Working Americans’ financial wellness remained virtually unchanged in 2015 compared to the year-earlier period.
So reports Financial Finesse, a provider of financial wellness programs, in an analysis of employee financial trends. The research, summarized in Financial Finesse’s “Year in Review 2015 report,” is based on anonymous answers to 31 financial wellness questions.
The report shows that overall financial wellness levels were unchanged at 4.8 out of 10, as compared to 4.7 in 2014. The research does, however, highlight differences in financial wellness between workers relying on do-it-yourself (DIY) online solutions and those who turn to a certified financial planner (CFP).
Online technology helped to increase employees’ awareness of their financial vulnerabilities, the survey shows, but did not improve their financial wellness. By contrast, employees who had five interactions, including conversations on the phone or in person with a certified financial planner, showed “substantial progress.”
Those repeat interactions with a financial coach appear to help employees get “unstuck,” and advance in key areas. For these regular participants:
80 percent have “a handle on cash flow,” compared to 66 percent of online-only users.
72 percent have an emergency fund, compared to 50 percent of online-only users.
98 percent contribute to their retirement plan, compared to 89 percent of online-only users.
48 percent are on track for retirement, compared to 21 percent of online-only users.
64 percent are confident in their investment strategy, compared to 42 percent of online-only users.
“Many employees are challenged in overcoming significant obstacles like debt and managing competing financial priorities,” says Financial Finesse Founder and CEO Liz Davidson. “They make progress up to a certain point, but it’s the interaction with the financial coach that opens up possibilities and solutions and allows the employee to get ‘unstuck.’ Technology can’t listen empathetically, brainstorm together, motivate, offer options for dealing with their specific worries and hold people accountable over time.”
Davidson noted that 71 percent of employees that repeatedly used their financial wellness programs were women. These programs have likely contributed to narrowing the gender gap. A look at 31 key financial wellness questions revealed that the gender gap in financial wellness declined from 7 percentage points in 2014 to 5 percentage points in 2015.
The gender gap continues to be the largest in areas of investing and money management, and smallest in areas of protecting the family, such as insurance and estate planning. For those employees who haven’t shown much momentum, the 2015 data illuminates many reasons overall employee financial wellness is neither advancing nor declining.
“American employees continue to have troubling financial vulnerabilities,” explained Greg Ward, CFP, director of the Financial Finesse Think Tank. “Eighty-five percent of employees who completed a financial wellness assessment reported at least some level of financial stress. Concerns about debt and retirement are high. In fact, many employees first interact with workplace financial wellness programs in hopes of getting a handle on their debt,” Ward said.
Ward suggested employers who offer financial wellness programs consider tailoring communications to address these vulnerabilities in particular:
58 percent may not be saving enough for retirement, with only 16 percent of millennials on track to achieve their retirement goals.
51 percent don’t have an emergency fund. While this declines with age, a worrisome 25 percent of employees 65 and older still don’t have an emergency fund.
34 percent may be living beyond their means. For employees with family incomes of $100,000 or lower, less than half pay off their credit cards every month.
33 percent may have serious debt problems. Debt may be hurting African-American and Latino employees the most, with 75 percent of African American and 66 percent of Latino employees saying getting out of debt is a top concern.
Those polled also expressed a high level concern over market volatility. Many employees grew nervous about their retirement plan savings and turned to their financial wellness program for guidance on how to handle these market fluctuations.
Davidson says companies providing financial wellness programs continue to see a reduction in the percentage of employees who reported having to take a retirement plan loan or hardship withdrawal, coming in at 23 percent in 2015, down from 30 percent in 2013. As more employers adopt robust financial wellness programs, she expects these improvements to continue.