Personal finance plays a critical role in our lives and overall well-being. What we earn, spend, and save is woven into all aspects of our lives. Think about the amount of stress it causes when your finances go awry or you have to make a significant financial decision.
As the past few years have challenged our workplaces, economy, and finances, many employees were caught unprepared with no emergency savings or financial plans. To address increased economic insecurity and stress among employees, many employers turned to financial wellness programs as a solution.
Approachable and relevant financial education is also suitable for company culture, employee health, and business.
The availability of HSA, 401(k), FSA, and others, leaves employees on a steep learning curve to understand the complexities of their benefits plans and how to allocate dollars to these products.
With these factors becoming more lucent, employers are stepping up to help improve their employees’ financial wellness.
What is Financial Wellness?
Financial wellness is a state of feeling secure in your financial future and being able to meet ongoing and future financial obligations. An individual reaches a state of financial well-being when they have:
- Control over their day-to-day finances;
- The capacity to absorb financial shocks;
- A manageable level of debt;
- Financial acumen to plan for future goals, including planning for retirement;
- The financial freedom to maintain a desirable lifestyle;
Beyond the basic definition, financial wellness can look and feel very different to an individual based on age, economic status, and other factors (cultural, geographical, etc.)
There are also a variety of “stages” that an individual can be at in their financial journey.
Beginning with the essential elements of understanding their financial state and being able to withstand an emergency, all the way to the more established position of financial planning, the needs of an individual can be a linear progression.
What is the Diference between Financial Literacy and Financial Wellness?
- Financial literacy is money education programs focusing on understanding financial basics, how money works, how to budget, build savings, and reduce debt.
- A financial wellness program focuses on an employee’s existing monetary knowledge and equips that employee with the ability to use it properly.
About this Guide
Given the array of personal finance needs in the market, a myriad of vendor solutions and innovations are developing rapidly to meet the growing demand in the employer space.
But how do you, as an employer, create and implement a successful financial wellness program?
And what does success mean?
This Financial Wellness Buyer’s Guide aims to provide employers with the basic information needed to coordinate the selection of a provider for your financial wellness program.
This guide is designed to help you navigate the buying process and enable your organization to:
- Make better-informed decisions;
- Decrease employee stress and absenteeism;
- Plan the buying process by using an actionable set of tools and resources;
- Understand the right questions to ask vendors to learn which solution best meets the needs of your stakeholders;
- Increase workforce productivity;
- Increase financial confidence;
Steps For Selecting a Financial Wellness Provider
Phase 1: Identify & Prepare
While diving headfirst into demos and pricing proposals is tempting, it’s crucial to spend time analyzing and documenting your employee’s needs. The amount of time you spend preparing directly correlates to your new vendor’s ultimate success.
1) Understand your Business Objectives
Before considering the ROI of a financial wellness program, consider how it would align with your organization’s goals, especially with your talent goals. Outline what you want financial wellness to realize for your company. Every company is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution that can work for any organization.
2) Consider Employee’s Specific Needs & Interests
If possible, consider running an anonymous survey or focus group to find out what your employees want in a program. While most employees have apprehensions about sharing their personal financial information, an anonymous survey is a great starting point.
Here are some questions you can include:
- What are your most significant financial concerns?
- Do you have any short-term and long-term financial goals?
- What would help you achieve your future short and long-term financial goals?
- Do you have a budget? Do you stick to it?
- Are you prepared for an emergency?
- What features would inspire you to participate in a financial wellness program?
- What format of financial wellness education would be helpful to you?
3) Gather Information
Gathering information from various sources can help narrow the broad scope of benefits you can offer.
Methods of information gathering:
- Demographic analysis
- Employee database
- Anonymous survey
- Employee interviews
- Research best practices
For example, you can work with the 401(k) administrator or other record keepers to do a demographic analysis, allowing you to identify target audiences that could benefit most from financial wellness services.
You can also review 401(k) loan data, hardships, wage garnishments, and so on to provide insight into your “lowest hanging fruit.”
4) Map out your Benefits
Evaluate and map out your total financial benefits offering — from your retirement offering and health insurance to discount or banking services.
Evaluate those offerings, align them with your wellness goals and fill in any gaps with other solutions.
By re-evaluating your current solutions and knowing which ones are unutilized, you can replace them with more focused alternatives.
5) Identify Internal Obstacles & Challenges
You will inevitably face challenges and obstacles when implementing a financial wellness program.
The cost of developing this program is one of the most significant challenges.
Other challenges include the potential liabilities tied to your fiduciary responsibilities and employees’ reluctance to participate in the program. It is best to identify potential setbacks and mitigate potential threats to successful implementation.
Strategic Questions for Identifying & Preparing:
- What are the key areas where my employees are struggling financially?
