Learn about the latest employee financial wellness trends emerging in 2020.


Employees and employers alike can agree on at least one value: financial security.


Finances can affect every function of a company and, for the individual, their personal life. When employees face a difficult financial situation, it can impede on job satisfaction, attitude and performance. Financially stressed workers miss more work and incur higher healthcare costs than their peers. These factors inevitably take a toll on a company’s employee engagement levelsand eventually the bottom line—especially if financial hardship impacts multiple employees.


At the same time, HR professionals know that people don’t just work for the paycheck and that increasing salary alone won’t necessarily boost job satisfaction. Workers also strive for positive company culture, flexible scheduling, recognition, L&D opportunities, retirement plans, and other benefits. Naturally, apart from the salary figure, employees want to work for a company that values them and offers a bright future.

As global unemployment reaches its lowest point in 40 years and we enter an employment economy, employers are facing an increasingly competitive hiring landscape where the benefits package is an increasingly important tool for attracting and retaining top talent. One benefit that continues to gain traction is a structured financial wellness program.


With financial wellness solutions, employees receive financial education through courses on goal planning, basic financial literacy, budgeting, debt management and alleviating financial stress. The aim of a financial wellness program is to guide employees towards actions that help them reach goals for every stage of their financial lives, such as saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. Mercer’s Healthy Wealthy and Work-wise report found employees (as well as employers) report higher satisfaction with their benefit plans when financial wellness is offered. Furthermore, companies report up to a 3-to-1 return on their financial wellness investment.

Employees are worried about their finances

For many employees, money is the number one source of stress. Mercer’s Inside Employees Minds report asked 3,000 workers questions about the extent to which financial stress affected their work, finding that 62% of those who are financially challenged identify being able to pay monthly expenses as their biggest financial concern—even among people with an annual household income of $100,000 or more.


Financial stress varies among demographics. Young adults are burdened with high levels of debt, especially with educated-related expenses for university. Families can struggle to meet financial goals due to cash flow issues or unexpected expenses. Even older adults often carry financial stress from caring for aging parents or children who have moved back home. Single parents have their own set of financial stressors. Therefore, when designing a financial wellness program, it is important to consider the entire scope of your workforce and the various financial lives they may lead.


Financial wellness trends to have on your radar

For all the struggles brought on by financial hardship, there is hope that financial wellness programs can remedy the situation to the benefit of both employees and employers. A Gallup poll found financial wellness is closely linked with positive behavioral changes and stronger relationships, regardless of income levels.


By implementing financial wellness programs, employers also enjoy the benefit of having a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. A joint study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 75% of employees said a financial wellness program is an important benefit and 60% said they would be more inclined to stay at a company that offered financial wellness solutions.

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When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company.
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While employers are recognizing the importance of combating financial stress among employees, it appears they may need to improve these efforts to help employees. Cigna’s global well-being survey of employees in Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America found that 87% of employees are stressed at work—with personal finances being the top stressor—and 38% claim no stress management support is provided at all. While 46% of employees report they receive support from their employer, only 28% feel this support is adequate.


It’s time to raise the bar on financial wellness benefits. Here are some emerging trends and strategies companies are considering so they can maximize employee financial wellness solutions and stand out in the marketplace.


  1. Users are demanding technology-driven solutions for personalization.


    For financial planning solutions, users want a modern, simple interface that offers a comprehensive view of their financial situation and outlines a guided, personalized path to reaching their financial goals and staying accountable.


    According to a recent Forrester study, customers of wealth management firms are demanding more functionality and digitalization with financial planning solutions. This demand is making features like account aggregation, personalized content delivery and accountability triggers standard elements for a successful financial wellness program. “Help me help myself” tools are being personalized for the user with finance snapshots, budget planners and loan repayment calculators.


    Notably, a study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 42% of employees said they feel inadequately informed about the benefits and programs their employer offers. Of the employees who do not use all of the benefits, many said they would be more apt to use them if they were explained more clearly and made easier to access. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 70% of employees want mobile access to their benefits packages but only 51% of employers are offering it.


    These gaps mean there is an opportunity for companies to elevate their financial wellness programs and make them more usable and appealing to employees. Employers should consider informing employees about benefits through live webinars, social media or SMS alerts. The program should also be fully accessible by mobile and offer online tools that personalize the user experience.


  2. Data analytics & digital technology are personalizing financial wellness programs.


    Data analytics is shaping financial wellness programs to provide the level of personalization employees have come to expect in the digital age. These data analytics can help differentiate between types and categories of employees, allowing programs to be personalized for live events and stages.


    Just as online stores use aggregated consumer preference and demographic data to make recommendations and suggestions, financial wellness platforms are beginning to employ data analytics and algorithms to determine whether an employee is making progress or might need some extra assistance to stay on track.


    Some programs employ data analytics to frame an employees’ savings and spending habits and compare them to their peers. These programs can also analyze behaviors and provide scores to help employees see if they are improving on their savings or debt managements.


