Aetna started its Financial Wellness Works program in 2007, back before financial fitness programs became ubiquitous.

The health insurance company offered a 401(k) retirement plan back then and as part of that benefit, Aetna’s financial benefits team would monitor calls from employees to the 401(k) plan administrator. More and more calls dealt with taking loans from the 401(k) plan, which set off warning bells for the company, says Stacy Romano, lead benefits consultant for Aetna.

“The team said, hold on a minute. Something’s not right. We need to figure out what is going on here and try to help people before this becomes a real problem,” she says.

Aetna already offered a physical wellbeing program, and the company believed that financial stress was negatively affecting its employees’ general health.

“At that time, financial wellness was still a very new concept. It’s not entirely common practice. There weren’t a million providers out there like there might be there today,” Romano says.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Her boss at the time went online looking for a company that helps with financial fitness and discovered Financial Finesse, which offers employees fiscal counseling through certified financial planners.

They began offering employees one-on-one personal financial consultations, small group workshops, webinars and a financial wellness assessment.

“They are easy to work with and still are 10 years later. We’ve changed a lot over the last 10 years as has Financial Finesse, but we’ve grown together so as new needs arise with Aetna employees, they come up with ways to meet those needs and do it effectively,” Romano adds.

Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of Financial Finesse, says that the calls from employees about loans and hardship withdrawals happened right before the Great Recession and mortgage crisis of 2008.

“Something we also observed is it can be a predictor of trends. You could see people getting overleveraged because they call before they file for bankruptcy or go to credit counseling. They call as the pressure is building but hasn’t borne itself out in late payments,” Davidson says.

Aetna saw that and moved quickly to stem the tide.

Financial Finesse began by offering in-person workshops on personal financial management but quickly realized that wasn’t enough. Many of Aetna’s employees had severe financial stress and they needed ongoing financial support, Davidson says.

The program evolved to include a holistic financial coaching program that leverages information gleaned from a personal financial wellness assessment; one-on-one sessions with employees all over the country, where employees work with the same financial planner on a regular basis; webcasts and a person provided by Alight Solutions that focuses on the investment side of things at Aetna. He is on-site five days a week in the Hartford, Conn., office.

Aetna wanted consistency in who was working with employees on financial fitness instead of having different individuals from Alight Solutions come each time to talk about the company’s 401(k) and pension plans.

“People just know him and trust him and love him,” says Romano. “Getting people to trust the program is a huge, huge step. Once you have that, you have to do everything you can to foster that.”

“It’s been a very seamless partnership with us and him but also between the two organizations and Aetna. They’ve really reached the vast majority of their employees,” Davidson says.

Aetna’s employees are immediately eligible to participate in the company’s 401(k) program, which matches 100% of employee contributions up to 6% of pay. New employees are automatically enrolled in the plan within 10 days of starting work at Aetna and are 100% vested in the plan immediately, says Romano.

Addressing employee money matters

Participation in the company’s financial fitness programs has grown year over year.

“The way that people engage tends to change the longer they use the program,” says Romano. “Many people start with the Financial Wellness Assessment, as it’s a gatekeeper to Aetna’s wellness incentives, and then continue with a 1-to-1 or webcast to earn financial incentives. We have some employees who meet with a certified financial planner every month or two just to make sure that they’re staying on track.”

Romano says she likes the company’s financial program because it is effective and easy to manage. “We use an integrated registration system for all of our events so it’s a one-stop shop for our employees to sign up for the activities they’re interested in,” she adds.

Aetna also launched its Social Compact with employees in 2015. The compact included an increase to the minimum wage for all employees to $16 per hour regardless of the job. Additionally, there is an Enhanced Benefits Program component, which allows employees to participate in the most expensive/comprehensive medical plan at the cost of the least expensive/comprehensive plan.

It began offering student loan debt repayment in January 2017. The program provides matching payments to employees’ loan servicers for degrees earned within the last three years. The annual cap on matching contributions is $2,000 for full-time employees and $1,000 for part-time employees. There is also a lifetime cap of $10,000 or $5,000, respectively.

“Aetna’s mission is to build a healthier world. We believe that starts with our employees,” says Romano.

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