The results are in on the first annual EBN-EBA Financial Fitness Challenge, and they are impressive. Small but mighty River City Bank in Sacramento took top honors in this year's event, with hard-charging City of Savannah close behind. But all of the employers participating were winners when it came to increasing their employees' financial knowledge and well-being.

The Financial Fitness Challenge is a unique online financial education program offered to employers through a partnership between Employee Benefit News, its sister publication, Employee Benefit Adviser, and Educated Investor, creator of online courses in personal finance. The 2012 Challenge was sponsored by Set for Life.

This year, 15 small and large employers from the private and public sectors were chosen to compete. The goal was to get a designated number of employees to complete five online financial education courses and to track the improvement in their financial fitness. HR/benefits executives in each organization designed communications and incentive programs to motivate their "players," who included managers, executives, field sales and service reps, shift workers, administrative support staff, retail sales and service people, health care providers and marketing and product design professionals.

By the end of the challenge, some 2,500 employees completed more than 10,000 hours of coursework, significantly increasing their financial fitness in the process. On average, participants spent just over four hours learning, and improved their financial knowledge by 30%, with a 67% pre-test and an 88% post-test score. The average "graduation" rate from the course series across the 15 employers was 70%.

Rich Hunt, director of retirement services in the New York-based MLB Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, was one of the first to enroll his organization in the FFC.

"This has been a great experience and the feedback that I have received has been very positive," he says.

Employees who participated also have been enthusiastic.

Karen Clark, senior vice president of systems and services at Fidelity Residential Solutions Inc., described her experience this way: "I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed participating ... I felt it was a great basic course on investing and although it contained things I knew, I learned a lot and always had questions. I would highly recommend it."

Tanya Asaro, employee training coordinator for the City of Savannah, credits the challenge with helping her right her savings ship.

"After completing the Financial Fitness Challenge, I realized how many years and how much money I had lost out on because of not contributing a mere $10 a pay period to [the city's retirement plan]. I have lost out on thousands of dollars that could have been set away for my retirement; however, I have rectified the situation and will make sure that I contribute each month so I may comfortably retire at the age of 57."

Valerie Dietrich, who works with Hunt at Major League Baseball, praises the courses.

"This online program allows you to participate on your schedule, is laid out in simple terms, uses common everyday examples and outlines for you how to best plan for a solid financial future," she says.

 

Challenge champs

The organizations that participated in the Financial Fitness Challenge were designated bronze, silver or gold winners for getting 25%, 50% or 75% of their participants to complete the full five-hour course.

Plus, a special platinum-level award was given to River City Bank for having 90% or more of its entire employee pool complete the whole program. Senior vice president and human resources director Victoria Nolan and president/CEO Stephen Fleming motivated workers with an Olympics-themed communication program that was deemed the best of this year's event.

As the link between employees' financial wellness and overall health has become clearer, more employers are implementing financial education programs. A survey conducted this year by EBN and the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation showed that half of employers are offering some form of financial education. PFEEF states that financial wellness programs provide a 3:1 return in reduced turnover, absenteeism and health costs.

Financial education goes hand-in-hand with attracting and retaining employees and empowering them to make their own benefits choices, said Liz Davidson, CEO of Financial Finesse, speaking at EBN's 2012 Benefits Forum & Expo.

"Employees can't fund benefits if they can't save," she said. "Companies that will win the war on talent are those that enable employees to make the best use of the benefits they have."

"Financial education gives people the confidence they need to get into the driver's seat," echoed Joe Saari, project coordinator for the Financial Fitness Challenge. "The key is to get employees engaged; after that, the positive results just keep building. This is what the challenge is all about."

 

 

Challenge winners

Here are the organizations that competed for nationwide bragging rights in the 2012 EBN-EBA Financial Fitness Challenge and their place on the medal platform:

Platinum Award Winner
River City Bank

 

Gold Award Winners
City of Savannah
Major League Baseball
Wisconsin Employee Trust Fund

 

Silver Award Winners
Dex One
Fidelity National Financial
Franklin International
Fred C. Church Insurance
Kimberly-Clark
OCLC
St. Elizabeth Healthcare
Taylor Corp
Teknion
Vermont Hard Cider

 

Bronze Award Winner
JHP Pharmaceuticals

In addition to recognizing the organizations' success in getting employees to participate in the Financial Fitness Challenge, EBN and EBA also presented "Best of the Challenge" awards. Congratulations to:

* River City Bank for the Best Theme Execution

* City of Savannah for the Best Employee Outreach

* Major League Baseball for the Best Incentive (All-Star game swag bag)

* OCLC and Wisconsin Employee Trust Fund for Most Determined

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