Snapshot

  • Financial wellbeing statistics have barely moved in the last 15 years despite the prevalence of wellbeing programs.
  • Financial wellness reports continue to point to employer risks when financial wellbeing is not adequately considered: in areas of productivity, retention and health4.
  • Aon’s Rising Resilient Report1 indicated that 80% of employers see a wellbeing focus as beneficial for their organisation in the longer term.

Authors:
Janine Robertson – Business Manager, Member & Corporate Services
Paul Gordon – Principal and Head of Financial Wellbeing

Aon’s Australian Superannuation and Financial Wellbeing Survey (October 2021) clearly demonstrated that organisations rely on their default superannuation fund provider and, less commonly, on a third party, to provide Financial Wellbeing support to their employees. When asked “has your financial wellbeing program been successful?” only 8% report that it has, with 75% unsure (and it is not measured).

Since the Global Financial Crisis, studies continue to tell us that many people are at risk of financial hardship. Two financial wellbeing studies conducted by 15 years apart (20032and 20183) show no positive movement in financial wellbeing statistics. Global data4 also indicates that 63% of employees had increased financial stress since the beginning of the pandemic.

With data barely shifting, it begs the question, why? And further, what can be done?

Perhaps we have not started in the right place?

Financial wellbeing needs to be treated with a similarly thoughtful approach that has been applied to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). We must understand that employees are as financially diverse as they are across the spectrum of other diversity metrics such as gender, culture, religion, sexuality etc.

It has been acknowledged and widely accepted that DE&I practices need to start at senior levels. When our most senior leaders (Board and C-suite) make changes, implement a strategy and pass that through an organisation, DE&I metrics improve. If we accept that DE&I and the associated cultural change begin in the boardroom, would financial wellbeing also benefit from this approach?

We know that financial security is not determined by age or stage of life. In fact, it was recently documented that the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia is women over 555. Additionally, some data suggests that our financial literacy peaks at age 50 in Australia6. Income is also not the determining factor to our financial wellbeing. High levels of financial wellbeing do not directly equate to high income and, in fact, psychological factors and an ability to take action (behaviour) are more critical2.

In noting that the statistics have not shifted, and, that demographic factors are not the key, then it is important to also consider a third element of historic approaches to financial wellbeing: delivery.

One-off seminars that deliver a single “hit of knowledge” are rarely, if ever, enough to change habits and behaviour – in the same way that a single gym visit does not correct all other poor health-related decisions. Product centred programs may not appeal to the 51%3 of employees who are seeking information to validate their own choices (rather than a ‘sale’).   Finally, when education is both created and delivered by the “financially well” and asks attendees to focus on concepts such as budgets, wealth creation or retirement, we fail to acknowledge that up to 80% of the audience are not ‘good with money’ and therefore the provision of knowledge has missed a critical step of awareness – of our audience, of their behaviours, their experiences, cultural backgrounds and their real needs. We have failed to recognise their diversity.

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1) How to create impact

Financial wellbeing programs can learn a lot from DE&I measures. Effective training, workplace culture and modelling healthy behaviours are measures of success in DE&I and could apply to other workplace wellbeing programs, including financial wellbeing. Programs that are holistic, based in habits and behaviours and build on a foundation of awareness are key. Understanding that each employee brings their own unique circumstances, and bias, to finances allows the beginning of a healthy financial wellbeing program – in which judgement is removed and the approach is linked more closely to life choices and purpose than wealth and budgets.

Financial wellbeing reports consistently emphasise the importance of behavioural approaches and acknowledge that education and knowledge does not translate to changes in behaviour.

“…ensure they are adequately addressing their employee’s needs and producing the behavioural change necessary to improve employee financial wellbeing” 4

“… one-on-one financial coaching to motivate them and emphasize the accountability and ongoing support that can lead to meaningful behavioural change” 3

“regardless of people’s knowledge, other factors such as psychological influences, social and economic circumstances and the ability to actually take action (that is behaviour) are more important influences on financial wellbeing” 2

“… knowing the [nutrition] facts does not make us healthy, until we translate that knowledge into behaviour” 2

With this research in mind, and a desire to create impact for employees, the smartHabits program has its foundations firmly in behaviour and habit change (not budgets or wealth creation). The intention of the program is to provide an inclusive atmosphere where questions are welcome and employees are asked to consider not only their personal approach to money, but also that of their family or friends.

An inclusive workplace culture is one in which employees have a sense of safety and belonging, which has been shown to increase workplace productivity. According to Accenture, inclusion in the workplace could impact profit to the tune of $1.35 trillion in the Asia Pacific region and $3.7 trillion globally1. Critically, a gap remains between leaders’ perceptions and employee perceptions of equality in the workplace, with only 80% of employees reporting inclusion compared to 98% of leaders indicating that employees feel included8.

Although data is scarce (perhaps non-existent) on the level of inclusion in financial wellbeing programs, it is clear that links between productivity and financial wellbeing are valid, with estimates that lost productivity costs Australia $30.9billion annually8. Is it worth considering that, similarly to other inclusion practices and metrics, our perceptions may not be aligned between leaders and employees?

