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Employers and Workers Financial Well-Being

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What You Need to Know

  • Employers can offer apps.
  • The author says they should also offer access to live-human advisors.
  • He suggests that any programs provided should meet a fiduciary standard.

Ironically, one of the most pervasive forms of illiteracy in America isn’t addressed by its educational system.

Financial literacy — the ability to understand and use fundamental financial skills like budgeting, investing and planning — is woefully undertaught and largely unappreciated.

Many Americans have never been taught how to handle money.

The average American correctly answered only 52% of the questions on the TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index in 2021.

Moreover, the wealth gap in the United States is increasing; at the beginning of 1990, 60% of the country’s net wealth was held by the top 10% of Americans.

By the third quarter of 2021, that share had increased to 69.6%.

From credit card and student loan debt to a lack of investing knowledge, battling rising interest rates and confronting soaring home prices, individuals are struggling to cope with some of life’s biggest challenges — and they’re feeling very ill-equipped.

An Essential Skill

Financial security is a universally important goal, in many ways equal in importance to education and health.

Given the centrality of financial literacy to lifetime success, many wonder why schools are not teaching it.

Those past school age, however, realize the challenges in catching up to a world in which personal financial decisions are increasingly complex and consequential, especially with a lack of basic financial knowledge.

There is a growing sense that employers have the opportunity, resources and even obligation to address the financial literacy of their workforce.

According to the Bank of America 11th Annual Workplace Benefits Report, 62% of employers feel an extreme sense of responsibility for their employees’ financial well-being.

Many employers, in fact, are targeting financial wellness as a means of helping to close the wealth gap — a key consideration in DE&I (diversity equity and inclusion) initiatives.

BrightPlan’s 2021 Wellness Barometer Survey found that the number one cause of anxiety among workers is money, with 65% reporting financial stress.

The study also found that over 80% of employees want support and guidance from their employers on personal finances — not only for retirement and financial education, but also for financial planning, investing and day-to-day money management.

Multiple Benefits

Workers of all ages, life stages, income levels, genders and socioeconomic background, want and deserve access to financial wellness education and resources.

And there is a direct business benefit to employers as well.

Financially stressed employees reported an average of 15.3 hours per employee of reduced productivity and engagement per week.

Taken to the national level, this leads to an estimated $4.7 billion in lost productivity for US employers every week.

(This assumes that there are 94,257,000 knowledge workers in the United States, with an hourly wage of $35.53, based on a data from the Federal Reserve Economic Dataset.

For more information, see the full report.

Companies that provide financial wellness as part of their total rewards strategy can improve productivity, increase employee loyalty and raise their ability to attract and retain talent.

In an era of high worker churn, the value of promoting financial wellness cannot be overemphasized.

There is a role for investment and financial planning professionals to play as well.

Increasing financial literacy creates benefits for everyone, clients and advisors alike.

By incorporating the latest literacy practices and extending those areas of expertise to growing businesses in their communities, planners can build a competitive niche while raising the awareness of the need for sound planning.

Multichannel and Holistic

So what are the best ways to provide financial literacy to workers? To begin with, there must be more to the initiative than a one-time educational opportunity.

Solutions must be actionable, relevant and ongoing to be effective.

They must be promoted and available to every employee, at every level, built for the long term and focused on closing the gap between knowing and doing.

Multichannel experiences are important.

Employers should consider a program that includes financial wellness apps, webinars, access to financial coaches, and in-person workshops where and when possible.

Online dashboards and mobile apps provide a home for financial health assessments, calculators and other useful tools that deliver insight and analysis of progress into the person’s financial goals.

What’s more, digital financial coaching makes it possible for employees to work on their plans anytime, according to their own schedule, and provides real-time insights.

Apps have other benefits as well, particularly in their ability to customize to the individual.

Some employees are focused on debt repayment, others on saving for a home or college; still others are nearing retirement or seeking an investment strategy.

A good financial wellness app will support employees at every stage of life, providing them with the tools and information specific to their current situation and future goals.

In addition, financial planners play a crucial role in a company’s financial education program.

To see the most value in their program, companies should take an integrated approach with both digital and human elements.

Utilization tracking, another advantage of digital solutions, helps to document the effectiveness of literacy training as part of the company’s overall well-being efforts.

Finally, all financial literacy programs must conform to a fiduciary standard that ensures independent, objective and certified information, delivered at all times in the employee’s best interest.

Universally Important

It might seem that only large employers can afford to accommodate financial literacy as an employee wellness benefit, but this isn’t the case.

Thanks to advances in financial education offerings, companies of all sizes can and should consider programs for financial success.

The best programs are customizable to each individual, long-term in scope, and integrated so that employees can see and track all their financial interests.

Most of all, they must be made available to everyone in the organization.

Whether someone has $10 million in net worth or is on the brink of bankruptcy, they are all deserving of financial literacy.

As a way to keep employees satisfied and productive, looking at financial wellness from a holistic perspective is something every employer needs to be doing.


Scott SpannScott Spann is senior director of financial education at BrightPlan.

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