- Could you tell me the key features I would like to know about?
- Will my employees benefit from a financial wellness service?
- How will others in the organization use this solution?
- What are the things that would make me nervous about buying this sort of solution?
- What kind of service level and support am I seeking from my provider?
- Are there tax breaks our company can take advantage of with this program?
- Can a new solution be designed and implemented within an acceptable time period?
- What would constitute a stress-free implementation of a new solution for you?
- What short- and long-term priorities would I achieve with the new solution?
- What are the regulatory risks I need to be aware of?
Phase 2: Compare & Evaluate
After gathering information on which areas your employees need financial assistance, you can start identifying which vendors you want to look into. It’s time to meet the vendors!
Keep the following in mind as you’re evaluating options:
1) Keep your Priorities Top of Mind
Specific programs only address one demographic or benefit (for example, only student debt or retirement), while others provide a full spectrum of benefits.
Keep your priorities top of mind when considering the breadth of offerings, then choose a solution that offers the benefits you will need for your ideal program.
2) Check the Provider’s History & Motivation
A vendor’s motivation is fundamental in this industry because you want the help that you provide to your employees to be “independent and unbiased” financial advice, and you don’t want employees to be sold on additional or unnecessary products and services.
Historically, the financial wellness market has been primarily driven by the need to give everyday people access to financial advice they can trust. Therefore, many vendors distinguish that their services are free from any underlying motivations to sell additional services/products. Understanding a vendor’s background and ownership structure can provide insights into their motivations.
3) Consider their Credentials
The professional staff’s education and experience who guide your employees also matter. Some vendors require that all their counseling staff have the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation.
Other vendors purport that this high degree of expertise is not necessary for the typical customer.
They believe that most people just need guidance on getting out of debt, developing a budget, or building emergency savings – all those things can be handled by a trained financial coach or someone with an Accredited Financial Advisor (AFC) designation.
4) Compare Multiple Providers
There are many types of firms providing a variety of financial wellness services.
When you’re just starting out, there are some ways to start your research:
- Perusing lists of financial wellness vendors
- Asking for recommendations from your industry peers
- Visiting an industry trade show
- Talking with providers.
Tip: If you find a provider you like, ask them who their key competitors are.
5) Integration with Other Benefits
Financial wellness services should be seen as an extension of your employer’s overall benefits package.
Do you know if the provider will assist with onboarding new hires?
How will they integrate with your existing EAP arrangements?
Do they provide help with financial crises (referral services, counseling)?
6) Client Services & Alignment
Aside from the desired services and employee experience, finding the right financial wellness vendor-partner isn’t much different than other HR benefit vendor selections. Strategic alignment is critical because leadership, communications, and culture all come into play.
Take the time to get to know the potential partners and understand what it will be like working together throughout the year. Key attributes to consider about the vendor you select include:
- Strategic planning
- Account management
- Engagement “boosters” (i.e., promotional support and incentive administration)
- Reporting and success measurements
7) Solicit Pricing
Most vendors charge a per-employee-per-month (PEPM) fee for access to their digital platform, health literacy library, or other stand-alone resources. There may be a one-time implementation and setup fee, as well.
Financial coaching is usually an additional, separate fee, with a variable cost range (either PEPM or Per Participant), primarily dependent on how the service is delivered (online chat, phone, in-person) and the expertise of the professional staff.
Specialty niches (i.e., student loan repayment, short-term loans, and investment advice) can have more unique pricing structures.
Be sure to discuss pricing plans during your demo.
8) Find a Provider that meets both Short & Long-Term Needs
Unfortunately, many financial programs focus on higher-income individuals and emphasize retirement savings.
While there is nothing wrong with supporting your employees to plan for the future, many are facing urgent financial issues today. Ideally, it would be best to look for a financial wellness program with options for short-term and long-term financial goals.
9) Delivery Channels
Finally, you want to consider the medium through which your financial wellness services are offered.
Take into account that the resources and materials are tailored and available to the age and demographics of your employees, and avoid ones that are only accessible via one medium.
To maximize engagement, it’s best to offer various options that will attract different types of people. Some people prefer to engage from the privacy of their homes, while others are comfortable having these conversations (with discretion) at work.
Some prefer to work one-on-one with a live person, while others prefer to do so independently online. The more options you can provide, the better it will be to engage most of your workforce.
