wellness successful, how to explore some of the established as well as emerging solutions overcoming the inevitable challenges of implementing a strategy, and then finally, how to build the business case.
Step 1: Understand the financial landscape
Jennifer Benz: Jaime has been kind enough to share this robust business case that she built that can be a great baseline for others to build a business case for their organizations. The first step, is understanding the financial landscape. Megan, why don’t you walk through this and maybe you can share a little bit more about the hackathon and how this whole framework came together with the great input from Barbara and Jamie and other employers?
Megan Yost: Absolutely. For our first step, we thought about understanding the financial landscape. Before an organization invests any money in new products or services to support their employee’s financial wellness, according to our Hackathon team and our working group, it’s important to first define an organization’s philosophy and that will inform the strategy.
Jaime mentioned this earlier in her section of the presentation, understanding the underpinnings of what financial wellness means to your organization. It’s really important because that will influence how you want to influence your own employee’s economic lives.
As we shared this framework with the Hackathon team, what we talked about were the different elements of the financial wellness ecosystem, the working life, the economic life, and a personal life that can all inform an individual’s financial situation and money habits. From this, each organization can distill how they want to define financial wellness for themselves. Barbara, perhaps you can share with everyone on the phone what your definition is for American Express.
Barbara Kontje: Certainly. I guess we take a very simplistic view of helping employees make good financial decisions, and by us giving them the tools and resources to do that. I think the challenge comes in how do we measure success and I think that’s still a pretty big work in progress.
I think one of the things that the easy observable facts that we can look at is how are people contributing to the 401(k) plan. Are they deferring enough? Are they taking time off and trying to monitor those key metrics?
Megan Yost: Great. Thank you. Jamie, can you share your definition?
Jaime Erickson: Sure. Back to what Barbara said, I think it’s really most simply stated. The absence of financial stress, but more importantly, really exhibiting positive financial behavior. This includes budgeting, money management skills, managing debt, financial goal setting, and the ability to address financial challenges such as emergencies. We want to make sure that we have the necessary tools and resources to back those situations that I just discussed.
Megan Yost: One thing that we all talked about at our Hackathon is the complexity of an individual financial life and particularly how fluid the spectrum is in terms of poor financial health to great financial health or financial security. That one event could move a person from fairly financially secure to insecure. We worked through segmenting different employee profiles and perhaps, Jen, you can walk us through that in our Step Two.
Step 2: Define financial wellness for your organization
Jennifer Benz: Yeah, absolutely. The second step that we’ve defined is how to dig into that definition of financial wellness for your organization. What we found to be helpful with the working group discussion was to look at the different segments from employees who are struggling with income and spending, those folks that are living paycheck to paycheck, and to the opposite end of the spectrum where people are more financially secure. This side of the spectrum is looking to their future and thinking of how to manage an estate, how to maximize tax benefits, and so forth.
There’s a really wide spectrum of employees in your organization at any given time and meeting the needs of all of them at once, creating a strategy that helps everyone move forward regardless of where they are is a big challenge. When you start to break things apart into the different segments, you can start to see how different programs and different marketing of your existing programs can help get people to the resources that they need most.
One thing, as Megan mentioned, it’s important to realize is the financial status of someone or someone’s individual financial security really does not depend on their income. Someone can be living paycheck to paycheck and really struggling with their finances at a high income. On the contrary, someone can have a very modest income and be very conservative and have managed their money very well and feel a greater sense of financial security.
Understanding that there are so many different stages among your employee population at any given time is really helpful. I’ll walk through some of those segments, and these are mapped out in the framework document as well. On the one end of the spectrum, we have people who are struggling with income. These are the folks that are living paycheck to paycheck. Likely among the lowest paid in your workforce, limited knowledge of finances, multiple jobs, probably poor credit, no savings cushion.
There’s a huge risk for dependence on predatory products among these folks, such as payday lending and the very high interest on short-term loans. Some programs you can consider for this population are basic financial training and skills like emergency savings programs. These can help people establish financial cushion and get out of the living paycheck to paycheck cycle. Credit and debt counseling services and access to non-predatory financial products can be really key as well. We have many other ideas to consider in the framework for this group.
Moving to the next step, you can have folks that have spending challenges. There is a difference between the ones who are really struggling with income and the ones with spending challenges. They do have enough income to live on but their financials are not being managed well or not being managed in a way that allows them to thrive.
