How to Make Financial Well-Being Benefits Inclusive for All

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | November 20, 2023

The silver lining of the 2008 financial crisis, according to Steve Ulian, the managing director of client and product solutions at asset management company Apollo, is that employers began offering financial well-being benefits in earnest.

“I view that as the inflection point, when more holistic financial wellness became a necessary benefit,” he said. Baby Boomers were, for the first time, clocking in at retirement age just as the financial crisis eroded their savings. “Employees started to cry out for help, and who did they want to help them? Their employers.”

Employer-facilitated retirement plans became the norm, at least for full-time workers in white collar jobs, but the types of benefits and guidance that make day-to-day finances, mid-and long-term planning, debt repayment, home buying, investing, and goal setting possible were available mostly to those with wealth. That is, major assets, both liquid and fixed, numbering in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. Wealth management, even wealth building, was for the already wealthy.

“There have not been many options for people who need help with everyday questions and everyday money decisions. The whole industry was designed to help people who have a lot of money, and to create really big, long-term strategies,” said Rebecca Liebman, CEO and co-founder of workforce financial wellbeing platform LearnLux. Now, financial planning is for everyone. “It’s for people who want to have a plan for everything from cash flow and budgeting to retirement, drawdown, and estate planning.”

Liebman and Ulian were joined by Hannah Johnstone, a financial wellbeing consultant at Gallagher, for a recent From Day One webinar titled “Making Financial Well-Being Inclusive for Your Entire Workforce,” which I moderated. They busted myths about financial planning, celebrated the inclusive power of open access, and offered advice on rolling out new tools.

New Employee Expectations for Financial Benefits

In 2023, employees expect options for managing their financial health–even those who haven’t had access in the past. “It’s no longer sufficient to provide only a retirement plant,” said Johnstone. “Expectations have ticked up. Just as we’ve grown and expanded programs beyond the retirement plan, financial wellness has grown beyond group education and a webinar once in a while. It’s becoming a more personal expectation.”

The panelists spoke during From Day One's webinar about “Making Financial Well-Being Inclusive for Your Entire Workforce” (photo by From Day One)

In wealth management, talk is often about retirement savings and spending, but that’s not the only financial guidance people need, and Johnstone lamented the narrow attitude toward financial wellness. Everyone needs command of their day-to-day and month-to-month finances, enough to absorb a financial emergency, emergency savings, and the ability to meet future financial goals. Everyone deserves to feel confident making quick, need-it-now decisions too–sometimes people need to know how much car they can afford to buy when the old one conks out. People also need the freedom to make choices that allow them to enjoy their life. “I think we forget to talk about that part,” said Johnstone.

There are other myths about financial planning; perhaps the biggest is that people who make a lot of money are good at managing it. “Just because someone makes a lot of money doesn’t mean they know what decision to make,” Liebman remarked. “It’s a common myth that if you make a certain amount of money, you’re good to go.” She’s right: Even high earners struggle with the small things. Sixty-five percent of people in the US are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a fall 2022 report from LendingClub, and almost half of people earning $100,000 or more live that way. Those with large incomes especially may be embarrassed to ask for help. “No matter how much money you’re taking home, people have questions and financial decisions that are very emotional,” said Liebman.

Financial Wellness as a DEI Strategy

Expanding financial benefits to all is a matter of inclusion–one often left out of DEI strategy. Planning benefits are no longer limited to the C-suite. Programs now can serve an entire workforce: hourly employees, middle managers, entry-level workers, VPs, and executives, in every location and across all industries.

Liebman encouraged global parity when rolling out financial benefits, “making sure that every aspect of the program has parity in each country, so if you offer financial planners in the US, offer financial planners in every single country where you have employees. If there’s a digital platform, the digital platform should be localized for every country where you have employees.”

To reach everyone, Johnstone recommends making personas of workers across the organization. She often starts there when working with clients. Who is in your workforce? What are their needs? Are they eligible for all your financial benefits?

