Data and Research

Measuring Financial Wellness Program ROI Is Difficult

Ernst & Young says the best measure is employee engagement.

By Rebecca Moore editors@strategic-i.com | September 12, 2017

Organizations expect the return on investment (ROI) to justify the expense of offering financial wellness programs, but calculating that figure is not an exact science.

A better barometer, according to Ernst & Young, and one which indicates employees value the benefit enough to use it, is employee engagement.

Among the 200 HR professionals the firm polled, 14% said they do not have a program, and half of that group have never considered it. Only 16% felt they could justify adding a financial wellness program without knowing the anticipated ROI. Among those who already offer some type of benefit, 34% felt they could offer the benefit without knowing the ROI.

Most workforce populations cross several generations with varying perspectives on personal finance, Ernst & Young notes in its survey report. They also consume information differently. To engage them, leading organizations craft a multidimensional program and formulate a targeted communications plan to foster awareness and push employees to action. With those core components in place, employee engagement can then be measured. The firm notes that organizations often cobble together financial wellness programs by offering solutions for a specific personal financial wellness need, such as retirement, insurance or student loan debt. This siloed approach leaves gaps in the program that can limit the potential of a well-intentioned benefits suite.

Among employers who do not currently offer a financial wellness program, 59% say the biggest factor they will consider is price, followed by the ease of the program (53%) and breadth of the program (44%). However, employers that do offer a program focus less on cost (35%) and more on the breadth of the program (47%) and the quality of employee communications (45%).

The survey showed that those who offer financial wellness plans saw a direct correlation to employee retention (56%), well-being (50%), and productivity (45%). Most respondents considered those the main benefits of a financial wellness program. Those without a program had a more limited vision of the potential benefits, with 50% considering it a way to encourage employees to boost retirement savings, 38% seeing it as a means to help employees boost savings overall, and 31% thinking it could lead to greater employee retention.

Maximizing ROI starts with knowing the employee base—age, career stage and income ranges. But fostering engagement depends on more than demographics. It requires a deeper understanding of workforce psychographics—how employees think and feel about money, Ernst & Young says.

Employers should ask:

  • What are employees’ money habits?
  • How satisfied are they with their current personal financial situation?
  • Do financial concerns affect their family relationships?
  • How much time do they spend worrying about their personal financial situation?

A financial wellness assessment can help uncover these more subjective beliefs and enable employers to craft targeted communications to inspire action.