These folks are more likely to feel like they’re financially literate, but they’re not making good decisions day by day. They’re not managing their cash flow effectively. They may not have a budget. They’re likely to have poor credit. Likely to have debt from credit cards, car loans, other purchases and again, no savings cushion.
If we move a bit further along the financial wellness spectrum, these folks can benefit tremendously from budgeting and savings tools, finding areas where they can reduce their monthly costs, and can take advantage of those deals and discounts that were mentioned earlier. The could get more value from the employer sponsored programs that are available and build that emergency savings to get out of that paycheck to paycheck cycle.
There’s also credit and debt counseling, student loan debt consolidation programs, and lots of new programs are popping up to meet these needs. There’s a huge portion of Americans who are in this category of being really challenged with their spending and how to manage the amount of money that they are earning right now.
A little bit more further up the spectrum, we have folks that are building savings. These are folks that are out of that paycheck to paycheck cycle, but they’re still vulnerable to falling into bad financial decisions or have not been able to bounce back from a financial issue or an unexpected expense. These are your employees that likely have that savings cushion.
They have a bit more understanding of the importance of saving, and they’re trying to prepare for the future, but they most likely still need a lot of help fine-tuning budgeting tactics, and managing their cash flow. They need to look for ways to save on taxes and they want to get the most out of their workplace benefits.
Even though they seem to be making good decisions on the surface, more than likely they still need financial literacy and education support when they start to make these good financial decisions like starting to get into investing and financially planning for the future. You can see how different programs can build on people’s level of education, level of comfort and really where they are in their current financial life.
The next category of folks is people who really have extra income. These are the people who are buying homes, saving for college, saving for their future, and retirement. This is where we start to think about support with wealth management or robust investing decisions.
You can see different programs and different needs when you start to get to really sophisticated financial behaviors. In the final category, we have folks who are financially secure. These are likely amongst your most highly comped employees who are building wealth and building for that future. These are very different needs from the folks that are challenged day-to-day.
There’s a big challenge in meeting these broad needs across a very diverse employee population. Jaime, can you speak a little bit to how you’re thinking about targeting and segmenting programs and getting the right employees to the right help when they need it?
Jaime Erickson: Sure. We’re just now really starting this discussion. As I mentioned, we’re kicking off a listening tour starting next month to test all of our current vendors. That’s step one. Step two is, I’ve mentioned earlier, our new benefits portal. We’re doing a lot of work with our vendor to customize the communication, but it’s part of our listening tour.
We’re going to be meeting with the broad spectrum of employees, from millennials to boomers. There are various levels of income to better understand what is it from us, from a corporation, that they’re looking for. Also, how would they like us to communicate with them. Is it all app based? Is it email? Is it print? We’re just now beginning that discussion and we’ll definitely know more later this year.
Jennifer Benz: Great. I’ll turn it over to Megan to start to talk through the best practices in the next step of building a strategy.
Step 3: Lean on best practices
Megan Yost: Sure. As Jen mentioned, step three leans on best practices. We’re going to look at this from two perspectives. One from the retirement planning perspective and what we’ve learned from 401(k) plan design. Then secondly, from communication best practices.
We’ve learned so much from driving behavior change in a 401(k) space, especially from behavioral finance books like Nudge and leading behavioral scientists. Since the passage of PPA back in 2006, many plan sponsors have been really focused on using plan design, automaticity and choice architecture to help the majority of participants achieve better outcomes over the long term.
There are three things in particular that we wanted to highlight from a retirement plan design perspective that is not just specific to retirement, but also benefits design that can inform wellness plan design as well. The first step is evaluation and Barbara mentioned this earlier. Look at the data and find out what’s working and what’s not and that can give you a sense for how you need to structure your future efforts and how you can help your employees in the short and long-term.
The second, is using automaticity to your advantage wherever possible in whatever program, whether retirement or benefit, defaulting people into the most suitable options where possible. Then thirdly, framing. Use choice phrasing by leading with the best options first and the least optimal choices last. In this example, on the screen, we’ve talked about that really important transition when employees are off wording and often moving to new companies and we want to help them avoid cashing out their retirement savings at that time.