Generally, people want to talk to other people about financial matters, says Ulian. Tech is good, it’s useful, and it has its place, but it’s hard to beat face-to-face questions. He worries that many employers choose a tech tool to tick the financial benefits box, when what they need is diverse fiduciary advisors and household access to help. “Some people want to talk with their family members, because culturally, talking about anything important comes with talking with your family member. Some people really want to talk to somebody who looks like them because there’s a comfort level there.”

The group noted that without financial education and help with applications, benefits may go unused. Employees need to know how to use the suite of tools and products available. “As an employer, you’re spending so much time and effort to pick amazing benefits. Let’s make sure people are utilizing them the right way and understand them and are getting the value,” Liebman said.

In the benefits blitz of the last few years, employers have been adding new perks, new programs, new rewards to attract and retain workers, and many people have benefitted, but frontline workers and folks who work the machine floor, those who earn an hourly wage—they were often left out. Financial wellness affects mental wellness, panelists said, and workers who have peace of mind about their money are more prepared to be present at work. Everyone who earns an income benefits from sound advice and planning, so why isn’t it available to all?

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, LearnLux, for sponsoring this webinar.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.


Looking Ahead: Integrating Weight Loss and Diabetes Medications for a Healthier Workforce

With the recent increase in demands for new drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic, 43% of employers are now considering covering GLP-1s next year, nearly double today’s number. Since its first FDA approval in 2005, GLP-1s have proven effective for health conditions like obesity and diabetes.However, with a steep price tag and concerns about misusage, leaders may find adding GLP-1s to their benefits offerings to be challenging. In a recent From Day One webinar, physicians from Accolade joined moderator Katie Miller Blakemore, senior manager of events at Accolade, to discuss the trends around GLP-1s.Understanding Cost BenefitsOn average, medication like Ozempic can cost more than $1,000 per month, a deterrent for some leaders considering proving it in their benefits. However, there may be greater healthcare costs if employers choose not to offer these drugs, says James Wantuck, MD, associate chief medical officer at Accolade and co-founder of Plush.“There are two sides to this equation: the cost of the drugs and the cost of not using the drugs,” Wantuck said. “Employers need to consider the costs for not using the drugs which may include things like absence from work or inability to do as much at work.”Wantuck points to the cost of obesity as one example. Chronic diseases caused by obesity and excess weight cost 1.72 trillion dollars in the U.S. alone in 2016.With a direct effect on one’s cardiovascular system, GLP-1s can reduce the severity of these diseases by reducing the chances of heart failure and strokes. Having healthier employees is an invaluable asset to any company, Wantuck said. “It’s harder to dismiss and not cover a drug that prevents a heart attack,” Wantuck said. “The price decreases as employees get less sick.”In comparison to similar countries, GLP-1s cost five to ten times more in the U.S. and the prices are not expected to change anytime soon, says Connie Hwang, MD, Accolade’s chief medical officer.“The FDA approved GLP-1s almost two decades ago, and yet there are no generic competitors in this class of drugs,” Hwang said. “The patents and regulatory exclusivity granted show a median of 18.3 years of market protection and so putting this into perspective, the earliest date for a possible generic Ozempic is guaranteed for December 2031. Employers need a GLP-1s strategy now as there is likely no pricing relief in sight.”Dr. Connie Hwang, chief medical officer at Accolade spoke with Dr. James Wantuck and Katie Miller Blakemore during the webinar (company photo)Giving Access to the Right PeopleNot everybody qualifies for GLP-1s but high costs and the spike in popularity of some drugs from mainstream media have caused employers to enforce restrictions and in some cases, outright bans.Qualifying for GLP-1s states individuals need to have a BMI greater than 30 along with medical problems such as hypertension, type two diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.“Some large employers have eliminated coverage for GLP-1s for the weight loss indication, and many have done so pointing to the greater than 200% total cost increases that they’ve been seeing,” Hwang said.Eliminating GLP-1 options negatively affects people who need the medications, bringing the strategy back to the need for employers to evaluate cost benefits. In a study of how members receiving GLP-1s meet the protocol criteria, researchers discovered that 94% of Accolade Care members did meet the criteria.Offering GLP-1s is only the beginning of the journey for employers, Wantuck says. Employers need to provide employees with resources to continue the momentum of their lifestyle change for a successful exit from these drugs.“You have to be open to a lifestyle change to change your habits, diet, and exercise routine to make these drugs the most effective that they can be,” Wantuck said. “These drugs facilitate this weight loss and allow people to reach the goals they’ve never been able to reach before, and I think that inspires them to change their habits.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Accolade, for sponsoring this webinar.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | December 06, 2023

