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John Hoffmire: Customizing wellness with Financial Finesse

Since 1999, Financial Finesse’s mission has been “to help people from all walks of life become financially secure and independent.”
Since 1999, Financial Finesse’s mission has been “to help people from all walks of life become financially secure and independent.”
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Since 1999, Financial Finesse’s mission has been “to help people from all walks of life become financially secure and independent.” To achieve this goal, Financial Finesse works with employers to develop highly customized financial wellness programs aimed at improving employee engagement, retirement preparedness and physical wellness by helping employees build solid financial foundations, implement plans for achieving financial goals and lower financial stress.

Greg Ward, a senior resident financial planner for Financial Finesse, says that one way his company helps employers improve the financial wellness of their workforce is by helping employees connect their benefits with their financial goals. “Employers have already invested thousands of dollars in their employee benefits program,” says Ward, “so it’s important to help employees understand how best to utilize those benefits.”

Ward notes that part of the problem is how benefits information is communicated: “Instead of merely educating employees about their benefits, the focus should be on the employee and their overall wellness.” By taking this approach, Ward believes that employees will understand the value of their benefits as well as how best to use them for their personal situation.

Financial Finesse helps each client develop a financial wellness program specific to their workforce. Using their own patent-pending Financial Wellness Assessment, Financial Finesse helps its clients identify potential vulnerabilities among the workforce and within specific demographics. With this information, it works with its clients to build a program that addresses these key vulnerabilities while integrating the client’s current benefits.

Ward explains that the best way for an employer to implement a financial wellness program is to make it a level benefit available to all employees. As a best practice model, Financial Finesse recommends a multichannel program, offering online and live resources to appeal to different learning styles.

Clients that operate using this model have experienced the best results among their employees, particularly in the areas of improved cash management, greater retirement preparedness and lower financial stress. Not every company or employee chooses to use the multichannel option, but when they do, employees have access to online assessments to identify their vulnerabilities, helping them make changes accordingly. If additional help is needed, personal financial coaching is also available.

On a broader level, Financial Finesse consults with its clients on financial topics and curriculum that may be appropriate for the company’s workforce, including recommending particular topics for different demographics. For example, if one location or population within a company struggles with paying bills on time while another lacks confidence in asset allocation, it might suggest education around basic money management for the one and education on investing for the other.

To monitor trends within the financial wellness industry, Financial Finesse produces research reports throughout the year, including an annual report with statistics from the prior year. Overall, Financial Finesse reports three major improvements in 2014. First, day-to-day cash management has improved for lower-income employees. Second, employees are taking responsibility for financial problems. Third, more employees are taking advantage of financial guidance offered to them.

One statistic that supports these findings is that only 12 percent of lower-income employees rated financial stress as overwhelming, as opposed to 17 percent in 2013. While this may seem like a small jump, it shows the improvement as financial wellness programs are used consistently.

Ward emphasizes that these wellness programs are not a checklist to be done just once. Rather, success is evident in employees who continually use the resources available to them. The beauty of Financial Finesse’s end goal is that no one loses out. The company and the employees both gain from a cohesive wellness program. Employees understand their challenges and learn how to address them using their benefits, while companies reduce costs associated with delayed retirement, unengaged employees and extensive health care programs.

John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development. Krystal Bailey, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.