How Can Employers ‘Walk The Talk’ When It Comes To Financial Wellbeing?
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How Can Employers ‘Walk The Talk’ When It Comes To Financial Wellbeing?

18 December 2018

Exec summary

Equiniti recently hosted a series of breakfast symposiums in Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London, entitled ‘Financial Wellbeing & The Joy of EX’. 

Delegates learnt how to overcome typical ‘blockers’ associated with financial wellbeing - in terms of cost, resourcing, market complexity and lack of senior management buy-in - from Financial Wellbeing Strategist Darren Laverty and Andrew Woolnough, Director of HR Solutions at Equiniti.

In this brief White Paper, we take you through some of the key ideas and solutions discussed during these symposiums.

Introduction

According to a study by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), financial stress costs the UK economy £121 billion and 18 million working hours in lost productivity each year. 

In short, while money problems may seem personal, it’s in the employer’s best interest to help alleviate their employees’ financial worries. 

The provision of an auto-enrolment pension is a start, but it’s likely to be of precious little use or value to the younger generation: just out of school or university and already facing a pile of debt, over-reliant on the bank of mum and dad (where such a luxury is available).

And although many employers have put in place various tools to help - from Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to access to independent financial advice - this is often done without any strategic focus as most simply don’t have the dedicated time or resource to focus on this area of employee wellbeing, in spite of its vital importance.

In this White Paper, we outline simple ways to overcome these challenges: starting with how to ensure that financial wellbeing becomes an integrated part of Employee Experience for your organisation; how to define financial wellness in a way that is targeted and relevant; how to design your own financial wellbeing strategy; plus how to measure progress.

Background

The Money and Mental Health Institute has shown that money worries have an enormous effect on mental wellbeing and can be both the cause and effect of mental health problems. 

In fact, the Mental Health at Work Report 2018, from Business in the Community, reports that financial concerns have cause three-fifths to experience a negative mental health symptom, including loss of sleep, stress, lack of concentration, and fatigue. This is most likely to affect younger employees, with stress being the most likely problem.

So why are companies struggling so much when it comes to financial wellbeing? This question applies as much to financial wellbeing as it does to all other areas of wellbeing. Services – where they are provided – are more often than not disjointed and not targeted to employee need.

At the same time, attraction and retention of talent gets ever harder for employers thanks to static salaries over recent years and the fact that the younger generation – soon to make up the bulk of the UK workforce – are much more attracted towards employers that offer genuine work life balance.

What’s more, many first-time jobbers are now entering the workforce with considerable debt. Average student loan debt in England, on entry to repayment, now stands at £34,800. Citizens Advice has seen a 34% rise in the number of under-25s seeking help with high-cost credit in the last two years. 

Additionally, a recent report by think tank the Resolution Foundation, found that millennials are spending three times more of their income on housing than their grandparents. Those currently aged between 18 to 36 are typically spending more than a third of their post-tax income on rent or about 12% on mortgages. This compares with 5% to 10% of income spent by their grandparents in the 1960s and 1970s.

Meanwhile, the requirement for employers to focus much more on employee wellbeing needs is expected to receive a boost by this year’s Corporate Governance Reform, which will ensure that employee voices are heard in the Boardroom. 

Against this backdrop, the notion of Employee Experience (EX) is being pushed up – or in the vast majority of cases, on to – the corporate agenda. Now, understanding and improving EX is critical for companies striving to be an employer of choice. A strong EX drives a strong customer experience as well as having a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

Data – in the shape of people insight – is essential to all of this, helping to inform business decisions and, in turn, securing competitive advantage.

Solution

  1. EX: where to start 

Speaking at the symposium series, Andrew Woolnough explains outlines the definition of the EX as follows:

EX brings together all the workplace, HR and management practices that impact people in their job. 

Consequently, it has to start at C-Suite level but this is a mammoth task and it’s not going to happen overnight. Start one project at a time. For example, consider the benefits of implementing a concerted and integrated focus on financial wellbeing, as a starting point (more on which below). 

Measure the impact over time and deliver concrete evidence to the Board of the benefits to employee mental health, engagement and productivity. Next, expand upon this with another project that involves cross-departmental cooperation and so on and so forth.