If you can structure the instructions in a certain way by framing cashing out as the last option, the least suitable, and the worst decision, that can help people manage their financial lives a lot more effectively hopefully. That’s the retirement perspectives. Jen, can you walk us through the communications best practices?
Jennifer Benz: Yeah, absolutely. Another component to being successful with financial wellness is really to look at it in the context of your overall benefit strategy, and particularly your overall benefits communication strategy. The first thing is to look at the benefits that are going to engage and matter to employees. It’s best to think about how you can reframe benefits over all around employee experience and get people to the programs at the right time for the right need.
Historically, a lot of benefits design and a lot of benefits communication has taken a siloed approach where we talk about each program separately. For employees, that’s not effective in terms of how they think about their life but also, winds up under-promoting the rich resources that you probably already have in place for employees.
Look at ways to engage across the whole spectrum of benefits, not just from a communication standpoint, but from a plan design standpoint. How do you architect the programs to get employees engaged in everything that’s available?
The second thing is to target and segment the different programs you have as well as the communications. Historically, a lot of benefits design has been one-size-fits-all. We have one health strategy that fits the needs of all employees and we have one financial strategy that fits the needs of all employees.
As the workforce gets more diverse, benefits design is going to have a lot of niche programs that are going to fit the needs of a much smaller segment of your workforce, but that’s going to be highly valuable to that portion.
The challenge there from a program design and a communication standpoint is, of course, getting the right people to the right programs at the right time. It would be good to think about how you can target different programs to different employees whether it’s based on their current financial need, their family scenario, or their demographics.
There are a lot of ways to do that and there are lots of ways to target and segment communications that don’t have to be labor-intensive or difficult to execute from an employer standpoint. Creating a few materials whether it’s tip sheets or web content that talks about how the benefits work for different ages of employees or different stages of life can make a big difference.
The third thing and what we don’t see nearly enough is year-round communication about the full spectrum of employee benefits. We did a survey last year with the national business coalition on health and we asked about 330 employers all about their benefits communication strategy and the way they orchestrate benefits communication. The vast majority, about 75% of employers said that engaging employees year-round was their biggest challenge. Only about 20% of companies actually communicate year-round.
That’s a big disconnect in terms of what we want with our benefit strategy and the communications that we’re providing. There’s so much that’s of value that benefits employees in their day-to-day lives and we’ve got to get them engaged year-round. The only way to do that is to have a year-round communication strategy where you let people access the programs so you can constantly remind and nudge them towards good decisions. We’ve seen time and time again that just that simple change in communication strategy makes a huge difference in how people engage with and perceive their benefits. There is a lot of opportunity there.
Step 4: Explore established and emerging solutions
Jennifer Benz: The next step is exploring all of the established and emerging solutions that are out there and looking beyond what you already have and focusing on what you could add to your benefits program. Megan, can you share a bit about these possibilities?
Megan Yost: Sure. What’s really interesting and exciting about financial wellness now is the proliferation of tools and resources, the innovation that’s happening in the space, and all the different programs that are becoming available to employers of all company sizes.
This includes everything from online cash flow management and budgeting tools, to this emerging concept of emergency savings account to help people save an emergency fund outside of the 401(k) plan. A number of these tools are listed here and they’re enumerated in more detail in the framework.
What’s interesting is we heard from our plan sponsors, our working group, and participants in our investor survey that in an ideal world, they said what they wanted most is a combination of personal one-on-one guidance and an online pool that they can use at their own convenience at home when they need to. It’s important, as you build your strategy and your overall program, to have a combination of that human touch and technology that people crave in their day-to-day lives.
Jaime, I’d like to ask you a question about third-party tools. What consideration should a plan sponsor think about when evaluating tools for employees?
Jaime Erickson: If I could rephrase it just a bit, because it’s one thing that we’re struggling with. I think right now, the issue is there are so many tools out there, but it’s packaging the tools in a way for your employees so they understand where to go. If you’re working with a multitude of vendors all of whom have different tools and who are using different assumptions, you have to make the decision, as a plan sponsor, which vendors are you in a market for and do they have the right tools.
There’s so many options and I think it’s important to look at all the different vendors and put them in a framework. If we want our employees to only go to vendor A, B, C for their retirement modeling tools, that’s the vendor that we’re going to communicate versus communicating several different vendors.
