Steps to Implement a Financial Wellness Program

Steps to Implement a Financial Wellness Program
July 20, 2021 Unland

Reported by Peg Knox, Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association (DCIIA)

Financial wellness programs are increasingly embracing a broader definition of the term to include the full range of employer benefits, such as health and retirement benefits, emergency savings, work/life balance programs, etc. This more holistic view has been driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has magnified issues in emergency savings, income inequality, work-life balance, and other relevant topics, and accelerated change in this area.

The Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association (DCIIA) provided a starting framework for financial wellness discussions in our 2017 white paper, “A Financial Wellness Primer.” This paper may help to address the “why” of implementing a financial wellness program, noting, “Whether motivated by altruism and paternalism, ROI [return on investment], lower costs or a dynamic workforce environment, the employer’s goals and employee’s desires are well aligned when it comes to retirement readiness and financial wellness in the workplace.”

In previous articles, we have covered participant communications and creating inclusive financial wellness programs and touched on some of their typical elements and implementation considerations. As wellness programs evolve, they are going beyond retirement topics to include education and assistance with:

  • Budgeting and personal finance;
  • Student loans;
  • Emergency savings; and
  • Financial considerations in health insurance and health care.
Steps to Implement a Financial Wellness Program

When announcing a new financial wellness program or offering, consider the following:

Remind employees of what’s in it for them: To those creating a wellness program, it might seem obvious why it’s important and how it benefits employees, but those features need to be clearly spelled out—don’t assume inferences will be made. Theoretical discussions on the benefits of saving or jargon-filled updates are likely to alienate rather than engage your employees. The more customized you can make your messaging based on employee demographics, the better.

Provide engaging tools: Attention spans are short, and time is tight. Give employees actionable, useful resources such as checklists, timelines, FAQs, and tip sheets. Bundle information into annual enrollment, but also send reminders throughout the year. Consider contests, quizzes and fun live or virtual events to bring financial wellness topics and resources to life. Leverage internal resources such as marketing, social media and communications teams and employee resource groups.

Set specific goals and measure progress: Share your goals with your employees and how you came up with them. Tell them you’ll be checking in to measure progress and get feedback. If people feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, they might be more incentivized to be engaged. Note that their individual work on financial wellness helps your organization thrive and grow stronger, as employees feel more empowered and in control of their financial life.

Offer multiple engagement points: Providing a phone number and email address for employee questions is just a starting point. What about offering texting, a chat feature on your intranet or even a benefits app? Can you create a dedicated channel on internal communications platforms such as Salesforce, Slack or similar tools that will help to meet employees where they are? As offices open back up, consider having an information table at employee happy hours or meetings — real-life interaction doesn’t need to be limited to an annual benefits fair.

Steps to Implement a Financial Wellness Program

As plan sponsors look to assess their programs’ impact, measurement tools might include:

  • Employee surveys: Brief “spot surveys” as employees engage with financial wellness programs can create a feedback loop for continual improvement. The key is to not only create the survey mechanism, but to implement a robust follow-through process that ensures that survey feedback is regularly reviewed and acted upon.
  • Digital metrics: Having staff or a consultant or service provider capable of monitoring, analyzing and reporting on web- and email-based metrics is almost table stakes in today’s digital environment, at least for larger organizations. These metrics can help you assess which communication programs and tools are getting attention and which ones are lagging. Again, a feedback loop is crucial, so the data is not reported in a silo or seen as an isolated function. Ideally, all key stakeholders should be aware of topline metrics and be empowered to take action to improve them.
  • Service provider reporting: What can your wellness providers offer to you and your participants in terms of a feedback mechanism? How can needed improvements or enhancements be communicated to them and what will the process be for ongoing monitoring and action? Having numerous participants ask the same question, run into the same problem or point of confusion, or otherwise hit roadblocks in program offerings, without being addressed, will continue to negatively impact engagement and outcomes.

Recent ongoing research from DCIIA’s Retirement Research Center and Commonwealth highlights issues specific to low- and moderate-income employees in light of COVID-19. Many of them are struggling with health issues, income losses and increased debt, and have tapped into (or tapped out) their emergency savings. Some are borrowing from friends and family, racking up expensive credit card debit or selling possessions to get by. Recordkeepers and plan sponsors can help these plan participants move in the right direction by:

  • Providing employee hardship funds;
  • Connecting employees with guidance on repaying debt;
  • Encouraging intermittent saving where their budget allows; and
  • Setting up emergency savings products through their platforms so that participants can begin saving for emergencies when they are able to do so.

Be sure that you are considering the full spectrum of your employee population as you assess and implement financial wellness offerings — often the decisionmakers are far removed from many of their employees when it comes to salary, benefits, education, and day-to-day work experience. An effective and inclusive program will speak to — and benefit — everyone.

Peg Knox is the chief operating officer (COO) of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association (DCIIA) and is a former plan sponsor. Additional resources on this topic are available in DCIIA’s Resource Library.

For more information on building a solid employer benefits package that includes financial wellness options, contact Nate Rugaard,, or Chad Arseneau,, or call (309) 347-2177.

This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal or tax advice and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice. Any opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the stance of Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) or its affiliates.