If wellbeing can learn from the wealth of knowledge in DE&I perhaps the most important feature of a financial wellbeing program should be acknowledging that improvements come firstly from awareness and understanding, but must be closely followed with action, commitment and support. In removing bias, we are better able to provide a diverse and inclusive financial wellbeing program, a safe place for all employees – regardless of their current financial situation.

2) Available to all employees

In Australia we are lucky. Despite there being some issues, we have a social safety net which includes job support, pensions and a medical system. In addition, we have a compulsory retirement system, superannuation.

Despite this, a gap remains between an individuals’ real needs, and the support provided by the system. Some employers construct a well-considered benefits offer which takes a significant burden from employees in filling this gap. However, many miss the opportunity to really assist their workforce. Great examples include insurance and leave provisions that meet employee needs and, importantly, are well communicated.

Aon’s Superannuation and Financial Wellbeing Survey confirmed that employers rely heavily on their superannuation provider for financial wellbeing information and communication. As we move into a new era of superannuation, post Your Future Your Super ‘stapling’ legislation, there are risks that this will further dilute the employee value proposition (EVP) if communication is not clear that all employees (not just the product users) have access to these services. Increasingly, an emphasis is required on tailored information which takes into account the knowledge diversity within the audience, and places emphasis on the support available across the EVP.

Increasingly we are seeing employees looking to their employers for financial information, advice and support. The 2021 PwC Survey3 suggests that there have been increasing levels of employees accessing financial wellness services over the last ten years, where they have been provided by their employer.

When an employer recognises the critical role that they play in an employees’ financial wellbeing journey, alongside the diversity of financial awareness, knowledge, experience and capability, they take the first steps in developing a program that meets their employees’ needs. Superannuation services have a critical role to play.

3) Behaviour to money is essential

Recognising the cross over between financial wellbeing and other pillars such as health, emotional and social wellbeing is critical. Financial stress is linked to physical ill health, such as migraines, heart disease and sleep problems9. It impacts and is impacted by relationships. Money has clear links to stress and mental health. Financial wellbeing programs centred around knowledge fail to recognise these critical links.

Although most employees are likely to be aware that spending less than they earn is ideal, saving a portion of each pay and running a budget would support their ongoing financial position, most people do not act rationally when it comes to money. Our relationship with money is complex and changes as we move through life. Money is linked to emotion – as money is a tool that we use every day for the things and people that we care about. Considering your relationship with money, the emotions that you attach and what drives your actions is central to financial habit change.

Our smartHabits program is centred in wellbeing not wealth and behaviour not budgets. It is jargon free and judgement free. The program asks attendees to re-assess their relationship with money and take action.

Aon’s Rising Resilient Report suggests three critical questions when considering your wellbeing program(s):

  • Who might not be represented in our plans and how do we include them?
  • How do we give individuals control over their health and wellbeing?
  • How flexible and adaptable can we be to individual circumstances, and what does that look like?

4) Paying people fairly

The smartHabits program pillars are: Awareness, Knowledge, Intention and Action. It aims to support employees to become aware of their own behaviour to money, and understand it’s significant influence over financial wellbeing. The primary objective is to help individuals to take action, using a framework to put plans into action and remove both the risk of procrastination and (some) financial stress.

Essentially, individuals living on low and variable wages that do not meet their living costs are most at risk of financial hardship2.

In 2015, a young CEO in the US, Dan Price, decided to take a pay cut in order to execute a move rarely seen. He ensured his staff would receive a minimum wage of $70,000 per year. Effectively taking some of them to a level of income that granted them more financial freedom10. He did so after recognising the financial difficulty some of his staff endured.

Whilst this was a unique and unusual approach, it is worth ensuring that wages within your organisation are fair, and appropriate. Acknowledging the significant changes that employees may have had in their personal lives and that each employee has a unique set of circumstances in their home environment – which may have had large financial shifts with the impacts of Covid-19.

 

*****

Our historical basis for financial wellbeing is wobbly at best. As with many things, when we innovate and recognise the need to adapt to a new environment we are able to see a new approach. And employers have a significant role to play.

Employee benefits, remuneration benchmarking, wellbeing programs and leave provisions are all components that influence the true impact of any Financial Wellbeing program.  When they work in harmony the delivery of such programs becomes much more impactful – for employer and employee.

Aon’s smartHabits program is award winning and is based on behaviour to money, rated highly by clients and their employees. If you would like to know more contact Paul Gordon, one of the program creators.

 

References

[1] The Rising Resilient, Aon, 2020 Aon Rising Resilient – a new generation of workplace is emerging.

[2] Survey of Adult Financial Literacy in Australia, Final Report, ANZ Banking Group, May 2003

[3] Financial Wellbeing: A survey of adults in Australia, ANZ Banking Group, April 2018 financial-wellbeing-aus18.pdf (anz.com.au)

[4] Employee Financial Wellness Survey, PwC, 2021 2021 Employee financial wellness survey: PwC

[5] https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/projects/risk-homelessness-older-women

[6] Financial Literacy in Australia: Insights from HILDA Data, financialcapability.gov.au, March 2020

[7] Culture of Equality in The Workplace | Accenture, https://www.accenture.com/au-en/about/inclusion-diversity/culture-equality-research

[8] AMP 2020 Financial Wellness Report

[9] Black Dog Institute, May 2020

[10] “The boss who put everyone on 70K”, BBC News, Stephanie Hegarty, February 2020

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