16 June 2019

Financial Wellness Wanted, No ‘Latte-Shaming’ Allowed

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Employee A cashes out a retirement plan to help with the costs of buying a house, then learns the tax penalties will be higher than he thought. Concerned about that and credit card debt from the move, he cuts back on his current 401(k) contributions.

Employee B has four active kids, and although she has employer-sponsored health insurance for the family, the out-of-pocket costs mean she, too, cuts back on her 401(k) contributions. She also neglects medical care for herself, choosing to ignore potential warning signs in an attempt to lower the family’s health care costs.

As if common scenarios like these weren’t enough, financially fragile employees are barraged with advice from superstar financial gurus, hometown consumer finance bloggers, and everyone in between.

‘Don’t get that latte at Starbucks and you’ll save five dollars a day!’ ‘Pay down your highest interest credit card first!’ ‘Set up an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck to a savings account!’ ‘Don’t buy a new car!’ And so on.

Some of that advice is good. Some unfortunately assumes that all workers actually have extra money to start a savings account or pay extra to a credit card debt.

But the latte-shaming is the worst. Workers read in the news how Kardashians are robbed of $10 million rings, CEOs are lapping up bonuses equivalent to all of their employees’ salaries combined, Trump nominees are “forgetting” about a couple hundred million they own in investments, and some reporter or financial expert is slapping them on the wrist for splurging on a $5 coffee?

No wonder employees are stressed out.

Poor employee financial literacy and health costs employers thousands in productivity and health care costs, not to mention employee morale. It also costs advisors, as employees cut retirement plan contributions — or never even start.

And employees want help. A recent Mercer study found that 85 percent of all adults, and 93 percent of 18–34-year-olds, are interested in online financial tools to help manage their finances, but, the study notes, “they must be secure and easy to use.”

It’s a trend that sponsors and advisors can’t ignore.

But when plan sponsors look for financial wellness programs that they hope will help employees’ financial lives, they find a bewildering array of offerings. Mercer puts the number of financial wellness vendors “at well over 300.” Even a quick search at Shortlister turns up companies with all kinds of programs, coaching, and technology.

This chaotic array of offerings poses a challenge, but also an opportunity for advisors to help plan sponsors make sense of it all.

Advisors need to remember that just as every plan sponsor is different, so are workforces and employer goals. As advisors dive into the smorgasbord of financial wellness solutions on the market, they might want to start by considering common features most financial wellness programs have. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that most financial wellness programs incorporate the following:

·         Rewards for saving, budgeting or other helpful financial actions

·         Personalization for individual employees’ situations

·         Easy access and interactive features for employees

·         A focus on proactive rather than reactive behavior

Typical features the researchers found that are commonly recommended in financial wellness plans include the following:

·         Financial education, counseling, and planning

·         Targeted benefit and retirement counseling

·         Online access to personalized financial management tools

·         Automatic credit reports

·         Employer-sponsored lending programs

But just as important, there are three more things many employees would want in a financial wellness program that plan sponsors and advisors should note:

·         They want financial wellness to be interesting, a fun challenge, not yet another depressing thing to do.

·         They want security for their data and reassurance that no one else will know about their financial status.

·         And last, but not least, they want and need support and encouragement along the way, with no “latte-shaming” allowed.

Click here for the original article from Benefits Pro.

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