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Financial wellness programs differ from organization to organization, but the process for developing, implementing, and measuring can be consolidated into six standard steps.

Steps toward a financial wellness program:

  1. Focus on your human resource strategy.
  2. Identify internal challenges.
  3. Understand your workforce’s unique needs.
  4. Select an approach.
  5. Communicate and actively engage employees.
  6. Establish metrics and measure success.

As you go through these steps, it is important to keep in mind the dual purpose of any financial wellness program: to help employees achieve a greater state of financial well-being and to achieve your goals as an employer.

Step 1: Focus on your human resource strategy.

Since an employee’s performance and job satisfaction can be influenced by financial stress, a workplace financial wellness program can be a powerful tool to help you achieve your organization’s strategic goals. As you develop your human resources plan, consider a financial wellness program that helps you address one of the root causes of employee stress, which you may see playing out in declining productivity, lower employee morale, or a rising turnover rate.

Being clear about what you are trying to accomplish will guide everything from employee messaging to your delivery mechanism.

For instance, a recent national study of Millennial employees in nonprofits highlighted the fact that many feared they could not afford their student loan payments on a nonprofit salary, and were actively considering leaving the sector. Providing resources on school loan repayment and forbearance, budgeting strategies, and auto-enrollment for retirement saving, as well as assessing your benefits programs for quality, are all ways you can address this issue, and thereby impact your turnover potential.

Another area financial wellness programs can impact is recruitment. Market the fact that you offer financial wellness coaching, and it will distinguish your organization from others seeking to recruit and hire employees with the same skill sets.

Financial wellness tools can also help employees better use their other benefits – for instance, are your employees using retirement fund loans to pay for short term needs? It may be worth considering a system for providing low cost earned-wage advances, like PayACTIVE, or resources that ensure employees understand withdrawal penalties. These will both improve employee financial well-being and, ultimately, lower plan costs.

Again, when determining your program approach, the most important factor is what your organization is trying to accomplish from an HR perspective, so you can measure your results against the time and other resources invested. That begins with understanding your HR needs and strategies.

Start with our Internal Planning Tool: Workplace Financial Wellness Program.

Step 2: Identify internal challenges.

Costs: With or without a budget, there are many ways to offer a financial wellness program as an employer. Thankfully, programs are easier than ever to access locally, from sources like nonprofits, banking institutions, and vendors (like retirement brokers), as well as online. Many of these resources, like Mission:Money, are free. Visit this page for a list of other free resources you can tap.

You can make these resources easily accessible via a closed Facebook or LinkedIn group, a third-party provider, company intranet, or a document (in print and online) with a simple, curated list of links. To provide these resources or explain how to access them, consider using scheduled time like staff meetings, team meetings, benefit onboarding, or annual reviews.

Internal leadership buy-in: Most organizations will need management support to undertake and implement a program. Managers may be more willing to lend support if they believe it is good for the organization, has a reasonable cost, and is the right thing to do, so provide them with research that shows the impact of poor employee financial health on productivity, client focus, absenteeism, presenteeism, retention, and recruiting. Use the tools here to calculate the costs involved.

Quantifying success: Measuring your financial wellness program’s effectiveness can also be a challenge. Consider using the CFPB Financial Well-Being Scale when you start your program, and administer it again every 6 to 12 months. Linking improvement to real or estimated lost productivity calculations will provide a return-on-investment metric for your organization’s efforts.

Liability: Another challenge is understanding your organization’s fiduciary responsibilities and potential liabilities regarding the content and providers of financial educational materials. This may be another reason to partner with organizations you’re already involved with to provide financial educational services.

Benchmarking employer concerns: For most organizations, selecting financial wellness partners is primarily a matter of cost, ease of implementation, and expertise. According to Prudential’s 2017 survey of employee benefits, smaller and medium-sized employers prioritize a good fit for employee needs and a return on their investment; large employers tend to seek more involvement in implementation, and ongoing support.

Typically, retirement plan and benefit providers are the preferred providers for financial wellness programs. In addition, the 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey from PricewaterhouseCooper shows that employees will participate more readily in, and place a higher value on, financial wellness programs administered by partners they consider neutral and unbiased.

Step 3: Assess your workforce needs.

To support your employees in achieving their financial goals, you must understand what they’re facing. This information will not only help you define elements of your financial wellness program, it will allow you to set a baseline to measure your program’s effectiveness over time.

One simple, proven way to do this: Ask. Create a company-wide survey, being sure to make it anonymous and to let employees know it’s anonymous. They must be secure in the fact that their responses are private: For many, personal finances – and even their feelings about them – is both a sensitive and stressful topic. Anonymity not only helps you get candid answers, it also prompts more employees to respond. The result will be a more accurate picture of their conditions and needs.

You can also look at data you already have on your employees as an indicator of their financial situation. For example, do your employees have a large number of 401(k) loans, and if so, what is the average loan balance? How many employees are contributing at the highest matching levels, and how many have increased their contribution rates over time? How many take advantage of an option to split direct-deposit paychecks into savings and checking accounts? How many employees use tax-advantaged benefits such as a flexible spending account (FSA)?

After conducting a needs assessment to determine the financial issues that are most relevant to your workforce, you may want to evaluate whether existing compensation and benefits are contributing to the financial challenges of employees. Once this evaluation is complete, a range of low and high touch services can be considered to address different needs and preferences within a diverse workforce.

Step 4: Select an approach.

