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Financial Wellness Isn’t for Everyone

How to discern which employers are and aren’t good candidates to implement programs

A part of our series, Your Role in Financial Wellness



A salesperson disappointed in losing an important sale talks with his boss about why it didn’t work out. “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” he says. “Maybe,” the boss says, “but let me give you some advice. Your job is not to make him drink. It’s to make him thirsty.”

Rather than trying to make people thirsty, you should focus on those who already are thirsty for financial wellness. Here’s how to discern which employers are and aren’t good candidates to implement programs.

Why plan sponsors offer financial wellness

Financial wellness, with its potential to help reduce employee stress and increase productivity, is a hot trend. Seven out of 10 human resource professionals indicate that personal financial challenges have a large or some impact on their employees’ performance.1 Stress resulting from financial challenges can be costly.

An employer with 10,000 employees could be losing $3.3 million each year as a result of employees being distracted by their finances at work.2 Employers also recognize the increasing costs resulting from employees who aren’t able to retire because they haven’t saved effectively.

It’s not all about the money

While financial wellness may offer financial upside, employers are offering financial wellness for more altruistic reasons. The top reasons they offer financial wellness:3

  • 84% Believe it’s the right thing to do
  • 79% Increase employee engagement
  • 60% Improve retirement statistics (e.g., improved adequacy, decreased leakage, higher participation rates)

Employers’ leadership are initiating financial wellness programs. They aren’t seeing a strong demand from their employees. Only 36% of employers are creating programs because their employees asked for these types of benefits.3

In our research, DC consultants say they expect employer demand for financial wellness to increase in the future. Advisors say that only 17% of their plan sponsor clients have a financial-wellness program today, but 51% expect them to have a financial-wellness program five years from now.4


Advisors Expect Growth of Financial Wellness Programs4

Survey Question: What percent of your clients currently use a financial-wellness program? Five years from now?


Why plan sponsors don’t offer financial wellness

Despite the many potential benefits of financial wellness, many employers don’t offer it. One reason is that the definition of financial wellness is a bit fuzzy. The industry hasn’t really settled on a common definition. Therefore, employers may be unclear what financial wellness is and how it can help their employees.

The top three reasons employers say they don’t offer financial wellness:5

  • Don’t think about it
  • Benefits don’t outweigh the costs
  • Don’t know the benefits

Our research also reveals that financial wellness is not top of mind with plan sponsors

Only 21% of advisors say that their plan sponsor clients have asked them about financial wellness in the preceding 12 months.4

Employers are not initiating the financial wellness conversation4


Survey Question: What percent of your plan sponsor clients have asked you about financial wellness in the last 12 months?

Advisors said that on average only 21% of their plan sponsor clients have asked them about financial wellness


Plan sponsors may find it challenging to find clear benefits of financial wellness programs. If they try Googling financial wellness case studies or ROI, they’ll be hard pressed to find results. Most articles offer hypothetical estimates of results, not actual results. The focus tends to be on metrics that quantify the need for financial wellness rather than stats that resulted from implementing a program.

How to determine the best candidates for financial wellness

Ann Schleck and Co. says that plan sponsors most likely to adopt financial- wellness programs tend to have a genuine concern for employee well-being and are willing to invest in programs and initiatives to improve it. They recommend using the downloadable list below to segment clients and prospects who are most and least likely to adopt financial wellness. Then focus your efforts on those who are most likely to adopt a program.

Characteristics of employers most likely to adopt financial wellness:4

  • Strong HR leadership
  • Implemented a health-wellness program
  • Employed a full suite of auto-programs
  • A high concern about attracting and retaining talent
  • Look to your firm as a trusted business partner

Characteristics of employers least likely to adopt:4

  • A notable lack of HR leadership
  • Decisions driven by the CFO
  • Less concern about benefit program utilization or success

Should you really give up on employers who aren’t interested in financial wellness?

Recognize implementing a financial wellness program is an executive decision, not human resources or employee benefits. A majority of employers (61%) say the final decision to offer financial wellness is made by executive management, all others ranked 18% or lower.5 You could be wasting your time if an HR team is excited about financial wellness, but the executive team seems hesitant to commit.

Don’t focus on employers who aren’t thirsty for financial wellness

Despite all the buzz about financial wellness, and its promise of reducing financial stress and helping employees with short- and long-term goals, not all employers are interested in it. Offering and implementing these programs requires lots of time and effort for both you and your clients, so focus first on employers who are thirsty for it.


Next steps

  1. Segment clients: Download the Identify Clients and Prospects Best Suited for Financial Wellness form below to segment clients and prospects who are most and least likely to adopt financial wellness.

  2. Initiate the conversation: Since only 21% of DC consultants say employers have asked them about financial wellness, you can still initiate the discussion, but make sure you’re prepared. Many DC consultants (48%) say they’re only moderately, slightly, or not confident about articulating the benefits of financial wellness.4

  3. Use an active choice approach: Active choice means asking people to make a decision and stop procrastinating. Harvard Economics Professor David Laibson suggest saying, “This is a really important decision, and we’re going to take some time right now and make the decision.” You can also set a deadline that generates the space for that decision to get made. Ask the individual to take the time to dedicate the bandwidth to actually make a decision.6

  4. Keep your approach simple: Rather than telling clients about a choice with 18 different options, say, “Here’s what most people are doing” or “Here’s what I recommend.”


1Financial Wellness in the Workplace, Society for Human Resource Management, 2014. Most recent data available.

2Special Report: Financial stress and the bottom line, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2017

32017 Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing, Aon Hewitt, 2017

4The Elephant in the Retirement Room—Financial Wellness Research, Ann Schleck & Co. and Hartford Funds, 2016

5Workplace Financial Wellness, Charles Schwab, 2017

6Human-Centric Investing Podcast: The Science of Choice Architecture, Hartford Funds, 2017


Hartford Funds has engaged Ann Schleck & Co. LLC to develop the materials referenced herein. Ann Schleck & Co. LLC is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds. 

Hartford Funds does not provide investment recommendations or advice.  Hartford Funds does not serve as a fiduciary. This material is for use only by parties that satisfy the Sophisticated Counterparty Exception of the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule.