PSNC 2019: Engaging Employees With Benefits Programs

Plan sponsors are meeting participants ‘where they are’ to promote financial wellness.

(From left) David Hinderstein, Strategic Retirement; Barbara Delaney, StoneStreet Renaissance; Maura Troy Coolican, Morgan Stanley. Group Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

When you pursue wellness, it has a ripple effect. If you help someone with his health and wealth it will not only help your corporation but also the person’s co-workers, family and community as the person becomes less stressed out. That’s why this is such an important topic for us, said David Hinderstein, founder and president, Strategic Retirement Group and moderator of the panel “Engaging Employees With Benefits Programs,” on the second day of the 2019 PLANSPONSOR National Conference (PSNC) in Washington, D.C.

As companies expand both their health and financial wellness programs, they are exploring new communication channels and methods to connect with employees. A recognition that stress over debt and financial issues can be just as detrimental to physical health as an illness has led employers to expand employee well-being programs to create a healthier and more productive workforce.

How are employers embracing opportunities to create holistic wellness programs, emphasizing both physical and financial health? And what are the key components that drive adoption of, and engagement with, such a program?

Barbara Delaney, principal, StoneStreet Renaissance (SS/RBA), said, “Our definition of financial wellness is living within your means. Part of the issue we see is a lack of budgeting. We tell people to lower 401(k) contributions and pay off credit card debt. We see older participants paying off children’s student loans and putting themselves at risk by sacrificing their retirement.

“This is becoming more prevalent in discussions about financial wellness, and these are some of the things we’re addressing,” she said. “It’s like what they say on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. This is an important metaphor for those of you who run around taking care of everything and everyone else except yourself.”

She concurred that companies are paying more attention to their employees’ health and wellness and offering health savings accounts (HSAs) is part of it.

Maura Troy Coolican, managing director and head of retirement plan solutions, Morgan Stanley, said demographics are critical. “For instance, our [intern] summer analysts are going to have very different needs than older employees. How do you look at your employee base and provide them the best wellness offering you can?”

Student loans and credit card debt are components of the financial situation of a younger demographic. “We use ‘assisted financial coaching’ for this group from our financial wellness program ‘My Secure Advantage,’ to help younger employees think through decisions,” Coolican said.

She added that having company executives set the tone, from the top of the organization down, is critical to promoting wellness engagement. She suggested communicating about these benefits via email correspondence and webinars.

Delaney said some plan sponsors use programs that give employees points for completing certain financial wellness tasks. Incentives may include, for example, lower-cost health care premiums for the next year or free yoga classes.

A manufacturing client of Delaney’s offers webinars on financial wellness topics once a month for employees who work on a factory line. They can listen to the content during their lunch hour, as they can’t take a break from their work otherwise. These employees can also call a help line for answers to their financial questions and speak with a financial coach.

Morgan Stanley offers a virtual adviser. This is another way to support employees who may prefer robo assistance, still giving them the quality and depth of Morgan Stanley’s adviser network, Coolican said.

Session attendee Dan Milfred, senior vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) for Pacific Woodtech Corp., mentioned that his company recently changed recordkeepers, and participants can now view, on one screen, their HSA and 401(k) account totals. This they find to be a useful savings tool.