Sir Francis Bacon is often attributed with saying, “Knowledge is power.” While agreeing with the general sentiment, we have learned firsthand that knowledge is often not enough when it comes to personal finances. April is National Financial Literacy Month, and our team believes this is a critical and timely subject. Financial literacy is more than just a general knowledge of money: it is both the education and understanding of how money is made, spent, and saved, as well as acquiring the ability to manage one’s financial resources effectively.
In our industry, it is clear to see how a lack of financial literacy impacts both individuals and the companies for whom they work. It has been well-documented that financial stress increases absenteeism, decreases productivity, and negatively affects retirement and health care costs. So while the issue is personal, it seems naïve to believe employers should have no say in the matter. Considering its impact on physical health, financial wellness needs to have a natural place in the overall benefits package.
When it comes to retirement plan design, adding features like auto-enrollment and auto-escalation are important steps to help employees save (and save more). But plan sponsors should also consider how loans and withdrawals may cause plan leakage – when faced with financial difficulties, if employees can easily pull money back out of the plan, they probably will. However, simply focusing on increasing savings in the company retirement plan as the only financial goal could also be part of a two-fold problem – first, employees may have a variety of more pressing financial needs; second, improving financial well-being must begin with driving actual behavioral change. This involves communication, education, guidance, and resources that are customized for your employees.
Using plan and participant data (ages, current deferral rates, loan balances, etc.) can help dictate relevant strategies for your company. These targeted strategies can have a significant impact on long-term financial security. But keep in mind that creating financial literacy is not a one-time event. Instead, it must be developed over time – for example, learning how to set and achieve personal goals can positively change attitudes toward saving and spending, which can in turn help build a better budget that will actually be followed. It’s also important to engage with employees in ways that matter to them, perhaps by utilizing technology, gamifying financial behaviors, offering rewards, and incorporating overall wellness into the company culture at large.