Employer-sponsored financial wellness programs, once viewed as “nice to have,” are now viewed as a “must have,” said Roger W. Gray, director and institutional sales manager, retirement and benefit plan services, at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Employers, regardless of their size, are feeling responsible for the immediate and long-term financial wellness of their employees, Mr. Gray said, speaking Tuesday on the panel “The Holistic Approach to Financial Wellness” at Pension & Investments' West Coast Defined Contribution Conference in San Francisco.
While financial wellness goes beyond retirement savings to include areas such as debt management, budgeting, planning for health-care costs and saving for college, defined contribution plans “can and should be used as an entry point” to wellness programs and conversations, said Bluford W. Birdsong, vice president, participant engagement-marketing at Prudential Retirement, speaking on the same panel.
To address the longevity disconnect, which deters some employees from working toward financial wellness, Prudential set up an aging booth for one of its corporate clients to introduce the company's employees to their future selves and hopefully compel them to prepare for their future.
More than half of the employees who attended the benefit fair took action such as enrolling in the company's retirement program or increasing their contributions, Mr. Birdsong said.
Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., is another success story.
Speaking on the same panel, Michelle A. Ryan, investments and benefits program manager at Los Alamos, said the three catalysts for its financial wellness boot camp — held for the first time last year — were the earlier closing, in 2006, of its defined benefit plan; the 2013 government shutdown, which revealed employees have more immediate-term needs than retirement savings; and a desire to make LANL a great place to work.
Aside from increasing 401(k) participant activity, program attendees revealed their commitment to other aspects of their financial well-being, such as budgeting and managing their debt, Ms. Ryan said.