The right financial wellness plan for one employer might not be the right plan for another. You should determine your offerings by analyzing your resources, in-house capabilities, and workforce demographics. Keep in mind that a financial wellness program can range from fairly basic to extensive, and can take a myriad of forms.

Popular topics in financial wellness programs:

Basic financial literacy
Budgeting assistance
Debt management and reduction
Creating an emergency fund
Investment advice
Retirement planning
Home buying and mortgages
Managing student loan debt
Planning for children’s education

Some organizations provide online tools or workbooks, some offer classes (either in a classroom setting or via eLearning), while others provide private, one-on-one meetings with financial counselors or planners. The chart below, from Prudential’s recent survey, demonstrates the types of approaches employers are using currently, and planning to use, when offering financial wellness resources.

Some basic considerations:

How in-depth will your program be? Financial wellness programs can range from group educational sessions to individualized online programs to personalized coaching sessions with a financial professional. Obviously, the more individualized your program is, the more effective (and resource-intensive) it will be.

Will your program be mandatory? If not, what incentives will you offer for participation? This speaks to one of the major concerns about financial wellness programs: Will they be used? Though research shows there is much demand for these programs, and documented use, incentives can increase participation. Those incentives can range from small, one-time bonuses to subsidized sessions with a financial planner, to simple “gamification” schemes that award badges or points for completing worksheets, signing up for auto-enroll savings, or attending sessions.

How can you design a program to reach different demographics in your workforce?
Many financial wellness programs are designed for employees with higher incomes and more education. As a result, they tend to focus on long-term goals like retirement. Low- and moderate-income workers often have vastly different concerns, such as managing day-to-day expenses and building emergency savings. Age is also a factor; for instance, Millennials will likely be more interested in managing student loan debt and buying their first home, Gen Xers will likely be focused on financing college educations for their kids, and Baby Boomers will inevitably be more concerned about managing their assets throughout their retirement.

What kinds of resources can your organization bring to the program? As with most benefits programs, an effective financial wellness program won’t be one-size-fits-all and will depend heavily on the resources made available to it. But remember, “resources” aren’t just dollars: Time, relationships (with board members or vendors), and practical items (like space) can be just as effective in ensuring a successful program.

For those with a budget, commercially-available financial wellness programs are convenient and generally cost effective. Small or zero budget? Ask your current benefits providers to conduct training sessions or one-on-one consultation during enrollment periods. Pair this with free-to-acquire information on personal finance that you might collect and bring together in a single flyer or web page. Set aside 15 minutes of each staff meeting to focus on financial wellness topics. Reach out to other nonprofits, like consumer credit agencies, to request a presentation (or links to an online video) discussing topics like buying a first home, managing debt, or basic budgeting.

Step 5: Communicate with and actively engage employees.

Successful financial wellness programs have ongoing communications campaigns behind them, which are embedded in an organization’s values and their HR department’s messaging. Without this effort, employees may look on vendor-produced wellness materials as “just marketing.”

Both education and action are necessary for optimal results. In terms of financial education, employers should provide resources like Mission:Money, but for optimal results, you should deploy information that’s specific to each employee’s particular life-stage, timed to when they are most receptive.

Among those employers who offer educational resources:

  • 24% of organizations offered employees online financial or investment advice
  • 27% offered one-on-one advice
  • 22% offered advice in a group or classroom setting

In terms of action, you can identify employees who are not participating in benefits programs, and take steps to assist them. After determining who is most at risk (i.e., those who are not participating in retirement programs), HR or senior leaders can hold sessions that show them how specific benefits programs (including your financial wellness program!) can make their lives easier.

You can also create an auto-enroll feature for retirement programs (meaning that employees must make an active choice to “opt out” rather than to sign up) and implement automatic retirement savings increases whenever employees get a raise. During open enrollment season, you can provide deeper information on understanding and leveraging health benefits.

In addition, employers can utilize communication vehicles such as internal newsletters, staff meetings, orientations, and review periods to make financial wellness resources known to employees – you can even bring in vendors for educational purposes.

The real key is taking an active and visible role your employees’ financial wellness, not to simply rely on benefits providers or a tossed-off web link. Not only will this demonstrate that the organization is taking workers’ financial issues seriously, it makes your efforts more effective by helping vendors and HR leaders reach people with the right solutions.

Step 6: Establish metrics and measure success.

The same kinds of methods deployed to determine employees’ needs can also be used to gauge your program’s success. Employers can set metrics using data from employee surveys, the number of 401(k) loans or hardship withdrawals, and feedback on usage from providers and carriers. You can also check for increased participation in retirement programs, use of flexible healthcare spending accounts, or attendance at various training sessions, for example. Remember that truly successful financial wellness programs are those that change both money attitudes and everyday behaviors to produce lasting effects.

Employers should also measure success in terms of their internal goals. The most common metric is employee satisfaction, but more specific measures should also be established based on your unique HR objectives – like competitiveness, retention, and employer branding – to gauge true return on investment.

Common top metrics used to measure program success:

Increased employee satisfaction
Increased productivity
Increased retirement participation
Return on investment (e.g. cost savings, employee retention, on-time retirements)
Number of participants in a program

A meaningful financial wellness program creates a culture that supports financial independence, strengthens the use of employee benefits, and advances strategic business objectives such as productivity and employee engagement. In other words, it benefits employees and employers.

The content on provides general information and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information; do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here; and take no liability for your use of this information.

© Georgia Center for Nonprofits 2019

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