Financial Wellness Focus Shifts—Some | National Association of Plan Advisors

While the challenges and interest in financial wellbeing programs remain high, there have been some shifts in program priorities, although advisors continue to play a key role.

According to the fourth annual employer survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) on the subject of “Financial Wellbeing”, costs continue to be named as the greatest challenge[i] in offering financial wellbeing programs – and unsurprisingly employers are (still) looking for ways to measure their impact, with retention and productivity being paramount – and since productivity is notoriously difficult to measure, EBRI says retention and satisfaction are more likely to be followed up. Aside from cost, EBRI found that privacy and privacy concerns – and the complexity of the programs – are the biggest challenges employers face. More on this shortly.

Less than half (46%) of the employers surveyed who were (at least) interested in implementing benefits for financial well-being actually offered a program in 2021 – pretty much unchanged from previous surveys (2018-2020). However, EBRI commented that there has been a shift – employers who are not currently offering financial wellbeing initiatives are increasingly saying that they are actively implementing a program (12% in 2018 and 34% now) rather than just “interested” in it So to be (that was 34%, now it’s 20%).

Not surprisingly, the largest companies (10,000 or more employees) are currently more likely to offer a program than small employers (72% versus 44% for employers with 2,500-9,999 employees and 41% for employers with 500–2,499 employees). However, EBRI found no significant difference in the proportion currently offered when it came to the two smaller employer sizes.

Access to advisors

Almost two-thirds (64%) said their employees had access to pension representatives and financial advisors, either in person, by phone, or via video, although access to financial coaches (30%) and debt advisors (20%) was much less likely to be available . Seventy percent of employers agree that it is necessary for retirement plan providers to provide financial wellbeing benefits.


From The Companies Currently Offering Financial Welfare Programs:

  • 31% stated that more than half of the eligible employees used the services they offered; and
  • 28% said that between a quarter and a half of eligible employees took advantage of the benefits.

However, almost a third (30%) said this was only between 11% and 25%, and another 8% said this figure is less than 10%.


41 percent of companies that offer these benefits said the proportion of their use was higher than expected, and 43 percent said the use was as expected. According to the EBRI report, companies with fewer than 10,000 employees with a strategy that created a financial well-being score or metric, or that conducted employee interviews or focus groups, were more likely to exceed their employee usage expectations.


The main reasons given by performance decision-makers for preventing employees from committing to their financial wellness benefits were:

  • Lack of understanding of how the services work (42%);
  • Employee benefit costs / fees (30%); and
  • do not want to provide any information on finances / financial questions to the employer (28%).

However, workers in the Workplace Wellness Survey who did not participate in financial wellness benefits were less likely to cite them as reasons for not participating. Instead, they named all the reasons that, according to the EBRI, were almost equally likely. Which, of course, suggests that there is a misalignment of perspective that could undermine attempts to solve these problems.


The top issues companies should address with their financial health initiatives were:

  • 36% – old-age provision
  • 33% – health care costs
  • 30% – financial stress


As noted, cost remains a focus, but the cost per paid employee for these initiatives varied significantly from company to company, with most reporting spending between $ 5 and $ 250 per employee, although employers most commonly cost $ 5 to $ 250 per employee $ 50.01 to $ 100 per employee, or 24%, for these efforts. Costs seem to be increasing – just over half (52%) of companies said the cost is more than $ 50 per employee

The focus of these programs has also shifted to some extent – initiatives that are a top priority for employers, dealing with emergency financial aid – emergency funds[ii]/ Hardship aid and short-term loans through wage deduction. About half of these emergency fund / hardship functions currently on offer were added in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report. Some benefits, such as student loan debt assistance, have become less important, while interest in emergency savings / hardship benefits has increased.


Only two benefits showed a significant change in offering from 2020 – employee discount programs and advance salary loans. The proportion of companies currently offering pay advance loans increased from 20% in 2020 to 26% in 2021, while the proportion currently offering employee discount programs decreased from 60% in 2020 to 51% in 2021.

Interestingly, EBRI reported that half (51%) saw increased employee contributions to their employees’ pension plans, while 49% saw increased contributions to their employees’ retirement plans, and 36% saw employee contributions to their employees’ health savings accounts (HSA) or flexible spending accounts (FSA) reduced credits / hardship payouts.

[i][i] 40% of employers said they paid for the wellness financial benefits in full, and another 46% shared the cost with employees. Only 14% said that the services were paid for in full by the employees.

[ii] According to EBRI, the most common Emergency Fund program offered were after-tax retirement fund withdrawals (52%), while Employee Relief / Compassion Funds (39%) and paid leisure or vacation benefits (38%) were the most likely features currently offered. The least likely emergency funds or assistance programs offered to employees in distress were sidecar or rainy day accounts (15%) and low or no interest loans (22%). In other words, emergency savings vehicles are most often offered in the form of funds / funds that are already available.

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