There is an awakening taking place in C-suites and HR departments across the country: Research supporting the benefits of financial wellness is continuing to mount, and rudimentary ROI calculations are surfacing.
The same plan sponsors that advisors schooled on the financial impact of employing a workforce beyond normal retirement age can no longer ignore the organizational benefits of a carefully constructed financial wellness program. The favorable outcomes associated with selecting and installing the correct financial wellness program accrue to both employees and to the overall company.
Treading Water in a Sea of Sameness
Is the growing acceptance of financial wellness programs an opportunity that positions advisors to present their value in yet another way?
While investments remain an important component of every retirement plan, it is difficult for most plan advisors to differentiate their value on the basis of investments alone. When so many advisors have access to identical investments, the value-add or competitive-edge conversation gravitates toward other important areas. Today, that can mean engaging in a high-level discussion on the topic of financial wellness. Here’s why:
There is now sufficient data supporting the benefits of a well designed and well executed financial wellness program. Such outcomes accrue to the benefit of both the workforce and the company. It just makes sense from every vantage point — productivity, physical health, building a retirement-ready workforce, creating upwardly mobile opportunities within an organization, etc.
Financial wellness is still in an embryonic stage. The term is nebulous, carrying different intentions for employers, employees, academics, associations, authors and government regulators. The lack of consistency in financial wellness objectives make this fertile ground for the astute advisor.
The sheer number of financial wellness providers make this buying decision more difficult than “which TDF-suite does a plan sponsor choose?” (A quick Google search of “financial wellness providers” returns about 6,540,000 results.) Any company representative charged with such a daunting task would prefer to begin by talking with a knowledgeable and trusted individual.
Read more commentary by Steff Chalk here.
Learning the ABCs
All financial wellness programs are not created equal — a fact that reinforces what a golden opportunity financial wellness is for retirement plan advisors to shine in the eyes of the plan sponsor. Advisors are the likely first choice of any plan sponsor that is struggling with the task of selecting and implementing a financial wellness program.
Here’s a simplified, “A, B, C” overview of the three phases the advisor and employer must consider:
A: Assessment Phase
There is a clear distinction between financial literacy and financial education. Missing that point at the onset could result in a substantial waste of time, effort and financial resources by any firm implementing a financial wellness program. Financial literacy must be a starting point. If employees cannot comprehend the education “language” being spoken, there is no chance of a behavioral change.
B: Building Phase
Once financial literacy is established and a baseline of financial education exists, the assessment phase is complete. Next there needs to be an “ah-ha moment” where employees become aware of what they do know and what they can control — and also what they have not yet mastered. Possessing this knowledge base gives an employee the tools to consciously start making good financial decisions. Then they are truly building — creating a plan for their future, building confidence in their skills, and envisioning a path to a better outcome.
C: Change Phase
The final phase in a successful financial wellness program is to have employees modify their behavior in the interest of achieving better outcomes (e.g., choosing McDonalds coffee over Starbucks because it will make a financial difference). The change occurs when an employee makes the decision by modifying behavior instead of merely thinking about it as a decision. (Same outcome, but with different incentives.)
Steff Chalk is the Executive Director of The Retirement Advisor University (TRAU), The Plan Sponsor University (TPSU) and 401kTV. This column first appeared in the fall issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.