Women can be turned off by the financial planning process, often due to a flawed approach by advisers. In an interview with EBA, Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, a financial planning service designed for women, shares her insight on how to create a successful financial wellness program that best reaches female employees.

Carla Dearing

How popular are financial wellness programs?

According to a report by Aon Hewitt, 93% of large employers intended to broaden their financial wellness programs in 2015. There’s good reason for this. At a cost of only about $144 per employee, per year (according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), financial wellness programs are a relatively modest investment in improved employee retention and productivity. Financial wellness programs make employees feel more valued and help lower financial stress, and a less stressed employee is a healthier and more productive employee. It’s no different from offering your employees Fitbits, treadmill desks or on-site yoga classes. It’s a no-brainer.

How important is it to have a financial wellness program?

The business value to employers of a less stressed, healthier and more productive workforce is obvious, but the potential benefits of financial wellness programs for employees themselves are significant, too. This is especially true for women, who as a group tend to be less prepared for retirement and more stressed financially than men. As women continue to juggle too many responsibilities both at work and at home, having the option to address financial wellness issues in the workplace, conveniently, without interruption, and with little or no out of pocket cost to employees, can make the difference between doing it or not at all.

What are some best practices to ensure a financial wellness program is successful?

• Start where they are. Employees who need financial wellness programs most are probably already feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on what they have done wrong in the past or what they “should” already have accomplished, design program materials that reinforce their strengths and build from there.

• Convenience is key. Workshops that require personal attendance can take place during the daytime, but online resources should be available for after-hours learning as well. Design online resources to be mobile-friendly so that they can be accessed by employees remotely and during lunch and coffee breaks.

• Design programs in small chunks. Ideally, material should be presented in short, punchy segments. This makes them interruption-proof, but more importantly, easier for busy employees to absorb and implement. An incremental approach builds confidence, so employees will be more motivated to stay with the program.

What, if any, is the difference when advising women on their financial future?

• Listen. Unfortunately, many women have been turned off by financial planning in general because of past experiences with advisers who were either condescending or who didn’t have their best interests at heart. One of the keys to overcoming this trust deficit is to listen. Address concerns and answer her questions before attempting to teach or instruct. She needs to understand that you are paying attention and that your advice will be designed for her personal situation.

"Women are motivated by goals and outcomes, and are put off by competitiveness and game playing."

• Serve, don’t sell. Women are motivated by goals and outcomes, and are put off by competitiveness and game playing. A big advantage of financial wellness programs is that they provide unbiased information and guidance. They are not sales pitches for financial products. They exist only to help employees get the most out of their benefits and make informed financial decisions that are in their best interests.

What are some best practices for reaching female employees?

• Make it personal. Every woman is different, so give each employee advice and guidance that’s customized for her.

• If possible, make personal coaching from women financial planners available. Many women will respond better to financial coaching from another woman “like her.”

• Make the emotional connection. Money is always emotional, so achieving financial wellness is about more than bank account balances and asset allocation. Often, success comes from identifying and, if necessary, dismantling long-standing money attitudes related to personal experiences or cultural upbringing.

• Use the power of community. Although financial wellness programs are ostensibly designed to “teach,” they can be more effective and empowering when they also provide opportunities for employees to share, support, and learn from one another.

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