Desired Product- Specific Services
Standard Financial Wellness Services Offered
Cash flow management and budgeting
Personal and household budgeting
Personal financial assessment
Consumer credit building
Consumer debt reduction
One-on-One support from a coach or counselor
Student loan repayment management
Emergency and short-term savings
Spending behaviors and consumer attitudes
Financial crisis management (dealing with collections, extended unemployment, and even certificates required for filing bankruptcy)
Program Features Add-ons
Automated cash flow management
Financial goal setting & progress tracker
Benefits portal - An online, interactive platform that guides employees through financial topics relevant to them
Total rewards platform (e.g., compensation, equity, insurance, retirement contributions, PTO, voluntary benefits)
Financial assessment software
Debt management counseling
Retirement savings tracking
Credit account tracking
Credit report review
Short-term lending solution
Student loan repayment support
On-demand pay solution
Dependent's eligibility coverage
Connections to local organizations and agencies in the local community to help employees address specific needs.
24-hour availability with guaranteed consultation within 24/72 hours
Advisors possess Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation
Strategic Questions for Vendor’s Comparison & Evaluation
- Are you affiliated with a bank or financial product?
- Do you push financial products, sell services, charge fees, or make affiliate commissions?
- Does the solution report on employee adoption and engagement?
- Do you provide access to investment advisors?
- Do you provide financial guidance and financial coaching on a per-employee basis? Are these available to employees via live chat, virtual video, or an in-person meeting?
- How long does it typically take for a member to set up a session?
- Do you provide financial aid guidance, such as assisting working parents with information on government FASFAs, and other college aid?
- Does your program provide fiduciary guidance?
- Are the onboarding and offboarding of employees supported by software that offers significant support for participants in automation and streamlining at these stages?
- How do you coordinate care with other services, such as well-being platforms, care management providers, or EAP programs?
- How will this solution fit into the rest of my tech stack? What integrations do I need?
- What are the implementation process, timing, requirements, and fees associated with the client setup?
- Can I have a demo of how employees use this platform? Is it mobile-friendly? What about customer service options?
- In how many languages are your services offered?
- How many sessions are included? Can an individual pay out of pocket for additional sessions?
Phase 3. Identify the Winner & Contract
After a thorough discovery and shopping process, you’re ready to move forward with a decision!
Key milestones here include:
1) Vetting the Vendors
Before you sign any contracts, you may want to verify that the company has a good reputation.
- Check references
- Researching the company’s reviews – While data may be limited, you should be able to find some info on a vendor’s track record.
- Carry out a performance analysis – Does the vendor really do everything they claim? Are their services and system reliable?
- Analyze their security and data – How is their data stored? Is it easy for employees to access and understand their data?
- Meeting with key decision-makers – It is a good idea to get a consensus from your key team members before you partner with a company.
2) Notify your Winning & Losing Vendor Candidates
Of course, you’re going to notify the vendor to whom you’ve awarded your business, but be sure also to take time to provide feedback to the vendor candidates who didn’t win your business.
They have invested time and resources into your project, and hearing some details about the decision is good practice and will only help them improve.
3) Finalize Pricing
Ensure you review the contract with the vendor before signing it and understand the pricing and any additional fees you may be charged. Your list of needs and requirements may look different during the selection process, so revising the pricing plan is essential.
When is best to introduce the benefit to the workforce?
The consensus indicates that off-cycle from annual enrollment is the best time to incorporate a new benefit to manage for the HR staff and grab employees’ attention outside of the busy yearly enrollment period.
From there, promoting the new benefit will be an ongoing endeavor to ensure that employees are aware of the benefit and take advantage of it.
Incentive designs are becoming more common to help with engagement as well.
Phase 4. Implementation & Beyond
You have finally reached the final step to implementing and starting your financial wellness program. While it may seem like the hard work is finished, the truth is that this phase is critical to a successful project.
These steps will help things stay on track:
1) Plan for your Implementation
In terms of implementation, lead times vary based on the type of service and level of portal customization.
Some digital tools and stand-alone resources are so turnkey that they can go live within a month. However, a more comprehensive program will typically take 90 days if there are complex customizations or integrations.
2) Communicate with your Employees
Before you even launch this benefit, get your employees excited about it!
This way, they will be more inclined to use it once it’s fully established. Keep them informed about the program you are building, make announcements, do demos, and answer any questions.
A comprehensive communication plan is essential for program participation, employee buy-in, and program success.
3) Prepare for Obstacles
No technology implementation is without issue and prepare for problems to pop up during implementation and beyond. Accept that things will go wrong and have realistic expectations and goals.
4) Multi-Channel Marketing
Ideally, you should adopt a multi-channel approach when promoting your new vendor. Apart from the common promotion approaches like workshops, webinars, and newsletters, you can include more innovative solutions like automated alerts or email campaigns.
Financial wellness is a hot topic these days – and for a good reason!
Financial stress damages employees’ productivity, engagement, and attendance; therefore, a financial wellness program’s benefits are plentiful for your employees and your company.
Shortlister has gone through a process to identify and onboard all the key players in the space into our database, allowing us a unique insight into this market.
If you need assistance understanding the best vendor option for your needs or streamlining the process of comparing vendors, we are in the best position to help you do so.