Financial Wellness Program Trends Advance During Pandemic

Employers are offering help with emergency savings and debt, and employees are asking for more help with the selection of health and other benefits.

A webinar held by the American Savings Education Council (ASEC) reviewed two Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) surveys that examined how employers and employees are navigating the coronavirus crisis.

The companion reports—“The Employer Perspectives on Financial Wellness Survey” and “The Workplace Wellness Survey”—studied recent trends among both groups when it comes to financial planning, retirement and health care. The first survey found that about half of employers are currently offering financial wellness initiatives tied to their retirement plans. Larger employers are more likely to already offer a financial wellness initiative, while smaller employers are more likely to be actively working to implement one.

“The Employer Perspectives on Financial Wellness Survey” found that more plans are offering holistic approaches to financial wellness, and few are providing benefits as a one-time initiative. For this year, 57% of employers stated their primary approach in offering financial wellness is to have a holistic program. Only 6% indicated it would be a one-time opportunity.

“More plan sponsors are committed to these programs. They are here to stay, and they are a big part of the employee benefits landscape moving forward,” said Craig Copeland, a senior research associate at EBRI.

The survey also found that employers are emphasizing select benefits to help minimize the impact of COVID-19. Emergency savings accounts and debt counseling services are two topics receiving a lot of plan sponsor attention during the pandemic. Discount programs, tuition reimbursement and bank-at-work partnerships are less likely to be offered at the moment. Survey findings also indicate that the pandemic has led to an increase in employee engagement with emergency funds, short-term loans, payroll advances, debt management services and caregiving benefits.

Long-term financial planning is regularly a hot topic for both employers and their workers, but the pandemic has shown many people the importance of shorter-term economic well-being, especially when it concerns health care costs. “The Workplace Wellness Survey” found seven in 10 employees feel that they need their employer’s help in feeling healthy and financially secure. Additionally, 54% of workers say having a traditional pension or defined benefit (DB) plan contributes significantly to their feeling of financial security, while 55% say the same for retirement savings plans. Unsurprisingly, 63% of employees said they feel more financially secure if their employer offers health insurance.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees say their employers have furloughed or laid off workers, promoted telemedicine benefits or increased leave availability, according to “The Workplace Wellness Survey.” “The Employer Perspectives on Financial Wellness Survey” found most employers are not planning on pausing or discontinuing any financial well-being benefits. Only 14% have paused financial planning education, seminars or webinars, and 11% have discontinued personalized financial counseling, coaching or planning.

“The Workplace Wellness Survey” finds more employees are asking for information and guidance about open enrollment as the process moves to remote environments. Nearly four in 10 workers are requesting more communication than they did in past years. Furloughed employees are more likely to want additional information—58% compared with 37% of employed workers.

When it comes to online resources for open enrollment, employees say the tools they want the most are a portal for selecting benefits, online tools to help make decisions on benefits and online brochures. Employees, and especially furloughed workers, are asking for information packets and forms to be mailed home. Twenty-one percent of employees said they would like one-on-one support on the phone or online, and eight in 10 employees were at least somewhat likely to take advantage of an adviser service that recommends benefits based on their household situation.