How 3 Employers Got Financial Wellness Results

Programs connect physical, emotional and financial health

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS September 24, 2019
How 3 Employers Got Financial Wellness Results

Note: This article was originally posted as "These Employers Direct Financial Wellness to Current Needs, Future Security."


n average, Americans are living longer, healthier lives," said Yanela Frias, head of investment and pension solutions at Prudential Retirement. "The bad news related to that is most people are not financially prepared for the good news of living longer," she noted Sept. 12 at the 15th International Longevity Risk and Capital Markets Solutions Conference, sponsored by Prudential, in Washington, D.C.

"Today, most people still expect to retire at 65, and yet few people have the security of lifetime income … to fund a retirement that could last anywhere between 10 to 40 years," she pointed out. A report by the World Economic Forum, she noted, found that on average, Americans are financially prepared for nearly 10 years in retirement, leaving a savings gap of eight years for men and 11 years for women, who tend to outlive men.

Companies can help employees prepare for retirement by offering financial-wellness programs, Frias said. Over the past decade, Prudential has created an expansive financial-wellness program for its employees, offering:

  • Income planning and budgeting advice to help employees save more from their paychecks.
  • Emergency savings accounts so money is set aside to cover short-term unexpected needs.
  • 401(k) plan auto-enrollment and annual auto-escalation of participant contributions to grow retirement savings.
  • Health savings account (HSA) advice for long-term health care expenses.

As a result of these and other offerings, since 2015, only 16 percent of Prudential's employees reported feeling financial stress or anxiety, whereas in 2008 the figure was 31 percent.

Prudential continues to track the effectiveness of its financial-wellness program by analyzing metrics such as depression and absenteeism among employees, which will inform future services, Frias said. That ongoing research led the company in February 2018 to introduce a digital financial-wellness platform to help employees manage day-to-day expenses and customize the financial-wellness education they receive so they can achieve their financial goals and protect themselves against financial risks.

"The best place to tackle these challenges is in the workplace," Frias said. "For every person we help to achieve financial wellness, we can improve the last 30 years of their lives."

At Chubb Insurance, Help Navigating the Financial Landscape

"We need to enable employees to do their best every day," and that means helping employees feel financially secure, said Carolyn Kennedy, vice president of employee benefits at Chubb insurance firm.

In Chubb's 401(k) plan, new hires who contribute at least 6 percent of their pay are eligible for a 9 percent company matching contribution. "Over 83 percent of our employees are participating in the plan, with an average contribution rate of 8.5 percent [of their pay], and that's a great statistic, but … 20 percent of my active employees currently have a loan from the 401(k) plan, and 17 percent think it's OK to leave company match on the table by not saving enough to get the full match, because they're either ill-informed or they simply can't afford to save," Kennedy noted during her conference presentation.

To meet this challenge, the company now offers a five-week financial-wellness seminar series delivered by a national team of certified financial planners and held in more than 35 Chubb locations across the U.S. It also offers a program of one-hour sessions on topics such as budgeting and debt management, women and money, financial challenges of the sandwich generation (those who are supporting or caring for both children and aging parents), health care in retirement, estate planning and other topics.

"Our employees are hungry for information," Kennedy said. "They want to be able to retire, and they want help navigating their financial landscape."

'Our employees are hungry for information. They want help navigating their financial landscape.' 

Chubb also deployed a digital financial-wellness center to provide online information and resources to employees, she noted. "We started an e-mail campaign to encourage people to check out the site, and they showed up."

Since the site went live in October 2018, Kennedy said, "we've had a 28 percent engagement rate with over 4,100 visitors" out of 18,250 North American employees.

Among those who took a financial self-assessment on the site, 77 percent indicated that they were either somewhat or very stressed about their financial situation. Currently, Chubb spends 2.5 percent of its medical budget on claims related to stress and anxiety, Kennedy noted, "so there is a correlation between physical and financial wellness."

Since the program's launch, results have included:

  • 401(k) contributions increased (up by 33 percent of participants).
  • Use of a Roth 401(k) option (up by 26 percent).
  • HSA new enrollments or increased contributions (up by 18 percent).

In addition, 25 percent of employees have now chosen to invest HSA funds that had been kept in cash.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What are total rewards strategies? Can you give me some idea on how to develop a total rewards strategy?]

Cigna's Integrated Approach to 'Whole Person Health'

As the director of global health and wellness at health insurer Cigna, Jill Vaslow told conference attendees that her mission is "to improve the health, well-being, sense of security and peace of mind" of Cigna employees. "We regularly scan the environment for best practices and look for ways to bring new approaches to our workforce," she said.

For the company's 401(k) plan, "we've turned on every auto feature that there is to turn on," Vaslow noted. As a result, the plan's participation rate is about 91 percent of the workforce, and the average deferral rate is a little above 8 percent of pay. "When we give employees the opportunity to make a positive, passive choice [through automatic defaults], they take advantage of it, and they join in the programs that we want them to participate in," she said.

'We've turned on every auto feature there is to turn on.'

Vaslow said Cigna looks for "every way that it can create an 'easy-button' approach for employees, being a little more aggressive in pushing employees forward and steering people in the right direction."

Cigna also takes an integrated approach to benefits, and four years ago the firm started using the term "whole person health" to focus on the connection between physical, emotional and financial well-being. "Efforts to get employees to pay attention to their diabetes are not going to be effective if they're worried about their ability to pay this month's bills," she said.

The company issues each employee an annual total rewards statement that it refers to as a "personal portfolio report, to help employees think about health and financial wellness together," Vaslow said. The statement includes details about the employee's 401(k) and HSA participation, "creating the connection between both as opportunities to invest in themselves and create a solid retirement-savings platform."

Cigna's benefit communications, Vaslow explained, reinforce the idea that HSAs are a complementary way to save for health care expenses that will happen in retirement "and not just an account to pay for a doctor's visit you might have next week." This idea is in keeping with the company's overall message of using employee benefits to "get a better handle on today's issues while investing for tomorrow."

An integrated approach to benefits, she concluded, is an "opportunity to take new employees coming in the door just out of college and help them to think about paying down loans, creating an emergency fund, beginning to build a retirement package, and making the right choices to support the medical bills they're going to have now in their 20s when they're healthy and to start planning for the medical bills they're going to have in the future when they're less healthy."

Employers Offering Financial Wellness Programs Double in Recent Years

More than twice as many companies are offering workplace financial wellness programs to employees today compared to four years ago (53 percent in 2019 versus 24 percent in 2015), according to Bank of America's new Workplace Benefits Report.

Employees ranked the program features they most valued as:

1. Advice from a professional, such as a financial advisor, planner or accountant.

2. Information on financial topics separate from 401(k) education.

3. Availability of financial products/services that help employees.

4. Review/evaluation of employees' individual financial situations.

5. Online financial tools or calculators, such as debt payoff, car/mortgage payment or college planning tools.

Results are from a February 2019 survey of 800 benefits decision makers at firms across the U.S. and 1,000 retirement plan participants.



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