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.


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