New Employee Benefit: Financial Wellness

Financial wellness programs are gaining in popularity, especially at large employers. There are several reasons for the growth. Employers are realizing that the stress resulting from financial problems can really have a big impact on employee productivity. And employees themselves are eager for advice to help them with their finances.

One study of more than 160 companies found that 90 percent of them offer some type of financial wellness program.

Financial wellness programs can offer a broad range of services, such as debt management counseling and budgeting, stress management training, cash for student loans (about $100 a month), mortgage broker and tax preparation services, and tools to help employees with their retirement savings.

And the wellness programs can be targeted to the particular needs of the employees at a company. For example, one large retailer includes payroll advances as part of its program, so employees do not have to rely on payday loans that have exorbitant interest rates.

What employees really want, however, is advice for their personal finances.

For example, at one company, financial advisers would visit about four times a year, but employees wanted to spend more time with the advisers in person. Now, the advisers are constantly visiting sites. In the past, the advisers conducted group seminars or lunch lectures, but now they meet with individual workers for 45-minute meetings. Employees can meet with the advisers one-on-one as many times as they want and talk about any problem or issue.

One of the major goals of the program is to get employees to put more money into their retirement savings. The average at the company is now almost a 10 percent annual contribution, one percent higher than the industry average.

The company is also trying to get workers to put more money into the health savings accounts. These types of tax-exempt accounts are intended for people who have health insurance plans with high deductibles. The purpose is to enable them to build up funds to be used in case of a medical emergency.

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