Pandemic boosting relevance of financial wellness offerings: survey

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. employers were beefing up their financial well-being offerings and starting to see positive results, according to a new survey by Buck.

The survey, which polled more than 150 U.S. organizations, found employees’ financial stress is a top motivator for companies to invest in financial well-being programs. As well, 40 per cent of employers reported that addressing financial stress is a key reason for increasing their voluntary benefits program, well up from just 16 per cent of respondents in 2017, the last time Buck performed a similar survey.

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Many employers said they’re approaching their financial well-being initiatives as a way to help employees with short-term financial needs. While just 38 per cent of employers cited helping employees retire when ready as their top financial well-being priority, 68 per cent listed budgeting and saving, 66 per cent said credit card debt and 59 per cent said unexpected medical expenses. Four in 10 (40 per cent) said their millennial employees are the top targets for financial support, as many are dealing with student loans, consumer debt and a lack of emergency and retirement savings.

On that note, 63 per cent of respondents said they’re looking to add benefits to support these new employee needs. One in five (20 per cent) said they’re looking to add student loan guidance and refinancing, while 18 per cent are looking at student loan repayment, 13 per cent at indemnity and 11 per cent at long-term care.

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The vast majority (87 per cent) of employers also saw investing in financial well-being as a way to influence job satisfaction. Further, 80 per cent of employers said they see direct savings resulting from their voluntary benefits programs in the form of employee attraction and retention, behavioural changes and increased participation in cost-favourable plans.

The survey also found 91 per cent of respondents said they see voluntary benefits as an important part of their financial well-being strategy. On average, the survey found, employers offer 10 voluntary programs, ranging from legal services to helping employees address debt, paycheque-to-paycheque issues and unexpected expenses.

“Financial well-being is clearly a top priority for employers,” said Brian Stitzel, Buck’s U.S. health practice leader, in a press release. “Now, as we navigate the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy, it’s even more critical. Workers who’ve had wages reduced, been furloughed or rehired after a period of unemployment may need extra support. And employers recognize that using voluntary benefits to help meet these employee needs can benefit their organization by lowering costs and increasing loyalty.”

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