Defining the Financial Wellness Landscape

If you search online for “financial wellness,” you’ll find no end of definitions. And among HR decision-makers, there’s a similar lack of consensus about the meaning of this trendy but sometimes murky phrase.

One thing’s clear—financial wellness is becoming a fixture in the benefits world. Aon Hewitt’s 2017 “Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing ” report revealed nearly three out of five companies surveyed already have some type of financial wellness benefit. And by year’s end, more than four out of five companies will be doing the same.

But not just any old program will do. Adding a benefit for your employees would be pointless unless you were confident it would enhance their lives and help your business grow. As demand for financial wellness increases, shouldn’t there be greater clarity about what financial wellness really is?

Understanding the landscape of financial wellness doesn’t have to be difficult. The easiest way to think about it is in relation to health and fitness. Despite the seemingly endless definitions, most can be sorted into four simple categories. Although these approaches include at least one element of financial wellness, only the last category puts them all together to truly capture what this benefit should look like when it’s working for your entire organization.

Status Quo

Some financial wellness programs mimic the well-known pattern of New Year’s resolutions—a well-intentioned annual event that all too often fizzles out after an initial burst of activity. This approach often takes the form of an annual enrollment meeting or a one-time workshop along with some light tools and education. Like a 5K race, this stand-alone event doesn’t have a long-term impact on employees’ overall financial wellness.

Education and Literacy

Most libraries have a generous offering of health books full of data and stats about the latest and greatest research into dieting, nutrition and exercise. While these can be great stepping-stones to better health, ultimately, their power is limited. In the same way, some financial wellness products let employees access a ton of education. Unfortunately, without a clear plan and motivation, the odds of people changing their money habits are slim.


Even if you purchase the most elite exercise equipment on the market, it’s not doing you a bit of good if it’s accumulating dust in your basement. And financial wellness tools alone are just as inadequate. No matter how convenient the budgeting app or comprehensive the retirement calculator are, tools alone cannot provide a clear plan or the motivation needed to get employees the results they need long term.

Coaching and Behavioral

Programs in this category comprise the most effective approach to financial wellness. Like a holistic physical wellness program, this category has it all: motivation, a clear plan, tools, personalization, and education that empowers. Just as a newcomer to physical fitness needs the whole package of information, equipment and personal interaction to see and feel real change, employees who are trying to get on track with their finances yearn for a benefit that can inspire and encourage them along the way. Only the right mix of inspiration and crystal-clear education can produce large and lasting results.

There are a few different financial wellness programs that fall into the coaching and behavioral space. Now that we’ve seen the advantage of the holistic approach, let’s break down the essentials you should be looking for, both from an employee and employer perspective.

The Employee Experience

  • A simple-to-follow, step-by-step plan is vital. Too often financial conversations get bogged down in investment jargon and mathematical abstractions. Give your team clear and relatable steps to success.

  • Content should be educational, but it must also be inspiring and motivating. Ideally it will invite employees into a journey of change that becomes personal as they learn and grow.

  • A strong budgeting tool participants can use is critical to creating behavior change. There’s simply no way they’re going to progress without a written plan for their money, and the right tool will empower them to do so consistently and conveniently.

  • A certain level of personalization is necessary to keep people engaged and working the plan. Personal trainers don’t ignore the unique abilities and needs of their clients, and neither should the best financial wellness programs.

  • Mobile access allows people to engage with the program when and where it’s most convenient. Providing an online benefit also lets you reach multiple business locations, multiple work shifts and multiple people. And unlike a program that’s tied only to the workplace, making the benefit accessible online has the potential to impact both the employee and their spouse.

  • Employees want to be able to pursue greater financial understanding without feeling like they’re being sold any kind of investment or insurance. To maintain trust and ensure that kind of strong engagement, it is important that there be no solicitations in the product.

The Employer Experience

The benefits of the best financial wellness program are by no means limited to the employee—the same program ought to be clearly making life better for the employer as well. Here are the three key features to look for from an employer perspective.

  1. Aggregate reporting. You’ll need this to assess how the program is impacting your organization in each of the following areas:

    • Total number of participants
    • The measure of employee engagement
    • Overall progress through the plan
    • Total financial turnaround

    In turn, you can use your ongoing report results to incentivize and engage your employees more deeply as the program takes off in your company.

  2. Turnkey format. Turnkey promotional assets make it easy for your company to roll out a financial wellness program to everyone.

  3. A dedicated relationship management team. Think of what an advantage you’d have in growing your team’s financial understanding if you could be in touch with a group of benefit experts. They can monitor the progress of the program in your company and ensure you enjoy long-term success.

Behavior modification is required in order to see real and lasting financial change. But changing behavior around money is easier said than done. When employees trust your program’s content and recognize their own potential to put the right steps into practice in their own lives, they can achieve true financial wellness.

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