A few years ago, when corporate HR directors were asked if they would like to offer employees a means to improve their financial wellness, most would have asked, “Why would I want to get involved in my employees’ financial affairs?” Now, credit union executive Todd Shickel says he gets a phone call every week from a company asking for tips on how to tackle this subject.
Several things have changed to cause that shift.
The rise of Millennials in the workforce has put a spotlight on the economic pressures faced by many members of this large generation due to high student loan debt and wage stagnation. At the same time, says Shickel, who is Vice President of Business Development at Elements Financial, a credit union based in Indianapolis, businesses seek additional benefits to help retain key workers or attract prospects in a highly competitive job market. In addition, as the whole concept of wellness has taken root in society, many people in business realize that financial wellness is a key element of overall wellness.
These factors have created a strong business opportunity for banks and credit unions. Financial wellness programs are expensive for companies to buy or set up themselves, states Sean Tynan, Vice President of Financial Education at Everfi, so such a program provided by a financial institution fills a real need. Three of five employees of all companies say personal financial matters are their top cause of stress, says Tynan. Further, a large percentage of consumers (78%) look to banks and credit unions for advice, according to a J.D. Power poll.
In addition, one in four employees rank unbiased financial education or unbiased counselors as an employee benefit, according to Tynan. When such a program is provided, more than seven out of ten (71%) staffers take part.
“If you’re looking for a way to stand apart from all your competitors, one of the best ways to do so is to deploy data you have for better financial education and better insight as to what the consumer should do next,” says industry observer Jim Marous, who spoke along with Shickel and Tynan during a webinar hosted by The Financial Brand.
“Instead of using a rearview mirror with the consumer,” explains Marous, “give them a financial services GPS model that says ‘Here’s what we have seen based on what you have told us and the transactions you’re doing, and here’s how we can help you’.” Marous, Owner/Publisher of the Digital Banking Report and Co-Publisher of The Financial Brand, also points out that this approach is particularly appealing to Millennials and Gen Z. Right now, he says, those generations are leaning more towards big tech firms than traditional financial institutions because they believe the former are proactive in using information that helps them in daily life.
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What a Financial Wellness Bank-at-Work Program Should Include
Every bank or credit union would love to come into a large or midsize business and offer products and services to the company’s employees at those companies. Many financial institutions, however, just approach workplace banking as an adjunct to their business banking efforts, notes Shickel. Adding financial wellness can change that.
“If you can become a trusted partner and bring additional value through these types of programs you establish yourself as more than just a vendor or more than just a financial institution providing a business checking account,” Shickel states.
The type of topics covered in a financial wellness program can include such basics as reading a credit report, developing a budget, and avoiding identity theft or other frauds, along with more advanced topics such as managing student loan debt, car buying and home buying. All these can be packaged as workshops, Shickel notes, and various departments within the bank or credit union can help develop the curriculum content.
The credit union exec adds, however, that an institution should have information applicable to people at various stages of their financial lives. HR managers want to have a benefit to offer to as many people in the organization as possible, he states.
How to Get Past the Gatekeepers
Employers hesitate to give financial institution access to their employees, according to Shickel. The gatekeepers in some of the larger companies are the higher-level human resource folks that are handling benefits and employee engagement strategies, he says.
“One of the ways to get that access is to bring something that assists HR managers to deliver more value to employees,” Shickel states. Financial wellness, as noted earlier, has become a sought-after capability that complements physical wellness elements such as diet and exercise.
One of the keys to success in a bank-at-work financial program is that once you have gained an audience with employees you must be sure to keep the educational component truly educational and not use it solely as an opportunity to sell, Shickel maintains. This builds trust and loyalty with the employer.
“If you can go into it with a genuine approach of bringing the education first,” he states, “then you will create opportunities for one-to-one conversations with employees, during which you can introduce products and services that may help them implement their financial plan.”
Also very important for the success of financial wellness within a workplace banking program is that the financial institution must be able to provide both online and in-person educational options. With so many employees working remotely, serving education to them online has become increasingly important.
Elements Financial realized that creating professional online wellness material inhouse would require much time and money. They turned to Everfi to provide this part of the program, which importantly includes the ability to collect the data on who is participating.
Which Measures of Success Are Most Important?
A financial wellness bank-at-work program is a long-term play, says Shickel. It can take 12 to 18 months to “really start developing some traction,” he says, partly because it takes that much time to build trust and loyalty.
“In a three- to five-year period if you can get 30% of the employees highly engaged — defined as having three or more of your products and services — then you would have an extremely successful program and you would absolutely be able to justify the investment,” Shickel maintains.
The credit union VP adds that each of the employer groups Elements Financial works with is set up as its own profit and loss center. That lets the institution closely track the resources it assigns to each account. Those resources include a relationship manager for every employer.
In terms of maximizing the ROI of a workplace banking wellness program, Shickel stresses the importance of obtaining a commitment from an employer to allow on-site access to employees four to six times a year. “If you show up once a year you’re not going to build the trust and loyalty that you need,” he states.