How (and why) businesses are ensuring employees become financially literate
Thursday, March 12, 2020
A worrying trend has emerged in the past decade since the global financial crisis: Even with a world of information available at our fingertips, Americans’ financial literacy is dismal and only getting worse.
A recently concluded study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that only about one-third of Americans surveyed were able to correctly answer a majority of questions when quizzed about interest rates, inflation, financial risk and mortgage rates, down from 42% in 2009. Perhaps unsurprisingly, millennials and Gen Z participants fared the worst, with only 17% of people age 18-34 earning a passing financial literacy grade.
Arguments have been made for high schools to start addressing financial education to better prepare young learners for life after school, but what about the older folks who find themselves lacking this critical information? Increasingly, employers are stepping up the plate and making sure their workers are equipped to make better choices with their salaries.
Why should companies take it upon themselves to invest in financial literacy? Simply put, it’s better for the bottom line. According to PwC’s most recent annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 59% of employees surveyed rank financial stress as the top worry in their lives, and 88% think they would benefit from some guidance in that arena, whether that comes in the form of money management counseling or preparation for retirement.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is well-aware of the problem. In a letter to shareholders, Fink pointed out the productivity issues that come with this anxiety, noting that companies have a responsibility “to help workers navigate retirement, lending their expertise and capacity for innovation to solve this immense global challenge.”
But where to begin? Prudential offers five keys to implementing a financial wellness program for employees:
Reflect financial wellness as part of your human capital strategy, similar to how you would implement a physical wellness program. With stress and physical health linked so closely to each other, it makes sense to start with the same approach.
Analyze workplace demographics to gain an understanding of your employees’ needs. Chances are your workers are not all on the same page when it comes to money. It’s recommended to start by identifying the immediate concerns (such as credit card debt or monthly bills) and then moving on to long-term goals, recognizing that each employee will have different circumstances.
Design programs to optimize outcomes and overcome challenges. The mere existence of an employee financial wellness program may not be enough to draw interest, especially when many Americans don’t know where to start. You may be more successful by tailoring your approach with resources based on specific life events (e.g., having a baby or buying a house).
Create a personalized experience to motivate employees. Again, this is where your demographic research comes in, allowing you to communicate with particular employees and meet them (or allow them to meet you) on their own terms. A worker will be more receptive to your help when it feels like you’re specifically addressing their needs.
Align financial wellness metrics with business outcomes. The most obvious metric to start would be productivity, which has a tendency to improve with happier employees. There are others to consider, however, including improvements in overall well-being and reduced turnover.
However you go about implementing your financial wellness program, it’s likely going to take careful planning and a heavy dose of data. However, research suggests that the outcome is worth the effort. If nothing else, you can take pride in the fact that you’re helping to nudge America’s financial literacy back in the right direction.
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