The Current Marketplace for Financial Wellness

In May, I had the good fortune to attend the 2018 PRC Symposium on The Disruptive Impact of FinTech on Retirement Systems, which explored how technological innovation is changing the retirement marketplace, insurance markets, and how plan sponsors help shape workers’ pension saving, investment, and decumulation plans.

At the symposium, academics, policymakers, and industry leaders discussed how these innovative and often disruptive developments are altering the retirement space. Conference participants included plan sponsors, benefits specialists, actuaries, academics, regulators, and others working to design resilient pensions for the next decades.
Several of the sessions are worth highlighting.

In her presentation, “FinTech Disruption – Opportunities to Encourage Financial Responsibility,” Julianne Callaway, a Strategic Research Actuary at Reinsurance Group of America in St. Louis, noted that financial security is necessary for consumers to fund a secure retirement. Expanding on this, she emphasized that 70% of all households struggle with everyday living expenses within a few months of the primary wage earning. Part of the problem when it comes to life insurance industry, she says, has to do with how the product is sold (there’s an antiquated sales process); the product is complicated, and the benefits are intangible.

In the world of “insurtech” solutions, she detailed that there’s a focus on improving the customer experience and encouraging financial responsibility through data solutions, planning tools, savings challenges and wellness opportunities.

In the world of data solutions, Callaway highlights that full insurance underwriting is expensive, invasive and lengthy. But now, underwriters are looking at other ways to assess risk for a segment of applicants. Those include motor vehicle records and credit-based scoring.

Digital planning tools – guidance and storage tools — are also here. That includes research (on-demand, video and print, and education); advice (which includes benchmarking for “people like me”) and online financial accounts.

Callaway also stated that debt threatens financial security and that consumers with debt use retirement savings to pay expenses which postpone retirement. Another barrier for consumers, especially when it comes to buying life insurance, are competing financial priorities, including travel and home improvement. She also added that wearable technology improves health and customer engagement for the life insurance industry. For instance, in a draft of a paper that will be published by the PRC at a later date.

Callaway noted the following:

“Over 70% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese, and this contributes to more than half of the early deaths from related conditions including heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Good nutrition, sleep and exercise all contribute to healthy living, and to the extent that wellness programs can motivate healthy changes, insurance customers will benefit from them as well as improve the financial returns of life insurers. Additionally, the wearable device technology used to verify wellness program activity can also help in earlier detection of 23 conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which can lead to earlier interventions and extend quality of life.”

“It is important for insurers to understand a given technology’s capabilities and usability before including it in an insurance wellness program. RGA conducted a wearable technology study of 1,000 employees and their family and friends. The study spanned 12 weeks and employed five different fitness devices. The RGA study found that there was a difference in the metrics captured in the wearable devices. Insurers must take care to understand the metrics generated by devices that are used to support wellness programs. Additionally, comfort of the device contributed to sustained usage; this was especially true for those wearing the device to measure sleep.”

“Insurance wellness programs have potential to increase the years of healthy independent living as well as lessen the health care costs of people as they age and enter into retirement.”

You can read more about that study here.

Broadening the focus of traditional, physically focused wellness programs to become more holistic (adding financial, social and mental well-being) is leading more employers to ask about a platform/hub to combine all of their benefits initiatives, a survey found.


