Who owns financial wellbeing?

There is a growing, consistent body of evidence that states the case for workplace financial wellbeing. 

Large-scale studies from industry bodies such as the CIPD, providers including Neyber and charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation all show that employees are struggling with debt, often don’t understand basic aspects of personal finance and are poorly prepared for retirement. This affects their mental health and also their performance at work.

While these drivers might be clear, the practicalities of creating an financial wellbeing strategy to address them are not as straightforward. From my own conversations with reward practitioners, a frequent challenge is that financial wellbeing cuts across several ‘traditional’ benefit silos. That can make it difficult to deliver a holistic approach that also links into other workplace wellbeing activities.  

Existing financial benefits are often fragmented.  In the past, a pensions team might have worked independently from other benefits disciplines, and even today pensions may not integrate well with other elements of reward and benefits.  Pay – still the most essential building block of any employee’s personal finances – is handled separately from benefits.  Newer offerings, such as affordable loans, might have been introduced in isolation and not be aligned with pay strategy, pensions or other initiatives.  

Integrating financial wellness with other areas of wellbeing requires breaking down even more silos: physical and mental health might be managed by a different part of the benefits team, or driven through an occupational health department with little knowledge or engagement with financial benefits.

Then there are the cultural aspects of financial wellbeing – understanding what is really behind employees’ money worries, creating a supportive environment, making sure that it delivers for everyone in an organisation. These again require input from many different sources.  Engagement surveys, feedback from line managers and employee assistance programmes all provide valuable input, but might sit in different parts of an organisation.

So, given its breadth, who should own financial wellbeing? It is multi-faceted and needs commitment from different, seemingly unrelated, areas of business to be truly successful.  Many of the ‘building blocks’ – pay, savings, pensions, loans, financial education – might already be in place and will be owned by the reward team. Only when those connect together, then in turn link to other aspects of workplace health and culture, can financial wellbeing make a genuine difference. Practitioners will need to see themselves as conductors of a cross-business orchestra, rather than a solo player.  

REBA’s FinWell Forum takes place on 7 March 2019 in London.  Registration for the event is now open.

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