Traditional notions of the “employee benefits package” are changing as the field experiences a rapid expansion in both the number and diversity of financial wellness programs (FWP) marketed for the workplace. It is no secret that even as the economy continues to improve after the Great Recession, American workers still face significant financial insecurity and stress. It is estimated that one in four adults has no money saved for an emergency and nearly one in three is not saving for retirement. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this – several of which involve conditions at work. This has not escaped the attention of many employers who are looking for new ways to improve financial stability for their employees.
FWPs have not just gained popularity among employers but also researchers and practitioners in the asset-building community. The workplace is seen as a more scalable and sustainable solution to financial insecurity, particularly for low- and moderate-income workers. After all, the workplace is where money is earned and distributed, creating a natural environment to manage and appropriate funds before it walks out the door.
However, the definition of financial wellness and more specifically what constitutes a financial wellness program is not always clear. Researchers and providers of FWPs take an expansive view of financial wellness as a person’s “overall financial health” and define a financial wellness program as one that both “assesses and supports” a person’s complete financial position. But when employers and employees – consumers of these products – are asked to define these terms, they use a narrower definition often including any benefit related to finances like retirement plans and direct deposit. Even employers already offering FWPs do not always understand the full scope of services they are providing and actual usage among employees is inconsistent across products.
This disconnect may be occurring because the financial services available to employers today are more complex and diversified than familiar predecessors like standalone financial education workshops. Modern FWPs offer a wide variety of services and products that can be blended to create a customized program designed to address financial needs specific to a particular workforce.