Utilizing Benefits to Attract Diverse Talent: Building the Foundation Before They Arrive

When Matthew Legere and his family faced a devastating pregnancy loss, he submitted for bereavement leave at work. He was denied. “They said because the baby wasn’t actually born, I didn't qualify for bereavement leave,” Legere said. “Now, if you asked me at that moment if I felt valued as an employee, no. No, I did not.”While this example is startling, it’s unfortunately not uncommon. Progressive employers need to account for all the nuances and complexities of an employee’s life when crafting a benefits package with care, dignity, and respect.By looking at your benefits plan through a variety of lenses and thinking about your employees’ diverse needs, you can build a plan that allows individuals and their families to feel seen, heard, and valued through the benefits that you offer. “By addressing unmet needs, we believe you can truly drive engagement with your current employees. But it also casts a vision that’s attractive to a prospective employee, making it so that your story can truly become their story,” Legere said.Legere, now SVP of Brown & Brown, the fifth largest benefits consultant in the country, shared his top tips during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Building out an employee benefits package that is comprehensive and sensitive to a variety of lifestyles and situations is integral to workforce acquisition and retention. Of course, employers cannot envision those needs in a bubble. There is a difference between a vision and a shared vision, Legere says. “If we have an opportunity to get feedback from the talent market, or even our current employees on how well we’re solving for a diverse employee benefit program, that is what’s going to be most effective,” Legere said. Shared visions attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges.Surveying Employee ValuesLegere cites a 2023 study from MetLife of the top desired employee benefits, which include, in order of importance, health, paid leave, 401(k), dental, vision, life insurance, and disability.But importantly, Legere notes, these rankings changed from generation to generation. “You have to get a sense of who your current population is as well as who you’re trying to attract and what their needs are,” Legere said. “What they expect for benefits could vary significantly.”It’s also important to pay attention to what trends change over time. For example, from 2020 to 2023, there was a 100% increase in employees surveyed who prioritized wellness benefits like gym memberships and employee assistance programs. Your employee benefits need to change along with the cultural climate in order to stay competitive. Legere also shared that employers tend to significantly overestimate their employees’ well-being and satisfaction, and encourages them to be proactive in crafting a package that reflects their actual current circumstances.Moving from Buzzword to ActionMatthew Legere, senior vice president of Brown & Brown, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)Talking with employers, Legere found that while many talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion, they weren’t really taking steps to move the needle.  “Craft strategies, policies, practices, and procedures, for everybody at every aspect to feel valued,” Legere said. That means taking into consideration all aspects of life wellness and creating policies that are effective for all generations in your workplace. It’s also crucial to recognize the different steps of an employee’s life journey both in and out of the office, and account for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.Using national statistics like Gallup polls or the U.S. census, employees can project an estimate of how their workplace population might be impacted by categories like LGBTQIA+, family planning, veteran status, working parents, and build out a benefits plan accordingly.An effective plan should be valued by all employees, encompassing all of their intersectional identities. “You want to be relevant to your employees in those key areas and offer benefits specifically for them.”Legere and his team at Brown & Brown offer assessments for organizations to see how their benefits packages address the needs of certain populations and find where there might be gaps. They can also show the cost/benefit analysis, in other words, how much an employer has to pay for a benefit vs. the positive economic impact it would potentially have on an employee.Executing the Benefits Strategy and Looking AheadAlongside benefit strategy decisions, Legere says employers have several opportunities to embed relevant DEIB themes across their HR and benefits communication. Employees and their family members receive inclusive content, DEIB culture messages, and targeted materials. It’s important to use inclusive language in these communications. Legere shares an example of using the term “chosen family” alongside “nuclear family” when talking about holiday celebrations, which is potentially more welcoming to LGBTQIA+ employees. “Having intentional and inclusive language woven into communications can be significant,” he said.Legere advises employers to identify their target employee audience, then take a look at their current benefits partners to make sure they are offering the depth, breadth, and cultural sensitivity that is best-suited to that community. If they are not, it’s time to make a change.Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for the employee when they are at their time of greatest need and vulnerability. “If you can be relevant with what your employees or prospective employees are talking about at their kitchen table,” Legere said, “you're going to help them feel so seen.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Brown & Brown, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | November 30, 2023