Equiniti technology can help clients achieve this, allowing companies to integrate everything their employees experience: during recruitment; onboarding; reward and recognition; learning and development; and eventual retirement. 

It helps make personalisation of benefits a reality – for example, the Total Rewards platform uses triggers and multi-channel communications to automatically target different cohorts in line with life stages. Understanding an individual’s life-stage and ambitions is paramount in ensuring benefits are utilised and valued to their full extent.

  1. How to define financial wellness in a way that is targeted and relevant

Most employers are confusing tools with strategy. There are many tools now available in the market, many of which have some financial wellness content bolted on the front end to lead people to the actual tool or proposition. Many of these tools are smart and often ‘free to employer’ but are most often applied without consideration of the required strategy and with no way of measuring their effectiveness.   A good financial wellness strategy should help move employees to lower debt levels and increasing levels of wealth by creating behavioural change and then instilling good habits – the secret to a financially free existence. However, employers need ways it identify in their workforce where most of the stress is situated, where the biggest financial needs are and what employees really want and how they want it. Only then can a meaningful strategy be constructed. Otherwise its purely guesswork based on demographic assumptions and it could be a lot of effort to achieve very little.

To get started it is important that employers are clear as to what financial wellness actually means, how to define it, and then any tools selected as part of a strategy can lead to this positive outcome.

Speaking at the symposium series, Darren Laverty explains outlines the definition of financial wellness as follows:

  • Living within your financial means
    An easy credit/no savings culture combined with online ‘one click’ shopping has served to confuse what’s a necessity and what’s a luxury and get far too many people into habits that will not serve in the medium and long term. 
  • Having a manageable level of financial stress
    We all have vying degrees of tolerance to pressure, financial pressure can vary month to month and the key to get our lifestyle into a place that we can function effectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean zero stress, just within tolerable limits so that it does not impact behaviour. 
  • Ensuring solid financial foundations
    A solid base with which to build upon is crucial. A well communicated employee benefits package, no/low high interest debt and an emergency fund are fundamental and build resilience. Without those any financial planning is only as good as the next financial shock. 
  • Having future focused objectives
    From a psychological perspective this is probably the most important aspect when defining financial wellness. When we have clearly defined personal objectives or goals AND a plan to achieve them it makes for a very resilient individual. When we focus on what we WANT and not on what we FEAR, we are able to cope much better with the challenges that life can throw at us. Workplace savings propositions with a great education programme can help achieve this outcome. 
  1. How to design your own financial wellbeing strategy
  • Survey – You need to look under the bonnet and identify the needs and wants of the workforce through surveys, interviews, reviews and feedback from pilots.
  • Select – now the correct tools can be selected to form part of the strategy
  • Segment – focus on demographic groups but don’t make too many assumptions / allow for self-selection of various subjects to identify what employees want – you will be surprised!
  • Strategy – Start with a 2 year plan based on your surveys and reviews, break it down onto quarters and deal with the biggest wins first. Always take feedback along the way and be prepared to adjust the strategy.
  • Signpost – A good strategy will empower the majority of employees, there will be a few that need something else of a more personal nature and a good financial ‘concierge service’ can do the trick. A human being they can talk to that can signpost them to solutions available within the organisation. 
  1. How to measure progress

Darren explains that he has adapted for use by UK employers The Financial Wellness Survey. Employees are asked to complete this simple 1 minute questionnaire, which gives them an individual personal finance score and information on their current situation.

The employer also receives a report to highlight where the key issues. The organisation gets an overall score that they can use as a benchmark to show progress of the strategy over time.

The Association of Actuaries in the US has now developed a formula to translate that score into a financial saving. Work is ongoing in the UK to do the same.

Conclusion

Overcoming the blockers to financial wellbeing is easier than most employers think. The key is to stop focusing on the tools. Take a step back and give some thought to employee needs and, consequently, strategy: the means to do this are available and don’t require dedicated resource. 

Ensure a focus on EX whilst formulating financial wellbeing strategy – this will help you target messages, tools and education to the right people, in the right place, at the right time. 

Finally, integrate financial wellbeing into a focus on EX throughout the organisation over time to help improve your recruitment and retention prospects.

For more information about Equiniti’s Employee Experience solution, go to Employee Experience White Paper or contact Andrew.woolnough@equiniti.com

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