Fiduciary Fitness Related to Financial Wellness

Adding a financial wellness program can cut plan costs and reduce a plan sponsors’ fiduciary risk. 

According to Matt Iverson, CEO of Retiremap, a strong financial wellness program can boost participant engagement and outcomes, and may lead to plan savings in fees, Social Security taxes and even potential litigation costs. A quick poll of webinar attendees found that one-quarter (26%) of attendees do not have a financial wellness program in place, while 59% do and another 15% intend to implement one in the next six months.

These programs complement the health and physical wellness benefits most employers already provide, and can help to reduce employee stress as well as ensure that workers are able to retire successfully and on time. Employees can leverage financial wellness to help them reach individual goals, such as buying a home, saving for a child’s education or simply building up an emergency fund.

Most people have financial concerns, and that stress can negatively impact their health and job performance, Iverson says. The costs of those problems go back to the employer, but assisting employees in developing a financial plan and eliminating any existing debt are two helpful steps plan sponsors can take.

Similar to an investment policy statement (IPS) or a third-party administrator (TPA), a financial wellness program is not required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), but can be very beneficial for the plan and plan participants. Better-informed employees, who are able to make prudent decisions about their participation and investments, present less fiduciary risk to the sponsor. The improvement in employee outcomes also can lead to a reduction in complaints and possible lawsuits against the plan.

The biggest benefit, Iverson says, comes from savings when older employers are able to retire on time. If they are not, that cost can be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per year, but sponsors can expect an average benefit of $7,000 per employee-turned-retiree per year. By offering the flexible benefit, employers can save up to $1,247 per participant, and giving workers the tools they need to handle financial stresses can net employers $300. Of course, he adds, increasing employee engagement and satisfaction with the plan is valuable, though difficult to quantify.

About a third of webinar attendees (31%) reported that half or more of their plan sponsor clients had expressed an interest in financial wellness; more than half (54%) said that 20% to 50% of clients were interested in fiscal fitness; and just 15% said that less than one-fifth of their plan sponsors asked about such a benefit. 

To measure the impact of a financial wellness initiative, Iverson suggests five markers of success: behavioral change; employee engagement; employees’ freedom to request and the company’s ability to provide plan assistance; the rate at which participants complete the program; and employee evaluations. Retiremap’s “recipe for success”—Engage, Act, Measure and Refine—encourages continuous improvement in communications efforts with participants.

  • Engage workers by making the education relevant to their goals and using key communications strategies. Embrace social media and use mobile technologies to facilitate more productive and personalized retirement workshops.
  • Act with a compelling case for the plan’s call to action. Highlight participant challenges and show a way out, make it easy for participants to reach and speak with a real person, and show the plan as part of a holistic benefits system. Human interaction is critical here, as feedback from participants can inform and improve the message the plan sponsor delivers.
  • Measure by defining metrics for plan success and knowing how those results break down within the plan over time and between different demographic groups.
  • Refine the process by using data analysis of the previous steps to drive future communications. Iverson notes that people respond more positively to messages that are targeted to their concerns and interests, so the more often this cycle is repeated, the better the response the plan sponsor can expect to see.

Still, there are some barriers that may prevent plan sponsors and advisers from pursuing a financial wellness program. Webinar attendees cited the time involved in running and managing the program as a reason not to adopt one (59%); followed by cost concerns and ensuring a return on investment (56% each); and finding a provider (26%).

For plan sponsors looking to persuade their plan committees of the benefits of a financial fitness benefit, Iverson suggests explaining that adding one will ultimately save the company money, and fees may even be paid out of plan assets, if the plan’s governing documents allow it. As with any other plan service provider, the financial wellness provider must deliver 408(b)(2) fee disclosures and maintain reasonable fees.

A sample performance report would investigate employee engagement, behavior and feedback; break down participant financial wellness and note any differences between employee demographics; and list the top five goals the sponsor should have for participants, prioritized according to the needs of each demographic, as well as next steps.