Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement and it is increasingly falling on employers to fill the gaps in their employees’ financial education.

Many people carry too much debt, are living paycheck to paycheck or are not taking advantage of employer-sponsored benefits, says Linda Robertson, a certified financial planner with Financial Finesse. In the past, financial planners didn’t worry about other factors that affected a person’s ability to save for retirement. They were more concerned with investment options rather than establishing “good money habits,” she says.

But that’s changing, with the emphasis now on helping employees develop positive savings habits that will then translate into retirement readiness.

Also see: Do auto features drive better retirement outcomes?

“We’re seeing from most of our [employer] clients a much greater interest in going beyond traditional benefits,” says Kathleen Kelly, managing partner at Compass Financial Partners, LLC. “It is a way to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.”

Kelly’s clients continue “to expand benefits offerings beyond retirement education to a much more holistic, financial guidance program that is key to retaining the best talent and enhancing productivity on a go forward basis.”

Robertson adds that when a company implements a financial wellness program, employers benefit as well. Employees who aren’t stressed about finances are more productive at work and are much less likely to delay retirement, she says. They also are more satisfied with their company benefits package if they are able to maximize those benefits to reach their financial goals.

Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of Financial Finesse, says that it is very easy to integrate a financial wellness program into a company’s existing benefits program. The best way is to take a personalized approach and integrate a personalized financial assessment.

Also see: Employer involvement in 401(k) drives employee engagement

One way to promote financial wellness programs within a company is through incentives. Davidson says that in her experience, competitions, raffles or giveaways are a great way to encourage employees to participate. On-site financial coaching is another big benefit and having single sign-on, which means combining financial wellness with health benefits in one place that is fully integrated.

“The more integrated the program is into the fabric of your benefits, the more seamless it is for the employee because they are not jumping around to different areas and are not confused about which vendor to use for what purpose,” she says.

Robertson adds that “financial wellness is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.”

If employees take a financial wellness assessment, it will tell them where their vulnerabilities are and how to tackle them, she says. Many people don’t manage debt well or they don’t have a budget for day-to-day expenses. Others don’t have an emergency fund to help pay for unexpected expenses, like a catastrophic health care event.

Also see: Aetna makes financial wellness part of its culture

Davidson says she gets asked all the time why financial wellness programs can’t be entirely online. While an online approach is integral to most programs at many companies, she says, a face-to-face component is still very important.

She likened financial wellness to physical wellness. Everyone has a scale and the scale is an effective tool in helping people realize they’ve been eating too much, but “my scale is not what is helping me become healthier. It is the actions I’m taking because I want to make sure the number on the scale doesn’t become too large. The psychology of accountability and coaching is where we get exponentially more behavioral change,” she says. “That’s why we have personal trainers to supplement and help with our financial health.”

Kelly agrees, saying that “not everyone learns the same way. There are still folks who prefer personal interaction on a one-on-one basis or a one-on-one call or having the ability to participate in live [seminars], not just a self-serve basis.”

It helps if employers know their employee base, that way they can utilize various approaches and mediums to improve outcomes, she says.

Gamification has come into its own as part of financial wellness programs. “If you make learning fun, employees are engaged. They get very competitive,” Robertson says.

Also see: Are gaming apps just a wellness quick-fix?

Employers continue to say that helping employees save for retirement is important so they are looking for ways to really get them to take advantage of their 401(k) benefits, Kelly says.

One way to do that is to keep it simple from the start. “The key being to help more employees engage in retirement savings and ultimately that will lead to a higher probability of success,” she says.

Features like auto enrollment and auto escalation, stretching the employer match and limiting loans from retirement plans are all ways employers can help employees ready themselves for retirement.

Employers should take advantage of employee inertia. Make them opt out of a plan rather than opt in, Kelly says.

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access