A $500 Step Towards Financial Wellness

The nonprofit financial wellness provider SaverLife has teamed up with the KFC Foundation to meet the straightforward but ambitious goal of ensuring KFC workers can amass $500 in emergency savings.

This week, the KFC Foundation, an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization primarily funded by KFC franchisees, launched an innovative emergency savings program for KFC employees; in its goals and approach, the program reflects some of the broader financial wellness trends that are reshaping the employee benefits landscape.

The savings program was created in partnership with SaverLife, a national non-profit fintech company that helps working families pursue prosperity through modest-but-regular savings. Formally, the program is known as MyChange with SaverLife. It was piloted with some KFC employees last year, according to the firm, and it is now being rolled out nationally.

Though there are other objectives, MyChange is primarily designed to help KFC team members build at least $500 in short-term savings while instilling lasting positive savings behaviors.

“To be able to offer these types of resources means a lot,” says Justin Stewart, a KFC franchisee and the board chair of the KFC Foundation. “Programs like MyChange with SaverLife help us develop the financial acumen of our team members, setting them up for success in their future, while also strengthening our organization from the ground up.”

The program is relatively straightforward in its approach, relying on scalable technology and gamification to encourage participation. Eligible employees of KFC corporately-owned and franchisee-owned restaurants who sign up and enter the Savings Match Challenge will get a $20 sign-up bonus, and by saving at least $10 a month, they will receive a $1-for-$1 match of up to $40 per month over a six-month period. The goal is to get workers to create a $500 short-term emergency savings fund—or boost their current savings by $500.

In an email to PLANADVISER, Emma Horn, managing director of the KFC Foundation, said it was not hard to build consensus on the KFC Foundation’s board about the importance of this program.

“The heart of what the KFC Foundation does is take care of KFC restaurant employees across the U.S.,” Horn wrote. “Having an emergency fund has always been important and valuable. The uncertainty that came with the pandemic emphasized the need to create a program like MyChange with Saverlife to help equip KFC restaurant employees with resources that would help them grow their financial knowledge, build a habit of saving money, and create a short-term emergency savings fund.”

As Horn explained, the program is viewed as a complement to other existing programs.

“The KFC Foundation offers charitable assistance programs for eligible KFC restaurant employees to help them earn their GED, go to college, make it through a hardship or crisis and build their financial knowledge,” she said. “We created this program to equip KFC restaurant employees with valuable financial skills to create lasting savings behaviors. The programs we offer KFC restaurant employees, made possible by the support of our franchisees, show them that we care and that we’re invested in their personal development and wellness, which leads to having a stronger organization.”

Asked if she expects many of KFC’s peers in the restaurant industry to move in a similar direction, Horn is hesitant to make any specific predictions. However, she noted that the program has already sparked a strong positive response from KFC’s workers.

“While we can’t speak to what our peers may do, the KFC Foundation’s charitable assistance programs are great resources for eligible KFC restaurant employees and help KFC franchisees attract and retain top talent in their restaurants,” Horn said. “We hear time and again how grateful and proud KFC restaurant employees are to work somewhere that these types of opportunities are available.”

Reflecting on the progress her nonprofit organization has made since its founding 20 year ago, Neha Gupta, vice president of marketing for SaverLife, tells PLANADVISER that early on, the organization provided in-person, one-on-one financial coaching to people in need. Staring six years ago, SaverLife embraced a technology-focused approach designed to deliver financial wellness coaching and simple, gamified savings tools at significant scale.

“We try to anchor people around the $500 emergency savings figure because that is about the cost of a single unexpected financial challenge—a tire change or a new appliance,” Gupta says. “Of course, getting people to $1000 or even higher is going to be better, but for lower-income and minimum wage workers, we have to be realistic. Many of the people we work with are starting out from a place of living paycheck to paycheck.”

Gupta says she has high hopes for the partnership with the KFC Foundation, citing success seen in working with the national clothing retailer Levi via its Red Tab Foundation.

“These corporate-linked nonprofit foundations can support people in a way that the internal human resources departments cannot,” she explains. “Formerly, these types of foundations would focus on giving cash grants or emergency loans. Increasingly, alongside the broader shift in focus towards promoting financial wellness, these organizations are promoting self-help, and they are doing so by making matching savings contributions, for example. We know from the 401(k) world the importance of matching and messaging.”

Gupta says one lesson her organization has learned since taking its approach digital is the importance of promoting engagement—and not just upon the launch of a new savings program.

“To this end, we have really worked hard on improving the gamification aspect, setting up store versus store participation competitions, for example,” she says. “One very interesting thing we’ve realized is the power of offering even simple prizes or incentives. You can inspire people to enroll and save more merely by raffling off a few nice pairs of socks. In fact, for whatever reason, that’s a very popular strategy right now—giving away a nice pair of branded socks to those who enroll.”  

Gupta agrees that entities like SaverLife and the KFC Foundation, working in concert, can have a direct positive impact on peoples’ financial lives. However, she warns, the lack of broad-based financial wellness in the U.S. is a systemic and pernicious problem that is going to require a society-wide approach to redress.

“A huge part of what we are thinking about right now is how we can have a positive impact at the systemic level,” Gupta says. “We are seeking ways to work with policymakers and communities to get the necessary financial support to millions of people. We are very excited about the new child tax credit, for example, and we are big advocates of such policies. We are trying to make sure our members are aware of this new credit and the steps they have to take to get the credit.”