Look Again: How to Find Top Talent Among Those Who Didn't Make the First Cut

Delphine Carter checked all the boxes. She had a robust background in product and sales development and thought she found an opportunity that she could be successful in.But like many, Carter’s nonlinear work history caused her resume to be initially rejected. “I applied but I didn’t get an interview. A friend of mine was friends with the hiring manager though, and said that I was a great cultural fit and they ended up hiring me.”Carter called herself a “trash can hire,” a term referring to a candidate whose resume was tossed out in the initial screening but rescued in the end. Now, as the CEO and founder of Boulo Solutions, Carter speaks about her business of helping employers break out of their traditional hiring processes to adopt a more open-minded approach. Carter spoke on the subject during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Avoid Looking at Titles and EducationTraditional hiring practices look primarily at linear work experience, with employers scanning resumes for key titles, education and company names. However, this method removes candidates with nontraditional resumes who may be prime candidates as well, Carter says.“Ask recruiters to ignore titles, industry and timelines and focus on what’s needed. Put these candidates in front of a panel that represents people from different areas of your organization,” Carter said. “This can help ensure a fair evaluation process and expand the type of questions that the candidate might receive.”At Boulo Solutions, clients are already embracing this change. For each candidate, Boulo Solutions creates a profile of their work experience and skills to present to employers.“We create a 360-degree profile of our candidates with the information that shows off their capabilities in a nonlinear fashion, to eliminate the bias that’s caused by hyper-focusing on titles, timelines and industry,” Carter said. “This helps the candidate stand out because it calls out hard and soft skills that they’ve gained through job and life experiences. Our customers feel like they’ve had a mini interview, and it makes it easier to compare the hard and soft skills of one candidate with another.”Grow Your Referral PipelineDelphine Carter, founder and CEO of Boulo Solutions, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)82% of employers rated referrals as their top source for yielding the best return on investment, showing referrals from employees can be a reliable source for employers to get top candidates.“Referrals come from people within your organization or a personal network, who are familiar with both the candidate and your company’s culture. As hiring managers, you can elevate this element of trust and credibility to identify candidates who are more likely to align with your company’s values and expectations,” Carter said.For employers, 45% of referral hires stay longer than four years, compared to only 25% of job board hires, and can cost less to hire than other hiring sources. Having a referral pipeline from employees and industry peers can diversify the hiring pool and help employers look at candidates beyond just the ones that come from the job board, Carter says.“Grow a referral pipeline from industry peers or companies with cultures similar to yours,” Carter said. “This method leverages personal and professional connections to find individuals who possess qualities that are essential beyond what’s written on their resumes and can contribute to a more robust and culturally aligned workforce.”Break Out of TraditionAs a former “trash-can hire,” Carter isn’t afraid to go dumpster diving. “The best reason for dumpster diving is that these candidates are in the dumpster because they applied and they found your company and that job interesting,” Carter said.Looking at rejected resumes with a different mindset can help change traditional hiring practices and give top candidates a second chance. When evaluating these resumes, employers should look for the value proposition that the candidate can add to the company.“Some exceptional candidates may not have the most conventional resumes but there’s a chance of uncovering those diamonds in the rough who may not have typical paper qualifications but possess the skills and potential your organization needs,” Carter said. “Look for the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that are missing from your team and find how they could add value.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Boulo Solutions, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | November 29, 2023