Financial wellness was identified by our Retirement Plan Monitor research service as one of the most prominent trends in the digital participant experience since the start of 2016, and was the focus of both the February and March reports. This trend extends far beyond just the digital participant experience however, and was easily among the most prevalent topics at this year’s annual PLANSPONSOR National Conference in Washington D.C. The conference featured many informative and engaging presentations that often touched on financial wellness. Here are three key conference takeaways:
1) In past industry conferences, there was a greater emphasis on standard retirement topics such as the importance of saving early, gauging retirement readiness and asset allocation strategies. This year, we heard a common theme positing that these retirement-specific conversations are completely mitigated if a participant’s overall financial life is a mess. Most agreed that employers should promote financial wellness and help their employees feel comfortable and secure in their financial lives before addressing retirement readiness and outcomes.
2) The topic of how to gauge the return on investment (ROI) of financial wellness programs was among the most prevalent conference discussions. Many companies are struggling to secure funding for employee financial wellness solutions, as finance departments and CFOs want evidence of a positive ROI before investing. Most conference goers agreed that there is absolutely a positive ROI on financial wellness programs, but exactly how to gauge it is up for debate. Perhaps the most common answer given was referencing established prior studies demonstrating the cost of the loss of productivity due to employee financial stress, and demonstrating how the program can address and help alleviate those stressors.
3) Financial wellness goes far beyond providing educational resources to employees. One session, Financial Wellness: Holistic Education Programs, specifically focused on this topic and addressed a variety of ways sponsors can provide well-rounded solutions to their employees. The discussion was moderated by Rebecca Moore, Managing Editor of PLANSPONSOR.com, and featured four expert panelists: Nathan Voris, Managing Director, Strategy, at Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Michael Kane, Managing Director at Plan Sponsor Consultants, Melissa Trimani, Assistant Vice President Product Management at MassMutual Retirement Services and Bryan Burton, Director of Human Resources, North America at the Norican Group. Among the most noteworthy takeaways was the notion that, to get a true assessment of an employee’s level of financial well-being, a company must allow employees to express this information anonymously. Many employees may not be comfortable discussing their financial lives with their employer, particularly if they are struggling. To help alleviate this, employers should either involve a third-party that can provide advice and consultation to employees or provide a truly anonymous survey to capture the data regarding the financial well-being of the workforce.