Four Questions for Evaluating Financial Wellness Programs

The right financial education program can quell doubts and boost confidence. Retirement Director Ben Rizzuto shares tips for crafting a successful strategy.

Ongoing financial wellness education may involve some of the same hurdles as those encountered by physical wellness programs. For example, people know they should probably get a flu shot, but oftentimes, the hassle of being inconvenienced sometime in the future is no match for a busy schedule and an outsized fear of needles.

Likewise, the need for ongoing comprehensive financial education programs may be overlooked or underappreciated by plan participants.

But they’re also extremely necessary. As discussed in our quarterly Defined Contribution in Review report, a recent study from the Empower Institute, “Scoring the Progress of Retirement Savers,”1 called out plan features that may result in improved retirement preparedness. Among other ideas, the study suggested that a detailed financial education strategy can allay doubts and boost confidence during the retirement planning process.

Consider these four ways that, as an advisor, you can empower plan sponsors to enhance their impact with plan participants by refining their financial education and wellness programs.

What Does Financial Education Look Like?

The first question to ask is a basic one: “Do you have a financial wellness program?” Many plans do, but it’s not universal. You can be a positive driving force behind improving the amount, quality and variety of education provided by your plan sponsor clients. Digital content portals and access to financial advice via phone or email are great jumping-off points for adding personalized and interactive features like live chat and user-friendly calculation tools.

Plenty of content is streaming past employees every day, presenting an opportunity for you to work with your clients on how to make their content stand out. As part of your routine conversations with them, ask how their participants prefer to consume their information and offer advice on how to make those insights actionable. For example, a video is ideal for someone who likes to learn that way, but adding a transcript will capture readers as well. For participants who may not work in front of a computer, hard copies may be more useful. So keep that newsletter around – just make sure it also translates into mobile-friendly email.

Will It Work for our Organization?

Making financial education work really means making it purposeful for the specific group being targeted. Who are they? The answer may encompass individuals representing a wide and unique spectrum of gender, age and culture, with different communication and saving styles. Some groups may speak even have a variety of native languages, and translating educational materials may be helpful to plan participants.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all philosophy, an array of personalized programs can go a long way toward increasing the understanding and confidence of each individual.

What Problems will the Program Address?

Work with plan sponsors on a systematic and consistent delivery strategy. If the company does not have resources to create their own materials, record-keepers and investment fund partners can be good sources for content.

Plan sponsors can also use what they learned in the previous step to fine-tune concepts, cadence and format. Do emails with charts get opened more often? How about Q&As on timely investment topics? Consider suggesting they track progress by developing metrics around what works. This helps keeps the messaging train on track across the company.

Is There a Mechanism that Encourages Employees to be Accountable about their Financial Decisions?

A well-designed financial wellness plan has the potential to inspire motivation and action in its intended audience. Take a retirement plan pitched at nurses, who realistically (and heroically) operate on a 24-hour schedule. Plan representatives might consider events and consultations that occur during every shift so they can reach more employees. When individuals have a face-to-face conversation, it may increase their willingness to have more in-depth and candid discussions about their financial future.

One company solved their access problem by increasing how employees were able to interact with their savings plan. As long-haul truckers, the company’s workers were never in the office and didn’t have access to a company computer. So they made sure everyone had a smartphone-accessible company email, and sent out mobile alerts whenever there was pertinent information to relay.

Wherever else they’re available, educational resources gain a built-in audience when they reside on a responsive, intuitive app that participants enjoy using. Mobile notifications, pings and “nudges” are part of everyday life for most adults, so consider advising your clients to start thinking about “top of mind” as “top of phone.” Gamification within mobile apps, which some insurance companies have been successfully piloting, for example, can allow participants to play around with different scenarios. Virtual hints, rewards and other alerts can also serve as low-key reminders to investors that retirement planning isn’t as stressful as they think.

Some of the best advice you can share with your clients is to formalize the financial wellness initiatives they have in place and are planning for the future. It hardly needs to be said that the plan sponsors you work with – and by extension you – are dedicated to shepherding investors toward a happy and healthy retirement. By asking the right questions, you can work together to transform those good intentions into organized programs designed to raise retirement planning awareness and inspire confidence in a broad range of participants.


1Empower Institute. Scoring the Progress of Retirement Savers. Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company, April 2018.