How to Get Participants More Engaged in Financial Wellness Programs

Access via several means is key, as is meeting people where they are.

More employers today are investing their time and money in financial wellness programs. Now, many of them are trying to figure out ways to calculate the return on investment (ROI) of such programs.

But experts say employers should also figure out ways to make their financial wellness programs more appealing so that more workers will take full advantage of them.

The first thing an adviser counseling a plan sponsor client on their financial wellness program should do is “engage initially with the corporate sponsor to try to understand their culture and the various segments of their employees,” says Nancy DeRusso, managing director and head of coaching at Ayco, a Goldman Sachs company. “Perhaps they learn that the majority of the company’s employees don’t work at their desk with a computer,” so in that case, a mobile app or one-on-one coaching from a call center would be the best ways to reach them, DeRusso says.

“The next step is to meet employees where they are in their financial journey,” DeRusso says. Ayco—which provides more than 1 million eligible employees across corporate America access to financial counseling, including at 50% of the Fortune 100 companies—covers seven topics: tax planning, risk management, benefits and compensation, cash flow planning, investment planning, retirement planning and estate planning. Regardless of the level of their employment, Ayco has found that these seven topics resound the most for workers, DeRusso says. They are simply delivered differently, depending on the person’s job.

Ayco delivers its financial wellness program three ways: through group educational meetings, digital tools and one-on-one counseling. The most popular method among employees is the one-on-one meetings, DeRusso says.

TIAA has found that the most important topic to workers is “managing their daily finances, which includes budgeting and emergency savings,” says Snezana Zlatar, senior managing director, financial wellness advice and innovation, at TIAA. “The second area that they are interested in is saving and investing for retirement and other long-term goals, and, third, protecting against risks.”

Tom Kelly, principal and voluntary benefits leader at Buck, agrees that immediate concerns need to be addressed first in financial wellness programs, and that means cash management and budgeting.

“In the past, employers defined financial wellness programs as helping with retirement readiness,” Kelly says. “But there has been a shift. Today, employers acknowledge that short-term financial stressors need to be addressed before a participant will be in a position to be able to save for retirement. That means helping them with their budgets, including paying down high interest credit card debt, student loan debt and the like. To be successful, a financial wellness program needs to address real-world solutions.”

Matt Compton, director of retirement services at Brio Benefit Consulting, says reducing people’s financial stress improves their quality of life. “Employees worry just as much about quality of life as they do their salary,” he says. “We believe a sound financial wellness program should help employees keep spending within their means, and this can be achieved by giving them access to a comprehensive suite of tools to make good decisions.”

Compton also says it is important for companies to keep their financial wellness programs separate from their other benefits.

Finally, the Retirement Advisor Council suggests that employers give their workers financial incentives for participating in their financial wellness program, much as they do with health benefits for such actions as scheduling a preventative care checkup with a doctor or going to the gym.