    Some programs can also offer employers the ability to create targeted marketing campaigns that focus on personal milestones for employees, such as buying a new car or getting married. These milestones can be used to inspire specific savings behaviors and spending habits, which might mean recommending homeowners insurance or opening an education savings account.


    Data analytics can also be used to build each employee a profile, which can then be supported by customized self-service tools to help employees get answers to specific questions and better plan for possible life changes. For example, with their profile input and all their financial information accounted for, employees can determine just how much additional life insurance they might need to purchase if they have a child. Without data analytics, the manual process of calculating this figure would be tedious, time consuming and require a potentially costly meeting with a financial advisor.


    On the employer side, data can be collected to determine how well the financial wellness program is performing. This data can help drive the program to offer new components and functions in ways that better meet the needs of employees.


  3. Employees want actual help not hype.


    As financial wellness programs continue to shape the benefits ecosystem, more employees are expecting that their employers will care about their financial security beyond just signing their paycheck. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 79% of employees trust their employers to deliver sound advice on planning, saving and investing. Employers are expected to deliver real, actionable ways to help employees improve upon their financial situation.


    A study from Merrill Lynch found a sharp disconnect in what employees want to have and what employers are offering in financial wellness programs. For example, employees generally want to work on meeting end goals, and they’d prefer to focus on one goal at a time. But employers are taking a heavy approach, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to controlling overall finances.

    While the comprehensive strategy of employers is certainly well-intentioned, it has a tendency to overwhelm users. Financial planning can be intimidating, especially for those in stressful situations. To counter this, companies in the wellness space are designing programs from the employee perspective to offer a holistic approach. Holistic programs, which integrate financial health with mental and physical health, can help employees open their financial “junk drawer” and make connections between the various elements of financial health and life—from saving for a wedding, buying a home, managing loan debt, etc.


    Well-designed programs will demystify the topic of financial wellness rather than scare employees away with an onslaught of complex information and suggestions for services and financial products they don’t understand.


  4. Building the business case for financial wellness programs: engagement, productivity & success.


    Whether management wants to admit it or not, employees are bringing financial stress to work and it’s impacting the company’s bottom line. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 83% of respondents reported that personal financial challenges had at least some effect on their overall performance at work in the past year. This disengagement means big losses for businesses. Workforce stress is potentially costing companies more than $5 million a year.


    Because of the business losses incurred, supporting employees’ financial wellness is becoming a major priority for organizations and the trend is catching on. Research from GuideSpark found that financial wellness is the third most important type of wellness program to employees, at 82%, behind stress management (86%) and physical fitness (85%).


    The results of employee wellness programs are promising. According to Employee Benefit News, participants in financial wellness programs demonstrate progress in their finances. The percentage of participants feeling “highly stressed” about personal finances fell from 52.4% to 19.2% after the completion of a financial wellness program. Similarly, 56% of participants said they believe they’re in a better position to manage their monthly cash flow after the completion of a financial wellness program.


  5. An increased focus on student loan repayment & affordable education.


    In the HR industry, employee development has become an impetus for employee engagement. But the truth is that for many employees, their past continues to weigh them down. Higher education costs are contributing to unprecedented student loan debt challenges in both developed and developing countries. As university tuition costs continue to rise, student loan debts have reached concerning record levels for graduates. The World Bank reports that developing countries face greater higher-education challenges than developed countries.


    Enormous debt and high tuition costs are setting back many employees before they have the chance to get ahead, which is widening the talent gap and thinning talent pools for companies. Amid rising tuition and mounting debt, HR professionals owe it to companies and employees to offer solutions to the challenges they both face. This can be done through loan repayment education that helps employees strategize to pay off loans as quickly as possible. Taking it a step further, some HR departments may be able to convince companies to offer loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs.


    When employees are worried about finances, they may have to switch jobs and find an employer willing to give them the tools and monetary compensation they need. Offering loan repayment advice or support offers employees a solution to a personal problem they face. They will likely become more invested in the company, which can translate to boosted morale and productivity across the company’s workforce.


    Tuition reimbursement and the encouragement of further education can also go a long way in helping companies thrive in the digital transformation and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Amid digitalization, the workforce is shifting from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to ever-revolving roles. At the current pace of technology growth, chances are that many of today’s prized technical skills will be obsolete within a few short years.


    As the skill gap grows, companies won’t have the luxury of easily recruiting new hires. They will instead need to focus on upskilling and recruiting lifelong learners who have a passion for integrating new technology into business operations. Offering tuition reimbursement or education planning advice will help attract and develop a talented workforce for the digital age.


    People around the world are experiencing record amounts of stress, according to Gallup’s Annual Global Emotions Report, and finances are certainly among the greatest stressors. As the stress escalates, more companies will find their employees’ personal bottom lines eroding the company’s bottom line. Without intervention, employees’ financial stress will rise, and companies will suffer drops in productivity, increased absenteeism, and low engagement levels.


    When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company. The HR department is in a unique position to make this connection, sending the message that employees and companies are in this together.

Simon Coxeter
Growth Markets Director of Strategic Research, Mercer, Singapore

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