How to help employees tackle financial illiteracy

Register now

When it comes to handling money, a FINRA Foundation study found that two-thirds of Americans would fail a financial literacy test.

As shocking as we’d like to believe this statistic is, it’s not surprising. Most Americans face a bumpy road to financial literacy and wellness. Busy schedules, stagnant wages and a culture of consumerism work against becoming smarter about how we manage our money.

Employers are increasingly recognizing this concern and attempting to help improve employees’ financial literacy in new and different ways. How can they improve the financial literacy and wellness of their employees?

For starters, taking a quick financial assessment can be a valuable learning experience for most employees. The assessment provides a snapshot of the person’s strengths and pain points. It engages employees and provides a baseline for financial goal-setting.

People often feel anxious about finances but don’t know the root cause of their stress. An assessment can provide clarity and some initial relief simply by helping people understand where they should focus their efforts. Like a health-risk appraisal, a financial assessment can even act as the catalyst for an employee to take actions that will improve their financial health. For example, someone who’s struggling to make ends meet may be focusing too much on retirement instead of managing their debt.

After an initial assessment, another worthwhile next step is to encourage employees to learn more about managing their money by starting a monthly budget.

As employees develop their monthly budgets, you can also direct them to free financial resources like online articles, specialized websites and podcasts. But with all this content, where should employees start? A good first step is to recognize that people differ in how they absorb new information. For example, if an employee likes a steady dose of content and they are focused on debt, they might want to check out the Man vs. Debt blog. Or, maybe an employee prefers to “hear” their information; if so, a podcast like the Motley Fool Money might help an employee who wants to learn more about investing.

No matter how employees go about improving their financial literacy, it is absolutely critical to help them better understand basic financial principles because it will help them make smarter financial decisions.

Among the most valuable tools I’ve found for helping employees better understand basic financial principles are fun, informative, and succinct online training courses on platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and YouTube. Most people have never had a formal introduction to personal finance. Instead they’ve had to discover it on their own and they usually make plenty of mistakes along the way. These online educational series cover finances in general or dive deep into specific topics like compound interest, investing in stocks and bonds, and interest rates.

Finally, the most important thing any employer can do to help improve the financial wellbeing of their employees is to provide access to a financial coach. There’s no shortage of financial information or best practices, but we still have no replacement for an unbiased, experienced financial guide to help us navigate the waters. When a coach is available to discuss ideas or affirm an employee’s instincts, people can usually take concrete actions.

One of the greatest assets that a coach brings is confidence building: confidence in financial knowledge, decision-making, and goal setting. We know that massive achievements are not made overnight. They’re made over time through countless small steps. Coaching takes financial literacy and wellness to a new level where employees can discover a process that works for them and gain the confidence to pursue their financial dreams.

In order to boost those financial literacy scores, employers need to push the concept of schooling and hard work. After all, it’s about their bottom line as well.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Financial literacy Financial stress Financial wellness Retirement education Retirement planning Retirement benefits