As the head of pensions and benefits in the Americas for one of the world’s leading gas and oil companies, Cliff York cannot speak face-to-face with the more than 26,000 employees of BP. Instead, the 30-year corporate benefits veteran relies on annual surveys to find out how BP employees think the company can help them secure their retirements. It’s this outreach and a series of retirement financial tutorials that makes York EBN’s 2017 Benefits Leadership in Retirement Planning winner.

According to data from a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup poll, more than 75% of U.S. investors say they are confident they will be able to maintain the lifestyle they want throughout their retirement, a nine-percentage-point bump from August 2014.

Cliff York
Cliff York

In York’s view, BP helps workers to feel that same confidence about retirement via two assessments — a financial fitness test and a retirement readiness test — that provide the data needed to set up a successful program.

“The information that we get from the aggregation of results is really a roadmap for our communication efforts,” he says.

And unlike most financial wellness programs, York’s strategy offers the ability to measure behavioral changes.

BP employees have achieved higher scores across all categories measured in their financial fitness assessment (cash and debt, retirement, insurance, investment, estate and education planning) since the program began in 2012. Overall, their financial wellness scores have seen increases of 10%, from 63% to 69%, and retirement readiness scores bumped up 11%, from 55% to 61%. Particularly large improvements were seen in areas that previously had the lowest scores — including education and estate planning.

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By pairing the assessment with a coaching call to discuss the results, participants are able to talk through their concerns and identify other related financial planning questions. As the same participants have completed the assessment and coaching over the years, a 24% increase in overall wellness scores was noted.

Although there was no single pressing issue that pushed York to put in place the new program, when he came to BP in 2001, the company was still coming together from mergers with Amoco and ARCO, and he saw there was confusion among employees regarding investment choices.

“While we had a financial education provider, the utilization was very low. It was really just an ongoing concern on how we engage employees,” York says.

Healthy heart and a full wallet

York credits the higher scores to the way the financial assessments tie into the company’s healthcare initiatives.

Cliff and his retirement benefits team integrated further recognition for taking the assessment surveys into BP’s successful physical health and welfare program. After documenting the impact of financial stress on physical health, the retirement team expanded the amount of points that can be earned via financial wellness activities to 375 of the total 1,000 that employees must earn during the year in order to be eligible for more cost-effective healthcare options.

“It occurred to me if we could somehow get in on the points requirement for the wellness program — where points are required [to reach certain tiers in the health plans] — it would be just enough of a nudge to get people to engage,” he says.

“The extent to which people did engage, albeit to get their points, was stunning,” he continues. “We never had that level of engagement before.”

Through its partner PricewaterhouseCoopers, BP offers the financial wellness program to 26,000 employees and their spouses in the U.S. and 14,000 pre-Medicare retirees and their spouses. Strong, well-timed communications highlight financial wellness as a key component of the overall wellness program, and completion of financial wellness activities like assessments, coaching calls and online education courses entitle workers to points that count toward lower healthcare premiums.

When you have a significant amount of people taking the assessments year after year, you see results improve and you can conclude you’re making some progress, York notes. “Otherwise you’re shooting in the dark, and you don’t know what’s connecting and what’s not.”

The program’s success is measured based on its effectiveness at creating true behavioral change among employees. An analysis of results by demographic finds that the program already has shown success in key areas of measurable employee financial behaviors, says Emily Serna, a manager at PwC. However, BP recognizes that there is no short-term fix for financial wellness. York keeps the programs up to date. “You can’t just set it up and forget it. You have to maintain it and keep it fresh,” York adds.

And as workers become aware of the strengths and weaknesses through the assessments, BP provides a series of online, customized classes, which currently include 19 different topics covering everything from managing cash and debt to funding a child’s education and investing, Serna says. Among the more popular courses are those that highlight BP benefits in the context of financial planning. “Using Your Health Savings Account Effectively,” for example, guides employees through the ways that their HSA can help offset costs of current healthcare expenses and future expenses in retirement.

“Debt management is another popular one,” York explains. “Many of our young professional hires are coming to work with a huge college debt, so we are helping them address how to manage that.”

York credits the media with introducing workers — particularly younger workers — to the importance of saving for retirement.

“We’re seeing a lot more messaging on the general importance of saving for retirement,” he says. “I’m surprised at how interested some of the young employees coming out of college are, and how focused they are on saving for retirement.

“In my view, there have been great planning and asset allocation tools on the market for years,” he continues. “There are great resources; it’s just getting people to use them. Tying them into the points gave us just enough of a push to get the engagement — and we hope people want to come back and be engaged enough to see value.”

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