PSNC 2022: How to Improve Employees’ Financial Wellness

Plan sponsors can offer creative, effective financial wellness programs at little cost by partnering with all benefit providers and advisers.

Financial wellness has in the past been a fuzzy topic, said Sean Bjork, president, Bjork Asset Management, Inc., during a panel discussion at the 2022 PLANSPONSOR National Conference in Orlando.

“Everyone’s definition was maybe a little different. There was some tie-in with health benefits, so when sponsors talked about how to roll out a financial wellness program there was no unified approach,” he said. “But people are starting to align, providers are realizing ways to attach financial wellness programs to their benefits offerings.”

Bjork and other panelists addressed how to get resources to run a financial wellness program, the cost of offering a financial wellness program and how to get employees to actually use one.

Steve Lilienthal, human resources benefits manager, True Value Company, the 2022 PLANSPONSOR Plan Sponsor of the Year winner in the corporate DC >$250 million to $1 billion category, said his company’s program was no cost. “We used [our recordkeeper] and all the resources they offer that we could use,” he said. “Call your EAP [Employee Assistance Program] and ask how to talk about legal issues and mental health issues with employees. Our CFO loved that we used our vendors as much as we could so our financial wellness offering had no cost.”

Bjork added that just having a conversation with existing partners is a wonderful place to start. “Even some investment providers are rolling out financial planning programs or apps,” he noted.

Gwen Schnitzler, assistant vice president and human resources director at Forward Bank, the 2022 PLANSPONSOR Plan Sponsor of the Year winner in the corporate DC <$25 million category, said that to get employee buy-in, the bank talked about holistic benefits and continuously pushed out information about all benefits to employees. “We kept pointing out to them how we continue to take care of them and have something to offer for different points in their lives,” she said.

In addition to using plan providers, Schnitzler suggested, plan sponsors should go to their advisers for help. “Our adviser has been helpful,” she told conference attendees. “We have advisers on staff, so employees have access to a financial planner for free.”

Bjork said being creative and getting buy-in from company executives is critical to financial wellness program success.

One way Forward Bank got creative related to the recent inflation and gas prices. “A year ago, employees didn’t really have to budget for such things, so they are shifting their focus,” Schnitzler said. “A month ago, we purchased $50 gas cards from employees’ local gas stations to give them a bit of a helping hand. We supported local gas stations as well as employees. It was a way to recognize things employees are struggling with and help.”

In addition, when COVID-19 hit and things shut down, Forward Bank wanted to help employees as well as customers of the bank, especially small businesses. The did what they called “Thoughtful Thursday”—every Thursday for about six weeks, the bank ordered lunch in for employees from local restaurants that are customers of the bank, Schnitzler explained. It also purchased gift cards for employees and let them choose the restaurant they preferred to use them with.

Bjork suggested that to maintain buy-in from higher ups in the company, plan sponsors can measure retirement plan and employee financial stats before and after financial wellness initiatives. “If you help them take care of their student loan and consumer debt and emergency savings, employees will become better retirement savers,” he said. In addition, plan sponsors can measure such things as employee absenteeism and stress.