Strategies with impact: successful approaches to financial engagement

An ever-present challenge for today's corporations is getting employees to engage with benefits programs. Even the most generous suite of offerings may fail to reach a workforce if employees feel disconnected.

The potential result is wasted expenditure for the business and an underserved and possibly unmotivated workforce.

Fortunately, improvements in technology and data analytics are making employee outreach easier and more effective. This means businesses can better target communications and design programs that resonate with individuals with a variety of needs.

Nathan Voris, Managing Director, Strategy, for Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc., says “Leveraging that data helps us pinpoint specific issues facing segments of an employee base, such as low savings rates or excessive 401(k) loans, and structuring wellness components to address those issues.”

“The most effective groups I’ve seen at engaging employees in workplace benefits follow some specific patterns,” says Donn Hess, Director of Marketing and Communications at Lockton Retirement. “First, they recognize that not everyone is the same and they tailor communication, as much as possible, to reach people how, when and where they want to be reached.”

For example, some employers send out surveys to all employees and find out what matters to them. Analysis of those responses means benefits can be designed to cater to what employees want rather than what employers think they need.

Second, Mr Hess has seen organizations successfully incentivize employees to participate through reward programs. In this endeavor, never underestimate the appeal of a prize reward.

“This could be points in a wellness program, the opportunity to win a prize or just a really clear, really specific statement of what the benefit is for the individual,” he says.

Change in action

HDR, the engineering and architecture firm and a client Schwab Retirement Plan Services, has seen huge success following this type of approach.

In 2018 the company, which has more than 10,000 employees worldwide, introduced the Vitality wellness optimizer program. Employees receive points for carrying out financial education and other exercises and the points accumulate to give reductions in healthcare premiums.

“We are seeing a lot more participation in the education programs just as a result of giving wellness points. The feedback from employees is that they cannot believe what a benefit they were missing out on before,” says Mark Ellinger, Vice President, Director of Compensation and Benefits at HDR.

HDR also targeted financial wellness benefits based on employees’ feedback. The company acknowledged that retirement benefits often dominated the agenda, something which may not have resonated with younger employees.

“We need to send the right message at the right time. We talk to managers at various sites and find out what their employees need. If they have a lot of new recruits, we might talk to them about student loans or debt management,” says Mr Ellinger.

How that message is delivered is also critical.

Mr Ellinger says HDR uses a variety of media to reach employees. Email, intranet, and sites offered by external benefits providers all feed into the information employees receive.

“We make sure employees can access education at a time that suits them. We are operating in different time zones, we appreciate people are busy with lives outside of work, so they can download a webinar, for example, when they need to,” Mr Ellinger says.

Tori Conklin, Corporate Employee Wellness Manager at HDR, says one of the biggest barriers they encounter is that some individuals believe that financial education ‘isn’t for them’.

“Some people might feel like they don’t have financial issues and they don’t see financial wellness as being relevant to them. We want to show them that is not the point; that engaging with these programs has positive impacts for everyone, no matter what their financial situation is,” Ms Conklin says.

Technological revolution

Time is another barrier. Ms Conklin says that feedback from employees consistently reveals time constraints on engagement. Fortunately, technology has the power to potentially make interactions swift and immediate.

“Technological advances are about making sure people are getting the resources and solutions they really need to take action. Doing a better job of getting people what they want, when and how they want it,” says Mr Voris.

Data analytics may also help employers determine which communication methods are resulting in positive engagement from which sectors of their workforce. For example, retirement planning details sent via postcard, compared to student loan offerings through email.

Another opportunity for technology is improving how employers evaluate the success of financial wellness efforts. Mr Ellinger says it has been easy for HDR to assess the efficacy of automatic contribution increases to the 401(k) plan.

“We increase contributions by 1% every year, for those employees deferring less than 15%, at the time salaries increase,” Mr Ellinger says. “We have seen 94% of employees stick with automatic increases.”

Whichever way companies approach financial wellness, it is clear that innovation is a key to more successful outcomes. Financial wellness cannot be a “set it and forget it” strategy. Instead, employers need to adapt and evolve to get the best results.

Employers that move with the times and make the most of emerging technology, data insights, and personalized engagement strategies will likely see the best return on their benefit investments.

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