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Addressing the diverse financial wellbeing needs of today’s workforce

“Always remember you are unique, just like everyone else”.

I remember my mum calling me unique at times when I was small. One such occasion was the day I picked up the hot iron by the handle in my right hand, but took the weight from underneath on the palm of my left hand. Ouch! As she tended to my burnt fingers, she called me unique. I didn’t know what it meant until I was much older.

The definition of unique: being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else. Which we can also translate as ‘unlike anyone else’. In fact, even in the most identical of twins, we are all different.

Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever before – with many organisations employing people who span five generations.

The big question then: how do we deliver workplace programmes that resonate with a diverse group of people, with very different needs and priorities, enabling each of them to achieve ‘good member outcomes’ and improve their overall financial wellbeing?

Having been in the business of helping people with their financial journeys for c20 years, I’ve learnt quite a lot about the most effective ways to group people in terms of financial issues:

Age

This is the easiest thing to get right. Clearly, it wouldn’t be wise to run a pre-retirement course for employees in their 20s. Likewise, employees over 40 are not going to be interested in hearing about the tax advantages of the new Lifetime ISA. Providing sessions for younger employees that cover the basics of saving, budgeting and managing debt is becoming increasingly popular. However, these issues are not confined to the young – statistics show that budgeting and debt management challenges can be an issue at any age.

Of course, if financial education was taught at schools we would all be better for it. Sadly, although it finally sits in the UK curriculum, most schools are academies now – so they do not have to follow the curriculum. Can you see what they did there?

Earnings

When those at the top end of the earnings spectrum approach the end of the tax year, we are thinking about things such as annual allowances, bonus waiver, carry forward, share options and capital gains tax (CGT) planning. Clearly, these are not issues for all employees. However, they can be important areas of concern for those affected. Incidentally, these are often the senior decision makers or key people within a business, who are generally ‘time poor’. Providing access to support and information to help high earners get their tax affairs right is usually hugely appreciated (and means your top team are not distracted by paperwork and financial jargon).

Gender

I pondered this some years ago and was too scared to follow my instinct. I then happened to mention it in passing during a meeting with a female HR Director, who loved it, and so ‘female financial fitness’ was born. Over the last couple of years, I’ve delivered it many times and the feedback from each session has been fantastic. Why does it make sense to run female-only sessions? Two reasons:

  1. Financial planning challenges and issues differ between the sexes. For example, women have been impacted much more by the increasing state pension age, and it is typically women who take career breaks in order to look after children. Plus, the earnings gap (which still exists!) – etc, etc.
  2. Historically, the majority of attendees at workplace pensions or financial education sessions were male. Even where females did attend, most of the questions and comments came from the men.

Mode

As well as providing different information for different segments of your workforce, it also makes sense to consider the most appropriate method of delivery for each group. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’. We also know from years of study that the spoken word only counts for less than 10% of what an audience digests and remembers. So we need to carefully consider the blend of words and imagery we use to get our message across.

When delivering face-to-face group sessions, we need to energise an audience, switch from screen to whiteboard to flipchart, get people involved and make it interactive. But it isn’t always about an audience in a room. Online tools, hard copy leaflets, telephone helplines can all play their part. It simply comes down to what message you are trying to deliver and to whom.

There is loads of innovation entering the market and in development, which will allow an online, end-to-end, personalised financial education journey. Are we there yet? I don’t believe so. Will I soon be able to ask Alexa/Siri/Etc to tell me my pension value and how on track I am to reach my target retirement income? Definitely. From these beginnings, great things may follow. I still have my doubts about ‘robo advice’, but ‘robo education’ should be a definite winner.

This article was first published with REBA on 16 March 2018

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