Megan Yost: Yeah, absolutely. Managing all of the vendors is an important aspect of all of this and a challenge, I can imagine, plan sponsors struggle with. This is a nice segue way into step five, which is ... Jen, I’ll pass it to you.
Step 5: Overcome challenges
Jennifer Benz: Great. The next step is how to overcome the challenges of creating a new strategy. Any new benefit strategy is a challenge for employers, primarily because of limited resources. All of this is detailed in the financial wellness framework. I’m going to go through it quickly so that we can hear a bit from Barbara about how she’s tackled some of these.
One very consistent challenge is limited resources. You need people and money to execute a new strategy and the communications around it. We have some suggestions on how to solve for that limited resource. We’ve been able to start small promoting what you have and track the impact of this to build a business case. Use your vendors to help you do more and look for ways that HR can help support program delivery and keep your benefits team focused on strategy. Do more with your current solutions and then just make modest adjustments to off-the-shelf products.
It’s challenging to navigate complex and disconnected programs, so you have to really make that experience easy for employees in order to change behavior. Some suggestions on how to do this is consolidating resources into an easy to find place, creating dedicated website, timed communications so that employees know where to go when they have a need, and getting your vendors to better integrate.
We heard from a lot of plan sponsors about hosting vendor summits to get everyone on the same page and aligned and helping improve that overall experience. It’s also a challenge to meet the needs of various stakeholders within the organization.
We’ve all seen what happens when you have too many cooks in the kitchen or competing priorities. It can be hard to move a program forward. That’s one of the things that we hope the financial wellness framework will help solve for your organizations. It can help create a strategy up front that keeps people focused on those concrete goals as well as working with the vendors to encourage collaboration.
The last piece takes a look at the challenge of engaging employees. This is the case across all benefits. We have limited attention spans on top of many learning styles, lots of different preferences, and hugely diverse demographics. We’ve talked through a lot of the ways to overcome that challenge such as communicating year-round, putting more of a market approach on your communication, focusing on life events and new simple tools. Something that we’ve seen come up more often is making benefits education a mandatory part of training rather than making it something that is nice to have. There are a lot of new approaches and details on this in the framework document itself.
Barbara, can you speak a bit to how you have handled overcoming some of these challenges and how you made the program successful at American Express?
Barbara Kontje: Sure. I think it’s pretty much what you and Jamie have both said. We’ve gone the whole gamut and certainly had limited resources. In the beginning, as I said, we didn’t have a program and we just marketed what we had. The more we marketed, the more we saw the utilization. As soon as we stopped marketing, we did see that wane as well.
We’ve done focus groups pretty early on and we had employees tell us everything that you would expect. They want the one-on-one counseling. They wanted tools and resources.
What we found was even though we already offered it, they weren’t using the program. Again, we raised their awareness around it and communicated the aspect of how to use it. We answered the questions of where do I begin? Why should I do it? What does it mean to me? I think that’s where you can come back to segmenting your population in terms of who’s just starting out and identifying where they are on their journey then tailoring the message to them.
We also found multiple channels of communication such as emails and home mailers. We have something that’s a short Twitter-like message. We have probably the opposite problem of what Jen identified earlier and it’s that we do communicate all year round but we have so much information that everybody on the benefits team wants to share that we have to slow down. We would have three other things going out this weekend, let’s prioritize.
Going back to that integrated approach, we do try to make all of our communication action oriented. We’re not just out here to entertain people with our cool graphics or whatever it is we’re sending out in the mail. We’re trying to get their attention so they can take action. We tell them what the action is and in certain cases, we try to reward them.
Going back to what Jen said about year-round communication, it really is important because you have to get to that employee when they’re ready to hear the message. If I’m talking to people about enrolling in the retirement program, well, I might talk to them in January because it’s early in the year and they can get started, but they’re just paying their Christmas bills for holiday shopping bills and thinking, “I can’t do that right now."
Later in the year when their finances have settled down and they can think more about it, they’re more ready for it. Tying it to life events is important as well. You want to use multiple vehicles and multiple styles because people do learn differently and will take action when they are motivated. Try to find the key motivators for employees and get the message tweaked so that it makes sense to them and keep the message short and sweet.
Step 6: Build a business case
Megan Yost: Right. Step six is building a business case. We’ve highlighted this a little in our discussion already today, so we’ll review it quickly. In order to get stakeholder buy-in funding and headcount, it’s really critical to build a compelling business case for your organization, your colleagues and your senior executives.
