Employees see big knowledge gains in 2013 Financial Fitness Challenge

For US Airways and Gulfstream Aerospace Company, it was a great way to provide financial education to employees spread across the country.

For Everbank in Jacksonville, Fla., it was a welcomed opportunity to offer unbiased information that met ERISA requirements.

"It" was the 2013 Financial Fitness Challenge, the online financial education event sponsored by Employee Benefit News and developed and produced by Educated Investor. US Airways, Gulfstream and Everbank were among the 47 employers that took part in this year's challenge, which drew more than 11,000 employee-participants.


Range of industries, employer sizes

This was the second year for the Financial Fitness Challenge, which will be offered again in 2014. The organizations that took part represented a wide range of industries and varied in size from 22 to 45,000 employees.

The challenge consisted of a five-week online education program broken into five learning modules. Employees could choose one of three learning plans: basics of personal finance, saving and investing, or retirement planning.

In all, 11,078 employees took a 10-minute Financial Fitness Checkup. Roughly 66% of that group, or 7,305 people, went on to participate in the online education program. Among those 7,305 participants, the average employee completed nearly four courses, and 4,549 people, or 63% of the total participants, completed all five courses. In total, the participants completed 28,072 interactive online courses.


Financial knowledge improvement

Equally exciting was the improvement in financial knowledge, confidence and sense of well-being demonstrated by challenge participants. Those who completed the program and took the final assessment test improved their retirement knowledge and comfort level by 100%, and their understanding and confidence about the basics of personal finance and credit by 40%.

Furthermore, employees put the knowledge and confidence they gained into practice. At the end of the challenge, behaviors such as creating a budget, developing a financial plan, saving more for retirement and avoiding paying late fees improved by over 50%.

"On average, employers are lucky to get 10% of employees to attend in-person financial education seminars," notes Joe Saari, president and CEO of Precision Information. "In this year's Financial Fitness Challenge, we had two-thirds of the participants spend five hours on the coursework, which means we reached five times the people."


Employer experiences

At Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Lee Manale, senior benefits communications specialist, and Fawnie Davis, senior global benefits manager, had been looking for a way to help their employees improve their financial knowledge.

"One of our goals was to find a program that would work in our environment," says Manale. "We had done some pilots with people coming in, but that wasn't enough to reach our employee population of 10,000. The in-person approach was also expensive, and we had difficulty finding someone who wasn't going to make a sales pitch."

When Manale read about the 2012 Financial Fitness Challenge in EBN, she immediately saw the potential for her workers. A conversation with Educated Investor sold her on the program.

"The fact that it was online allowed us to reach employees all over the country, and it was very easy to administer," she says.

Gulfstream was awarded a scholarship for 500 employees. The company held a drawing for the slots, and more than 1,000 workers entered.

"There was so much interest that we did not want to deny anyone the opportunity to participate," says Davis. "It was a very nominal fee for the next 500 employees, so it was a no-brainer to let them do it."

In all, 954 Gulfstream workers participated, and 465 went all the way through.

"We'd absolutely do it again," says Manale. "The feedback we got was fabulous. One person shared it with his family and said it should be a required course in high school. Many employees have asked when we're going to repeat it."

One of the Financial Fitness Challenge participants was a writer in Gulfstream's communications division. She wrote about her experience on the company's intranet home page, which created great ongoing buzz for the program.

The program touched all of the company's demographics, and even offsite participation was good, Davis notes.

"We got such positive feedback," she says. "It's fun to hit a home run."

Like Manale and Davis, Patti Yurkovich, director of 401(k) and savings programs at US Airways, says she's always looking for ways to provide financial education to employees. "A lot of them say they need help," she notes.

Yurkovich promoted the Financial Fitness Challenge in the daily news feed that US Airways sends out, and there was a banner for the program on their 401(k) provider's page. She offered an incentive - those who completed the course and passed the final exam would be entered in a drawing for a collectible American Silver Eagle coin.

Four hundred and seventy-nine employees started the program and spent an average of four hours each on the coursework.

"I received emails from people saying they really liked the program because they could do it on their own time and it was easy to follow," she says. "A lot said they would have liked to have done all three learning plans, not just one."

That's a comment that Deedria Burchfield at Everbank heard as well.

"What struck me was the intense interest in the courses; they obviously filled a need," she says. "I was very pleased with the course content - it was relevant, easy to understand and provided action steps, not just information."

And since busy benefits professionals are always short on time, Burchfield appreciated the program's ease-of-administration. "The Financial Fitness Challenge states that the program will be professionally managed, and it was. I could have sent out the announcement email and taken no other action, and the program would have run smoothly. I would love to offer it again," she says.


Enrollment open for 2014

Information on the 2014 Financial Fitness Challenge will be presented in a series of Web seminars that will begin this month. To sign up for a webinar go to www.FFCwebinar.com. Scholarships are offered to companies that participate, which means their only cost is a modest administration fee.

Educated Investor is planning a number of improvements to the Financial Fitness Challenge based on feedback from this year's employer Challenge Champions.

"We're working to provide greater customization and measurability for employers and to make the employees' experience more personal and exciting," says Saari. One of the improvements will be the introduction of a more robust "Financial Fitness Checkup" - a short online exercise that will enable employees to see whether their financial knowledge is in line with their financial goals and expectations.

Lynn Gresham is the former senior editor of EBN.




Quick facts

11,000+ participants completed a checkup.

* Roughly two-thirds who signed up completed the five-week program.

* Knowledge of retirement increased by 100%.

* Knowledge of personal finance basics increased by 40%.

* Positive behavior changes (budgeting, developing a financial plan, saving more) increased by 50%.



The 2013 Financial Fitness Challenge Employers

Employers that participated in this year's Financial Fitness Challenge include:

* Aggreko

* Caribou Coffee

* Charleston Area Medical Center

* Conductor

* Cornell University

* Culligan International

* Early Warning Services, LLC

* EverBank

* Ferguson Industries

* Frederick County Public Schools

* G&K Services, Inc.

* Griffith Laboratories

* Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation

* HB Baker

* Intel Corporation

* Jack Henry & Associates, Inc.

* Kitchell Corporation

* L & JG Stickley, Inc.

* Lake Worth Independent School District

* Leland Stanford Junior University

* Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, P.A.

* Major League Baseball

* Mayo Clinic Health System - Eau Claire

* McLean Affiliates, Inc.

* Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

* Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

* NACCO Materials Handling Group

* OGE Energy Corp

* Perfect Teeth/Birner Dental

* Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD

* Prime Therapeutics, LLC

* Quaker Chemical Corporation

* Rackspace Hosting

* Schools Financial Credit Union

* SPAL USA, Inc.

* Spiritas Senior Services

* St. Ambrose University

* The Hilliard Corporation

* The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation

* The Schamber Group, Inc.

* Trudell Holdings, Inc.

* US Airways, Inc.

* USG Corporation

* VSP Global

* VWR International, LLC

* Waterbury Hospital

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