Financial wellness is a great idea in theory, but a failure in practice.
I encourage you to replace financial wellness with financial peace of mind. Most of us don’t want to spend a ton of time thinking about money. Yet currently, most of us are stressed and anxious over it.
It makes a lot of sense to me for companies to offer financial peace of mind benefits to their employees. But American workers need solutions, not platitudes and talking points. My goal is to give you some real, actionable solutions to help your people get better at money.
I’m honored to be named to Investopedia’s list of the top 100 financial advisors many years running, and I’ve been helping companies offer effective financial benefits to their employees for over 20 years.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The symptoms of the problem
- The actual problem
Let’s get started.
The symptoms of the problem
There are a lot of them.
77% of Americans report being anxious about their financial situation, almost two-thirds are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and carry an average of $6,000 in credit card debt.
It’s estimated that companies lose $250 billion every year in productivity due to financial stress. It costs at least $6,000 to replace a worker who quits because of this problem. And 52% of employees are concerned with their financial health, which is higher than their concerns over their physical and mental health.
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights a 26% increase in 401(k) hardship withdrawals over the prior year for private sector employees, and a 50% increase for public sector employees. .
These are expensive and potentially devastating problems for both organization and employee.
The actual problem
There’s this great scene in the movie The Social Network when the Mark Zuckerberg character is being deposed to determine if he stole the idea for Facebook. At one point, he’s had enough and he says, “If you were the inventors of Facebook, then you would have invented Facebook.”
If large banks and financial companies were capable of helping people become financially successful, they would have been helping people become financially successful. Here’s the problem: Financial literacy training/advice is commonly delivered by the provider of the financial product or service. For example, “Our employees learn about retirement planning from a representative of our 401(k) provider.”
You wouldn’t take diet advice from a McDonalds employee (please don’t do that), and you shouldn’t take health advice from a pharmaceutical company. While those are extreme examples, you get the idea.
Commonly, what you get from big banks/big financial companies is watered down, uninspired and ineffective. While it’s better than nothing, it falls short of helping people get better at money. Have you ever sat in on one of their sessions?
While there are plenty of good people within those orgs who want to do good work, they’re constrained by massive compliance departments and entire floors filled with attorneys. And, there are also plenty of other financial professionals who would sooner deliver a bullshit presentation on “financial wellness,” collect their exorbitant fees, and go about their day.
I know and believe there’s a lot of value in having an independent voice working with employees to help them get better at money. Let’s talk about how to actually do it.
Solving any hard problem requires hard work. To take one final shot at Wall Street, it’s difficult to roll up the sleeves of a shirt with cufflinks, and it’s hard to get stains out of a tie.
To actually get someone to change their financial behavior, you must be able to connect with them and deliver an accessible message. Nobody’s perfect, and it’s imperative that fact be a central part of the message. I’m way more effective at my job when I lead with the myriad mistakes I’ve made with money. Most people are carrying around shame regarding their finances. To help them move past that shame and onto a better future, we need to meet them where they are.
Here are the five areas to focus on to help people find financial security (AKA, financial wellness):
- Cash flow. Most people have no idea how much they earn or spend. They don’t know how much debt they have, or the value of their assets. Teaching them how to manage their cash flow is a starting point.
- Budgeting. Everyone needs a plan for their money; that’s what a budget is. Without a budget, we have no idea if we’re on track to meet our financial goals.
- Debt elimination. Credit card debt is a crushing burden for far too many of us. We need a clear plan for getting out from underneath it.
- Cash on hand. Most of us don’t have anywhere close to the correct emergency fund. To find financial security, we must have six months’ worth of expenses in cash. And we must have a plan for saving it.
- Creation of beneficial savings habits. We all intellectually know we’re supposed to be saving money for things. That we’re not doing it is evidence that something is missing. The process for doing this is an exploration of beliefs, goals, and values.
To help their employees find success in these five areas, several variables must be present:
- Independent learning. You must provide educational resources that people can explore as they see fit. Examples are online courses, podcasts, videos, and blog posts.
- Live learning. You must provide access to people who can answer questions and provide direction.
- Community-based learning. The most you tie this learning into your company culture, the better off you’ll be, and the effective your programs will be.
I want everyone to find financial prosperity. But we’ll never get there until we first have financial security. Focusing on these will help people get there.
Personal finance is critically important and unfortunately complicated. Getting your people on track for financial peace of mind is the correct goal.
People need more help than they’re getting. It’s my belief that there’s value in an independent perspective. We know that providing employees with a comfortable environment where they can learn, ask and get their questions answered, is really important.
When someone asks a specific question about money, it’s because they’re looking for an answer. We believe they should get one, not some vague response.
If our values are aligned, let’s chat.
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