Financial Wellness Gains Traction as Employee Benefit

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By Sean Forbes

May 4 — Financial wellness tools as employer-provided benefits are gaining traction as employers attempt to provide employees with tools that enable them to plan for retirement and meet other financial needs.

“Financial wellness” as a term in the lexicon is fairly new, having arrived only about five or six years ago when the Great Recession ended, according to Steve Smalley, director of client experience at Schwab Retirement Plan Services Inc. in Cleveland.

Coming out of the recession, employers began to focus on their employees' financial health. As a result, the market for financial wellness companies has grown and the convergence of technology, data analytics and behavioral finance is on the rise, Smalley said May 3 at the Plan Sponsor Council of America's National Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Smalley said the landscape of financial wellness products has grown steadily since 2008, with companies such as Redwood City, Calif.-based Envestnet Yodlee, which aggregates financial information to provide individuals with a picture of their finances at a certain point in time; GuideSpark Inc. (also based on Redwood City), which focuses on employee engagement and internal communications; and Washington-based HelloWallet, which provides personalized financial education.

Practical Advice

Liz Davidson, founder and chief executive officer of Financial Finesse Inc., based in El Segundo, Calif., said a more fundamental question that some employers ask is whether it's even their responsibility to help employees focus on their personal finances.

“I always say, and I still say, it's technically not your responsibility, but it's absolutely in your best interest as an employer,” Davidson said.

And one of the most “powerful and overlooked” tools “that can move the needle the most” is a retirement estimation calculator, Davidson said.

But employers also need to incentivize employees to take advantage of these tools, Davidson said.

To that point, Lisa Mrozinski, director of total rewards for Robert W. Baird & Co., a financial services company based in Milwaukee, asked the audience, “How many of us have heard, ‘I didn't even know I had that benefit,’ ” she said. “So frustrating, because we offer these wonderful benefits, and they just can't find them. And that's on us. We just need to figure out how to do that better.”

A few of the strategies that the panelists recommended include:

  • listening to employees when they're engaging in the program to find out what is and isn't working so that the program can be adjusted;
  • making the program part of a cycle, such as being included in the open enrollment season for health-care plans;
  • pairing a financial wellness assessment with a physical wellness assessment, with a monetary incentive; and
  • having top-down leadership, so that executive officers ensure that employees take time to look at their financial planning.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Forbes in Nashville at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at