Financial wellness: An alternative workplace benefit.

A version of this article originally appeared on Human Resource Executive.

October 2018

A strong economy and low unemployment rates are, in part, responsible for the ongoing war for talent, in which companies are battling daily to attract and retain top performers and high-potential employees.

What's more, Charles Schwab’s Modern Wealth Index survey1 finds that three in five Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. When companies are unable to increase salaries to meet the financial needs of employees, they could lose some of their top talent, which would be a huge disadvantage in the current workplace climate.

In place of significant salary increases, some companies have updated and improved their benefits packages. From eldercare and childcare coverage to on-site healthcare clinics, the benefits continue to become more unique. One that is often overlooked, though, is a financial-wellness program. A white paper from Charles Schwab says that, while financial wellness is a rather broad topic, it can be understood as "better financial outcomes and reduced financial stress as a result of taking ownership of one’s financial wellbeing."2

Making the case for financial wellness.

Research from Schwab Retirement Plan Services surrounding financial wellness has uncovered some compelling data. More than 85 percent of employees who responded to its 2018 401(k) Participant Survey3 said they’d use financial wellness tools if available, but only 52 percent of companies currently have financial wellness programs in place. When asked what they’d most like to have in a financial wellness program, employees were most interested in simple, intuitive solutions to help them invest and save better. The top three "must-haves" included an online tool to help plan for retirement, a "quick" online assessment tool that provides an overall financial picture and action plan, and help from a financial professional to develop a financial plan.

These desired features often form the core of a great financial wellness program, and implementing it doesn’t have to be a costly venture. Oftentimes, it can be created as an add-on benefit to an existing 401(k).

Nathan Voris, managing director of strategy at Schwab Retirement Plan Services, says the right financial wellness approach should be designed with all employees in mind—from novices to seasoned investors.

"We provide resources for people who may be struggling to get a handle on the basics and start saving," he says, "And we also have resources available for more experienced savers and investors."

He adds that the right program also should be high-tech and high-touch—with a combination of intelligent technology and personalized financial guidance.

"From our perspective, the best approach is to efficiently and intuitively create the shortest distance between a person’s need and the right next step for them," says Voris.

Impact of financial planning.

Looking at the results of Schwab’s 2018 Modern Wealth Index, there is a significant difference in financial wellness outcomes among people with a written financial plan (planners) and those without a formal plan in place (non-planners). Planners are significantly more like than non-planners to

• Pay bills and still save each month (75 percent versus 33 percent); 
• Have an emergency fund (65 percent versus 24 percent);
• Have life insurance (62 percent versus 39 percent);
• Feel financially stable (62 percent versus 32 percent); and
• Never carry a credit-card balance, make other loan payments on time or have no debt (42 percent vs. 26 percent).

Creating a formal financial plan is one of the first steps of a financial wellness program, but nearly half of all respondents feel that they don’t have enough money to merit a formal plan (45 percent). Twenty percent said making a financial plan never occurred to them, and another 20 percent said they wouldn’t know where to go or how to go about getting one.

Joe Vietri, senior vice president and head of Schwab’s retail branch network, says there’s a common misconception that financial planning and wealth management are only for millionaires.

"Whether people think they don’t have enough money, believe it would be too expensive or just find the whole concept too complicated, the longer they wait, the harder it is to achieve long-term success," Vietri says. "We must make planning and advice more accessible to more people. Simply put, we believe every American deserves a financial plan, regardless of how much money they have today."

Implementing a financial wellness program at work could help quell any existing misconceptions while potentially improving employee financial wellbeing. And caring about employees’ financial wellbeing should be something employers are interested in—financial stress negatively impacts productivity and employee health, and increases absenteeism and presenteeism, according to PwC’s 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey.4*

"Because financial stress affects individuals and the workplace, employers have a vested interest in helping their employees get on the right path and take ownership of their financial futures," says Voris.

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