Boosting Corporate Employees' Financial Fitness

On Tuesday, April 16, at NYSE Euronext, as part of our Financial Capability week, we rang the Opening Bell to celebrate a new initiative we launched to promote Workplace Financial Fitness.  As a company, when we looked at where we think we can have the greatest impact and are uniquely positioned to make a difference, the workplace became the focus of our corporate financial capability efforts. Our listed companies employ over millions of people in the US alone. If we could find a way to help even a small fraction of these companies improve the financial well-being of their employees, the potential for impact is huge.

Over 75% of major corporations have wellness programs to help bring down healthcare costs – and make their employees healthier. Shouldn’t financial wellness be a part of such efforts? We know that more than half of employees at major corporations are worried about making ends meet and 49 percent are currently not contributing anything towards retirement savings. One in three Americans does not have the ability to get $2000 for an emergency. The alarming statistics go on – and these are our employees, our neighbors, and the people in our communities. Financial stress impacts lives, and it impacts employees’ effectiveness at work. In one recent survey, one in five employees admitted that they have had unscheduled absences due to financial distress or spent too much time on personal finances at work. (It was one in three for younger workers – so are they more honest or more financially stressed?)

It can be good for companies and individual employees when corporations take steps and provide tools to improve employee financial well-being. But many companies – understandably – don’t know what is most effective or how to go achieve this goal. As part of our financial capability efforts this week, our CEO is sending a letter to the CEOs of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange offering tools to help. These tools include:

  • A workplace financial fitness toolkit funded by the NYSE Euronext Foundation and developed by leading experts Annamaria Lusardi of the Financial Literacy Center and Punam Keller of the Tuck School of Business that offers the top 10 steps employers and employees should take, along with resources to help take them
  • A new partnership with HelloWallet, an online application that improves the health of employees and their companies (which we use here at NYSE Euronext with our own employees) and which we are encouraging our companies to explore through this partnership that offers  them a  free diagnostic on their employees’ workplace financial fitness
  • A new video we commissioned from SecondCity Communications (yes, the comedy troupe) for companies to use with their employees to encourage them to take advantage of the tools the company provides to improve financial well-being.  You can watch it here.

Subsequently, for the launch of the Workplace Financial Fitness Initiative, we had a terrific group assembled to discuss workplace financial fitness. Annamaria Lusardi did her usual excellent job of framing some of the challenges of workplace financial fitness, focusing on the fact that one size does not fit all, and on the need for individualized approaches even within broader programs.

Some of the most interesting comments came from Matt Fellowes, the founder of Hello Wallet. Matt has done a brilliant job of recognizing that HR leaders, who are critical in implementing workplace financial fitness programs, and financial capability leaders do not necessarily speak the same language. We in the financial capability field need to recognize that what we are seeking to do in the workplace is to “improve benefit and compensation outcomes.” Matt talked about HelloWallet’s approach to this goal, and in particular its proprietary software, which learns what works to help employees and is constantly adapting to become more effective. They are already showing real impact, and have a number of papers coming out shortly that will quantify the meaningful changes HelloWallet is having on savings, debt repayment, and reduction of 401(k) withdrawals. Matt has “never been more confident in our ability to move the needle,” and he attributes this “window of opportunity” to a convergence of recognitions about topics like the importance of getting benefits right, the growing recognition that a single focus does not align well with employee needs, and the increasing accessibility of data about employees.

We heard some views from the field as well, with companies that have great programs sharing some experiences. Barbara Kontje from American Express made the very important point that it is not enough to work with our employees. Often, decision-makers may be partners or spouses, and so we need to engage them as well.

Overall, the group was optimistic and most seemed to agree that we are at an inflection point for increases in the employer role in helping to build more secure financial futures through improving the benefit and compensation outcomes for employees. 

To  view images from the day’s event, visit the Financial Capability Week Photo Gallery.

We plan to continue to push on this effort and reach out to as many companies as possible to encourage more Workplace Financial Fitness initiatives.  In this month’s Leaders magazine, I mentioned the effort, and more articles and speeches will follow.  Stay tuned!