PANC 2019: What Is the Future of Financial Wellness?

Industry insiders discuss why offering financial wellness is a must-have for today’s retirement plan advisers.

From left, Alison Cooke Mintzer, PLANADVISER; Russ Hooker, Nova 401(k) Associates; Paul LaPiana, MassMutual U.S. Photography by Matt Kalinowski.

At the “What Is the Future of Financial Wellness?” session at the 2019 PLANADVISER National Conference, Paul LaPiana, head of product, MassMutual U.S., said that financial wellness programs continue to evolve. Financial wellness is not a new term but an evolution, LaPiana suggested.

“People are aware that they are not prepared for retirement, which, in turn, is forcing policymakers, providers and advisers to provide more solutions,” he said. “The aim is to reduce the financial stress people are facing every week, with the average worker wasting hours every week as they worry about paying down their student debt, saving for a down payment on a house, and saving for retirement.”

Sponsors should be willing to shoulder the cost of financial wellness programs when they realize the cost of people not being able to retire on time, added Russ Hooker, executive vice president with Nova 401(k) Associates. Financial wellness programs can be very beneficial for advisers because of their effectiveness for both participants and sponsors, Hooker said.

“They are a way for advisers to differentiate themselves and to be viewed as an adviser who treats the plan holistically, and who can engage the entire committee,” Hooker said.

When offering a financial wellness program, it is important to map out the concerns of different demographic groups, the panel emphasized. Millennials’ biggest concern may be student loan debt, while Generation X employees may be taking care of aging parents. 

“The $1.5 trillion that Americans collectively owe on student loan debt is holding them back from doing other things,” LaPiana said. That is why this year, MassMutual added a student loan repayment program from to its MapMyFinances financial wellness program, he said. “It’s been getting a lot of positive feedback,” LaPiana said. “Productivity goes up and workers are able to contribute more to their retirement.”

As far as being able to offer personalized financial wellness programs to a large group of participants, today, technology is making this possible, LaPiana said.  “You don’t need to be an expert. Recordkeepers and financial technology companies are coming out with solutions every day, so you don’t have to build it in-house. We want to provide financial well-being for all Americans, and for advisers, it’s a way to differentiate the conversation, defend your practice and grow your revenue streams. This helps advisers build their business and be innovative.”

LaPiana said the key to MapMyFinances’ success has been its ease of use for both the participant and the sponsor. “It integrates seamlessly to our human resources and payroll software,” he said.

MassMutual will continue to seek out the best partners to join the platform, LaPiana said. The firm wants it to be turnkey for advisers and to enable them to conduct data analytics out of it.

Financial wellness programs are definitely here to stay, Hooker said, “and will become even more valuable in a down market.”