PSNC 2017: Financial Wellness – Holistic Education Programs

The panel compared utilizing different financial wellness tactics with general financial education, ROI and more.

Homing in on the term “financial wellness,” a Day Two panel at the PLANSPONSOR National Conference, in Washington, D.C., discussed well-rounded programs and how plan sponsors can offer holistic materials and value to participants—beyond just education.

Live polling from the audience revealed that most plan sponsors, at 53%, do not offer a specific financial wellness program, beyond education, while 20% said they do offer one, and 27% disclosed they were considering implementing one.

Bryan Burton, director of human resources (HR) for the North America region of Norican Group, and a panelist for the session, said his company focuses on financial concerns based on employee demographics. Because this region of Norican Group is mainly composed of blue-collar employees, Burton said, for many of them, retirement planning came last on their list of priorities.

“We would focus more on overarching financial issues, instead of just on their retirement plan,” he said.

Instead of providing general educational information, Burton said, his team introduced education on specific matters critical to a worker’s daily life, including debt management, paying for childcare, and how to establish a checking account, among others. At one point, Burton said he had reached out to a community specializing in financial wellness for Spanish-speaking employees, while also seeking help from advisers, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) plans and recordkeepers.

“It was important to us to really customize, and to target each group with what they wanted to know,” he said. “Once they had information, then they were open to see what the next step was. To build on that.”

Additionally, Burton’s team would invite spouses of workers to join financial wellness meetings, and on their own time. This, in turn, allowed Burton and his team to gather more data and feedback, which was helpful in understanding workers’ contribution rates and how, e.g., financial problems at home could be causing distractions on the job.

Currently, the North American region of Norican Group has a 93% participation rate, with a 9% average deferral rate.

Melissa Trimani, assistant vice president of product management at MassMutual Retirement Services, cited a recent study conducted by her company, in which 1,000 workers were surveyed on their main financial concerns. The study reported debt as the greatest and retirement as the least, with only 7% of workers citing it as a major concern.

Because of this, Michael Kane, managing director of Plan Sponsor Consultants, emphasized the importance of instilling financial wellness practices in a work force, instead of just handing out educational materials. “A lot of people mistake financial education for addressing financial wellness,” he said. “If I’m a person who has debt, you can educate me all you want, but I still don’t have the money.”

More specifically, Nathan Voris, managing director of strategy for Schwab Retirement Plan Services Inc., encouraged plan sponsors to focus on the quality of financial wellness programs, rather than quantity.

“The engagement strategies need to be action-oriented; reading a three-page article isn’t going to cut it,” he said. “Not new stuff—just a better way to engage with what we’ve been doing.”

He mentioned incorporating in-plan optimization, while Trimani followed up by telling employers, especially those sponsoring small plans, to find and work with a provider that can address employees’ needs. “If you marry up with the right provider, sometimes that’s really all your employees are looking for,” she said.

For employees who refuse to admit financial troubles, Burton suggested adding individual consultation appointments with third-party providers. For an extra confidential approach, sponsors can direct employees to EAPs, Burton said.

Or, as Kane suggested, a one-on-one phone call with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) can encourage employees to be candid.

Voris also mentioned that his company implemented online chat rooms, to eliminate the risk of someone overhearing such a phone call.

 NEXT: Utilizing ROI can add to financial wellness 


While financial wellness tools are able to engage and drive employees to save for retirement, all four panelists suggested plan sponsors conduct a return on investment (ROI) to monitor specific behavioral modifications.

Trimani said, at MassMutual, taking into account specific data—e.g., the number of paid time off (PTO) days—and monitoring how different age groups such as Millennials and Generation Xers improve their participation and contribution rates are some methods for gauging behavioral changes.

The data pulled from ROIs not only points up the extent of the changes, but can interest the company’s chief financial officer (CFO), typically disengaged from the retirement plan and how it impacts employees. Plan sponsors can thereby gain opportunities to talk with the CFO about making overall improvements to the retirement plan, panelists agreed.

“You’re doing these kinds of things so you can see the move in metrics,” Kane said. “You have to have some type of aggregate reporting to see differences going on.”