More than one-third of employers doubt their employees will be ready to retire when the time comes.
A 2018 survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that nearly 80% of companies believe their employees feel stress at work because of personal-finance issues. Nearly two-thirds believe those employees’ productivity is affected.
The findings would not surprise financial professionals. It has been documented over and over that adults are not saving enough. Over the past decade, the idea that workplaces could help employees with financial issues has resulted in a new benefit field of financial education.
“Financial illiteracy is not a new problem,” said Brian Ford, financial well-being executive for SunTrust. “Financial education is not a new solution. But financial education from employers is a new solution.”
A decade ago, hardly any company was offering financial education. Now, nearly two-thirds of employers offer some type of financial education, with a quarter having a specified budget for it, the employee benefit foundation’s survey found. Another 19% are considering adding the benefit.
Ford was on the ground floor of the movement a decade ago with his consulting firm, 8 Pillars. After working with SunTrust to develop a program of its own, the Atlanta-based banking company bought Ford’s company and brought him on as an executive.
The 8 Pillars evolved into Momentum OnUp — offered at cost to employers by SunTrust, which provides services for several Minnesota companies. Ford said the program helps the bank by building up brand equity and trust, while it helps the employer because SunTrust does not try to sell the workers anything. It is purely educational.
SunTrust works with employers to customize programs, but starts with helping employees identify their life values. “It doesn’t matter what they are. It could be family. It could be health. Travel,” Ford said. The next step is helping outline a household budget using those values. “It helps you stop spending on stuff we don’t care about,” he said.
Investments, including a 401(k), is step five, he said. That’s intentional. When you have a budget, a household emergency fund, a plan to pay off debt — then it’s time to invest.
Many companies jump right in on 401(k) training or insurance needs, based on what their benefits are. However, more companies are starting to take a more comprehensive approach, Ford said. The Momentum OnUp program can be mostly or all online, or SunTrust can provide speakers for different topics.
The key to the program, Ford said, is that it meets people where they are as far as managing finances.
SunTrust has worked with Opus Development Co. in Minnetonka and Dominium, based in Plymouth.
Dominium, one of the nation’s largest affordable-housing companies, kicked off its Momentum OnUp program in March with three live sessions and four virtual sessions — to reach employees in other states — to offer an introduction to the courses.
So far, 221 employees — more than 20% of the workforce — have started the modules, Ford said. The eventual goal is closer to 30% participation.
Kathy Rasmussen, vice president of human resources at Dominium, said the feedback has been positive, using comments on the chatbars during online programs and the sign-up rate. When she and others saw SunTrust’s offering, Dominium decided it would create value for employees, adding to financial options such as a 401(k) fund. The company also decided to extend the course to spouses and family members.
Also, “when we look at wellness as a whole, financial wellness is a part of that,” Rasmussen said.
She said all of the lessons are beneficial — learning how to weigh renting or buying a house, leasing or buying a car, setting up a rainy-day fund.
Plus it fits into the company’s philosophy of individual development. For example, Dominium has “lunch and learn” programs on topics, an employee emergency fund and a comprehensive career program. Under a volunteer program, instead of matching monetary donations the company makes donations to an employee’s choice organization based on how many hours that employee has volunteered.
Dominium added some incentive with drawings after certain program milestones are completed.
SunTrust adds $1,000 to its employees’ emergency-savings accounts as an incentive if they complete the program. The company also gives workers a day off to tend to their financial needs.
The growth of financial education programs is evident in Momentum OnUp’s growth, Ford said. The goal this year was to sign on 50 new customers. Already, the company has 45.