This can be done, as Jaime mentioned earlier, by gathering the data that’s already available to you from your record keeper, your benefits utilization metrics as Barbara has done, and comparing those with national averages where available where you don’t have data extrapolating averages from national statistics from sources like EBRI and numerous other surveys conducted by all kinds of service providers in the health and retirement space.
Jaime, I have one question for you here in terms of when you built your business case. What was the most critical element to your proposal and how did you frame it to your senior executives?
Jaime Erickson: We have not yet presented our business case to our senior executives. The only thing that’s outstanding is the feedback that we’re going to receive from the listening tour. I think the two main compelling arguments is really going to be around the impact to the organization.
Going back to $344 million when we look at productivity healthcare etc., but then also tying it back to what we have heard from our employees and what they need and coupling it with the financial data that we’ve reported and gathered.
Megan Yost: Great. Thank you. I’m going to turn it over to Jen now. Hopefully, we have time for one question and to review our six must ask questions.
Jennifer Benz: Yeah, thanks Megan. We do have a couple questions and a few minutes, so I won’t read through all of these, but we end the framework and I’ll leave this slide on screen with six questions that are really going to help you build that business strategy and vision for financial wellness at your organization.
Putting that time in upfront and then being able to see where your current program is align and how you can put together a communication strategy around getting good results is going to be helpful for any organization that’s looking at financial wellness.
A couple questions that have come in. Before we get to that, Barbara, you’re involved with discussions around promoting financial wellness at the industry level with the US Government Accountability Office. Can you say just a touch about that and what you really think is the opportunity across the industry for financial wellness?
Barbara Kontje: I think this comes in the readiness category because everybody is focused on this topic as we said in the paper. The US government is very, very interested in it from multiple standpoints. They realized that if we don’t take care of our finances, we’ll be looking to the government to be doing it for us and they want to be proactive about this. They engaged with a lot of employers who are engaged in financial wellness as well as some government agencies.
They are looking for positive solutions similar to our working group. They are looking for framework and how to help employers provide programs so that it does get to most employees in the United States. What is interesting is employers are really critical to the employee population. Who do you look to for information and resources? Most people will look to their employer. The Government Accountability Office was certainly focused on what role can employers play in advancing financial wellness.
Jennifer Benz: Great. I certainly think that’s one of the most inspiring things about this. We know that employers are not only a source of all this information in terms of just access to employees, but they’re a trusted source, which makes this a much more exciting and rewarding thing to tackle as an employer.
Jaime, we had a question about where you got all of the benchmarks for the whole business case and we went through those really quickly. Can you just speak briefly to how you compiled all that data and the different data sources that you looked at within Comcast?
Jaime Erickson: Yeah, sure. We definitely looked at a number of different sources. I know you mentioned earlier, EBRI. I think I have in the deck, I’m more than happy to provide the different benchmarks because they did have a slide that indicated all the different benchmarks and where we pulled the data, but EBRI is a good start. We also pulled from different federal reserve benchmark data.
There was a NPR survey as well that talked about garnishments, but for those on the phone, I’m more than happy to share because we did pull from a number of different benchmarks. It will take me probably 10 minutes to go through them each, so it’s probably best that I work one on one directly with those interested.
Jennifer Benz: Great. We appreciate you, Jaime, as well as Barbara both of you being so generous with your time and sharing all the work that you’ve put in. It’s going to help others have a big leg up on moving their strategy forward.
Thanks everyone for joining. We’re out of time. I wish we could spend all day talking about this. I know we’d be able to get into a lot of good questions. If you haven’t already, you can download the framework at benzcommunications.com/financialwellness. You can send us your feedback as well. We’re happy to hear from you. We want to keep this conversation going and hope that this webinar as well as other resources have been really helpful. Megan, any closing thoughts from you?
Megan Yost: I would like to thank the members of our working group who helped contribute to this framework and to everyone on the phone, thanks for tuning in. We hope you find this framework useful and put it to good use in your organizations. Thanks for your time.
Jennifer Benz: Thanks Barbara and Jaime for joining us, as well. You guys have been great.
Jaime Erickson: Any time. Thank you.
Barbara Kontje: It’s been great. Thank you. Happy to share.