Brokers can help overwhelmed employers prioritize

NASHVILLE—Employers are learning money troubles follow their workforce to the office and the doctor — decreasing productivity and raising medical costs. But benefit brokers are a company’s best resource for helping employees become financially fit.

Around half of U.S. companies are already implementing financial wellness programs, according to a study by SHRM. But many of those programs are ineffective because they don’t inspire employee engagement, according to panelists during a financial wellness discussion at Workplace Benefits Renaissance, a broker convention hosted by Employee Benefit Adviser.

“Most employees have their head buried in the sand … and they’re not saving,” said Brian Hamilton, vice president of financial wellness at SmartDollar. “The trick to a good financial wellness program is getting [employees] to do it, not just telling them to do it.”

Debt remains the number one reason workers don’t save money to secure their financial well-being. The broker panel, led by Employee Benefit News’ Editor-in-Chief Kathryn Mayer, discussed why brokers were in the best position to help clients find programs to reduce employee debt.

“It’s a bit overwhelming for an employer to sift through thousands of programs,” said David Stedman, founder and CEO of BrightDime, during the panel. “But brokers usually have a group of financial wellness programs they trust, so they can help the employer understand what their needs are.”

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Hamilton recommends starting a financial wellness program by having clients implement a holistic solution that teaches employees about budgeting. While budgeting is a necessary skill, Stedman says having the client conduct an employee survey can give brokers a better idea of which programs employees will actually use.

“We had a client who thought they needed a student loan program—as it’s the new hot topic,” Stedman said. “We were going to introduce a program, but after conducting a survey of the company we found they have an older population. So, student debt wasn’t their problem, they needed to focus on retirement.”

Whether it’s budgeting, student loan debt or retirement concerns, the panelists said it’s important for programs to be user-friendly.

“Simplicity is key; the more complex the program, the less likely employees are to engage,” said Jeffrey Tulloch, vice president of PlanSmart at MetLife.

Conducting return on investment studies for financial wellness programs can help brokers pitch them to clients, Stedman said. While these models don’t guarantee 100% accuracy, they help illustrate how financial wellness programs can save companies money.

“Financial stress is causing medical costs to go up,” Stedman said. “We’re able to quantify that a bit more so we can show our clients why they should invest in specific financial wellness programs.”

Many companies may already have financial wellness programs in place, but not all programs are created equal. Recent events highlight how people aren’t saving enough to protect themselves on rainy days; there’s room for brokers to make cost saving improvements, the panelists said.

“We saw that folks weren’t prepared when the government shut down, and those challenges are rampant in every employee population,” said Ryan Donahue, COO of Mainstreet Financial Planning. “As brokers, we can help drive solutions to navigate those challenges.”

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