Critical Qualities to Look for in a Financial Wellness Program

Critical Qualities to Look for in a Financial Wellness Program

Financial wellness programs have grown from a buzzword to an increasingly popular benefit in Corporate America.  Employers are realizing that by relieving some of their employees’ stress about money, the company can benefit with a less distracted, healthier, and more retirement-ready workforce.

But not all financial wellness programs are created alike.  While the promise is there, a recent survey shows:

  • 56% of employees whose company offers a financial wellness program say they wished the financial resources offered used friendlier language.
  • 36% say their company’s programs are intimidating to use.

So the very program that’s supposed to be helping may actually be intimidating your employees more!

The unfortunate reality is that the majority of Americans are not financially literate.  And not just the lower-income or less educated employees; per the Chicago Federal Reserve, “A large proportion of consumers are not financially literate, even among the wealthiest and most educated population segments.”  Combine that with the fact that money is highly emotional and many Americans are swimming in debt, and it all adds up to a very sensitive subject.  People don’t want to feel stupid, and if your program makes them feel that way, they are not likely to get much out of it.

The lesson here?  Choose your financial wellness content very carefully.

After all, the goal is not just to educate.  The goal is to create awareness and promote actual behavior change.  We want our valued workers to be able to save more, spend less and feel good about it. Simply teaching users how to prepare and stick to a budget is a losing proposition.  ‘Budget’ is one of those words not far off from ‘diet’.  Although it contains more than four letters, it communicates one big, unpopular message:  deprivation.  Even if some of your employees actually sign on, the results are unlikely to last.

To quote George Costanza, we’ve basically got to do the opposite of what the financial industry has been doing for years.

For example, Wavelength takes a totally different approach:

  • Forget starting out with budgets; instead, teach how mindful spending can help us painlessly spend less. And once we gain some momentum, saving—or searching out great values—can become (gasp) fun!
  • Instead of droning on about why we “should” avoid overdrawing our bank accounts and incurring fees, we instead show how the big banks pull in about $4 billion in late fees alone from hardworking consumers every year. Then we show the very easy trick to keeping that money in our pockets instead of those of the big banks, and how much that can add to our future savings.
  • Forget price-earnings ratios; teach users about how the stock market naturally brings out fear in all of us, and how panic selling is the biggest reason most retirement investors fail. We want them to have that awareness next time there’s a scary day in the market and they feel the natural urge to hit the sell button.

With this approach in mind, here’s what to look for to ensure that your financial wellness program will make an impact:

  1. It’s got to have an unconventional look. We’re trying to change deeply rooted money beliefs, so it’s important to have something that looks totally different from traditional finance websites.  That will prevent our “I’m just not good with numbers” person from breaking out in hives.  Instead, a nonthreatening, different look and feel will give the program the best chance for success.  Research exists showing what colors and layouts work best to make finance consumer-friendly; it’s worth the effort to use it!
  2. It’s got to be truly jargon-free. Finance is full of jargon.  Unfortunately, it comes naturally to finance writers, but it is a turn-off to the non-financially oriented employee.  Do a “jargon audit” to make sure the system you are using is truly user-friendly.  If you need some inspiration, sit down with a medical journal for an hour.
  3. …but not condescending. As noted earlier, the Chicago Federal Reserve report found that people across all education and income brackets are not financially literateBrilliant people—scientists, doctors, physicists, you name it—can be bad with money. In fact, we all make money mistakes at some time in our life. Just ask Ben Bernanke when he couldn’t get his mortgage refinanced, or the two Nobel prize winners and 16 finance PhDs at Long Term Capital who lost every penny of their investors’ billions and nearly blew up the world’s financial system.  No one is naturally good with money and immune from mistakes; we’re all on a learning curve.  That approach works with adult learners—a condescending tone does not.
  4. It must make the mundane interesting. Remember, we’re competing with the Kardashians, pizza night, and happy hour—we’ve got to capture our learner’s interest, fast.  Successful programs spark curiosity and engage people emotionally in a variety of ways; video can be especially effective.

By building or choosing a program with these four vital qualities, you’ll be on the road to making financial wellness a reality for your valued employees—all without boring them to death in the process.

 

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Wavelength Financial Content Inc. provides innovative online financial wellness and education programs.  Visit our website for more information.