The annual SPARK Conference provides an opportunity for the retirement industry to come together and discuss evolving issues, opportunities and trends impacting the future of retirement in America. The increasing popularity of financial wellness programs was one of the hot topics at the most recent conference. Corporate Insight’s (CI) Andrew Way and Olivia Jack joined Financial Fitness’ Joe Saari in a panel discussing a topic on everyone’s mind: COVID-19 and its effect on financial wellness.

As part of our workplace benefits and retirement industry research, CI recently fielded two large financial wellness surveys that aimed to understand the importance of workplace benefit programs, including financial wellness programs. The survey asked about the financial wellness program features employees desire and use most and the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on employees’ financial wellbeing and how they interact with financial institutions and accounts.

Key takeaways from our survey and the panel discussion include:

Employees with access to financial wellness programs see them as a valuable addition to their benefits suite

Workplace financial wellness programs are an increasingly popular way for employers to help their employees in a post-pandemic world. Perceptions of these programs’ importance proves they are a worthwhile investment. While 73% of all U.S. employees rated financial wellness programs as at least moderately important, 97% of financial wellness program participants rated the programs as at least moderately important.

This graphic shows that employees are interested in financial wellness programs

Financial wellness programs work

We can look at the pandemic for evidence. Our survey data shows those enrolled in financial wellness programs are generally in much better shape to deal with times of financial crisis and economic hardship than the average U.S. employee and are more confident about their financial futures.

Specifically, 43% of financial wellness program participants reported that their financial wellbeing was positively impacted by the pandemic—over double the rate of non-financial wellness program participants. Further, there is a positive correlation between individuals who reported having an emergency savings funds and those enrolled in a financial wellness program. Creating an emergency savings fund is often one of the first steps financial wellness programs encourage individuals to complete. And, understandably so, individuals with an emergency fund were much less likely to report being negatively impacted by the pandemic than those without an emergency fund.

This graph shows that employees enrolled in financial wellness programs saw fewer financial difficulties during the pandemic

Not all programs are created equal

We asked financial wellness program participants to rate the importance of nearly 100 different program features and digital attributes. Looking at the most important program attributes, we can see that financial wellness scores, progress tracking and tailored recommendations are most import to employees and program participants. Effective financial wellness scores help participants understand their current financial circumstances. Tailored recommendations give them actionable ways to improve those circumstances, and the ability to see their progress over time represents the type of feedback that encourages users to stick with programs.

For more of Corporate Insight’s financial wellness research, download a research preview here.