  • A PSC survey of 1,600 US workers found 25% linked financial worries to health problems, 40% said they were a distraction at work, and 15% said they caused them to miss work. Companies are offering financial wellness initiatives to address employee concerns, including Eastman Chemical’s program that provides employees with regular access to personal financial advisers. Reuters
  • Meeting the needs of employer wellness clients means regular in-person visits and getting to know employees by name, said Sapoznik Insurance wellness manager Rodica Charles. More listening than talking ensures employer-clients get the best wellness programs and strategies, and analyzing general health data leads to customized initiatives that meet employer needs, Charles said. Corporate Wellness Magazine
  • Even with a relatively positive economic outlook, U.S. employees still aren’t confident about reaching their long-term goals, and retirement plans continue to serve as a safety valve for more immediate needs, according to PwC US’s 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey. As employees stress over uncertainty regarding healthcare and are pressed to support both aging parents and adult children, employers have an opportunity to help. See chart on next page. Read more.
  • Achieving Financial Wellness: Why It’s Different for Women. The wage gap, caregiving costs and other factors can slow women’s progress toward their goals, finds a new Merrill Lynch report. Insights and solutions. Read more.
  • Godfather of financial wellness analyzes workers’ anxieties. Fear of near term unexpected expenses is even worse than retirement fears. Read more.
  • Following an alliance with Ernst & Young LLP (EY), MetLife has created a new financial wellness solution targeted at behavioral change among employees. Named PlanSmart Financial Wellness, the multi-channel platform is said to build financial literacy and wellbeing by offering tailored financial wellness plans, phone support with EY financial planners, workplace seminars and one-on-one consultations with MassMutual advisers. Read more.
  • E-Cigarettes Disappoint In A Workplace Quit-Smoking Study. In a large study of company wellness programs, free electronic cigarettes did not help smokers quit more than usual methods such as nicotine patches. The only thing that really worked was offering them money to kick the habit. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize nicotine. It’s not known whether they can help smokers quit. Read more.
  • With Death Rate Up, US Life Expectancy Is Likely Down Again. The U.S. death rate rose last year, and 2017 likely will mark the third straight year of decline in American life expectancy, according to preliminary data. Death rates rose for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia, and three other leading causes of death, according to numbers posted online by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Full-year data is not yet available for drug overdoses, suicides or firearm deaths. But partial-year statistics in those categories showed continuing increases. Read more.
  • More than half of employees with access to workplace wellness programs say the programs have made a positive impact on their health, including 62% who say the initiatives translated to improved productivity and 30% who report help detecting a disease, according to findings from UnitedHealthcare’s annual “Wellness Check Up Survey.” Fifty-three percent of people with access to wellness programs said the initiatives have made a positive impact on their health. Of these, 88% said they were motivated to pay more attention to their health; 67% said they lost weight; and 56% reported fewer sick days. “This year’s results underscore the importance of workplace wellness programs, which can encourage well-being, prevent disease before it starts and, as a result, help lower medical costs,” says Rebecca Madsen, UnitedHealthcare chief consumer officer. Read more.
  • In America’s human resources community, the moment of financial wellness has arrived. The same business issues prompting this focus—workers’ productivity in the workplace and their financial wellbeing outside it—also suggest an employer imperative to support worker financial security. That is, employers should consider strengthening a worker’s foundational capacity to meet everyday expenses and cope with unexpected events —the basic security which precedes and makes possible financial wellness. This new report presents the case for introducing financial security for lower-wage workers into compensation and benefits policies and practices. Read more.
  • Worth reading: Hidden Hazards: Closing the Care Gap Between Physicians and Patients with Multiple Chronic Conditions. Read more.
  • Survey shows companies plan to increase wellness investments. The annual Health and Well-Being Survey from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health found many companies plan to expand their wellness programs and incentives. The survey found 67% plan to add programs that are not specific to physical health, and while 86% offer wellness incentives, 29% say they intend to increase them over the next three to five years. Read more.
  • EBRI’s 83rd Policy Forum was held on Thursday, May 10 from 8:30 am – 12:00 pm Eastern. Expert panelists discussed a variety of topics, such as: The Intersection of Wellness and Financial Wellness; Exploring the ‘Gig Economy’ and the Future of Benefits; Student Loans: Is it Time for Employers to Step In?; and Fireside Chat: Word from the Legislative Front. Please click here and use the password: EBRI201805 for a replay of the event.
  • Eighty-three percent of employers offer a financial wellness program to their employees, according to Prudential’s 10th survey of employee benefits, “Benefits and Beyond: Employer Perspectives on Financial Wellness.” Read more.
  • Americans who participate in 401(k) plans are increasingly more trusting of the financial firms they rely on to manage their retirement savings, according to the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants (NARPP) 2018 Participant Trust and Engagement study, which tracks the attitudes and behaviors of 4,500 retirement plan participants from across the country. The study shows that higher levels of trust lead to better financial decision-making which includes higher rates of savings, increased commitment to savings, and increased loyalty to providers. Not only are companies planning to expand existing programs, but they’re increasing incentives to entice workers. Read More.
  • Eighty-three percent of employers offer a financial wellness program to their employees, according to Prudential’s 10th survey of employee benefits, “Benefits and Beyond: Employer Perspectives on Financial Wellness.” This is up dramatically from 20% in 2016. Additionally, 14% of employers plan to offer financial wellness programs within the next two years. Read more.
  • Employers Adopting More Aggressive Health Plan and Wellness Program Features. For example, 73% of companies have added telemedicine services, 79% offer access to a 24-hour nurse line and 60% use health advocacy programs. Read more.
  • Integrating and simplifying benefits programs and the human touch enhances engagement in employee wellness programs, according to a survey of large employers. Read more.
  • Top Financial Wellness Actions To Maximize Retirement Plan Engagement. Read more.
  • The number of employees who say they do everything they can to have a healthy lifestyle has increased 8 percentage points from 2014, according to an Alight/National Business Group on Health study. More employees also said employer-based health and wellness programs are a good investment, make a company more attractive and are one reason they stay at their job. Employee Benefit News
  • Employers’ wellness programs are accomplishing their intended purpose: employees who participate say they are healthier – and more productive at work, according to UnitedHealthcare’s 2018 Wellness Check Up Survey.

What employees want in terms of financial wellness benefits from their employer

Employee financial stress continues to be a pervasive issue impacting both employee and employer. When asked what causes them the most stress in their lives, nearly twice as many employees say financial matters as compared to job stress. Employees are consistent – year over year and across generations – when they define financial wellness in terms of aspirational goals like freedom from stress and financial worry, and making choices to enjoy life. Interestingly, more than half of all employees want to make their own financial decisions but are looking to have someone validate that decision. Employees want a financial wellness benefit with access to unbiased counselors and help understanding and using their benefits. Over the past six years, growing numbers of employees are using the services their employers provide to assist them with their personal finances.

“We find that employees typically seek financial help reactively — when they have an important decision to make or are in financial crisis,” notes Allison. “The more employers can encourage their employees to use the services on an ongoing basis, the more positive the outcome for employees as they become increasingly proactive in addressing their financial needs.”

Source: PwC US’s 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey.