The Financial Wellness Landscape: What is True Financial Wellness?


These days, it’s not so much a question of whether your company needs a financial wellness benefit for your employees—it’s more a question of which one you should choose.

The idea of employers helping their workers win with money is more popular than ever in 2018. The 2017 “Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing ” study from Aon Hewitt showed close to 60% of surveyed companies already have a financial wellness benefit. (1) And about half of those who are still mulling the concept plan to add such a benefit soon.

At SmartDollar, we realize defining financial wellness can be a little confusing. That’s true for a number of reasons. Everyone agrees workers are in need of some guidance with their personal finances, but sometimes there’s too much hype and noise in the marketplace to see how the benefit should work for both companies and employees.

If you’re part of a company exploring the financial wellness landscape, you’re probably looking for a win-win benefit that makes life better for all parties. And as every HR professional knows, there’s a lot at stake with every benefits choice—from boosting recruitment power, to proof of engagement and all the way to ROI. So as demand for financial wellness increases, benefits decision-makers are on the lookout for clarity and proven value.

Our goal is to give you some clarity around what a winning financial wellness benefit looks like.

Which Program Is Right for My Company?

Despite the steady increase of products and messaging, finding the right wellness program doesn’t have to be confusing. Most of what’s out there can be broken into four categories using a simple metaphor. At SmartDollar, we often compare true financial wellness to health and fitness. Although all of the various approaches described below contain at least one key part of financial wellness, only the program described last hits on every component to deliver consistent results for your whole organization and real financial wellness that lasts.

Status Quo: One-time event or activity

How many people in your company do you know who started 2018 revved up for New Year’s resolutions? And how many do you know who are still going strong a couple of months into the year? Sadly, many financial wellness programs fit the same pattern—despite the best of intentions by HR and staff alike, an early spike of activity around the new benefit quickly fades and drops off the radar. The status quo approach usually features one or more of the following:

  • an annual enrollment meeting
  • a one-time workshop
  • some light tools
  • financial education in the form of emails or flyers

We like to compare these one-time only, stand-alone events to the financial equivalent of a 5K race—that short a run doesn’t make anyone a marathoner, and the status quo approach will never make a deep and lasting impact on your company’s financial wellness.

Education and Literacy

When was the last time you browsed your local library for health books? You’re guaranteed to find shelf after shelf of titles covering every aspect of health and fitness. The volume and variety of information is enough to drive anyone into permanent couch potato-hood!

While books, podcasts and videos have their place in becoming healthier, they don’t have sufficient power in themselves to transform anyone from fat to fit. That’s because head knowledge can only go so far in the health game—the vast majority of your success with a health regimen will always spring from behavior change.

The truth is that too much data can be dangerous, even deadly, to a newcomer’s ability to jump into a fit new lifestyle. And the same problem holds true in financial wellness. The education and literacy approach to financial wellness usually fails because it leans too heavily on facts and entirely neglects the question of how to get employees inspired to win with their money. Unless workers find that kind of motivation together with clear action steps in their financial wellness benefit, they’re more likely to “stay on the couch” than to move forward financially.

Financial Apps and Tools

The tool-heavy approach is another fallacy we find in both the fitness and benefit worlds. In both cases, well-intentioned people mistake having the right equipment for being strong or wealthy. But it’s easy to see why that thinking doesn’t translate into substantial results.

Just buying the most scientifically engineered weights, machines and gear isn’t enough to build muscle. It’s also necessary to put in a lot of time and effort using all of it to gain strength. Similarly, you can’t just throw any number of financial wellness tools at your employees and expect them to turn their financial lives around. Just as the education and literacy approach to financial wellness is inadequate, so too is the belief that tools are the silver bullet for debt or retirement shortfalls. Tools are one necessary element, but they fall short on their own.

Coaching and Behavioral

You’ve seen the rest, now consider the best! At SmartDollar we recognize the role of communications, literacy, tools and much more in creating a winning financial wellness package. But we don’t think any of them are enough without the crucial element of personal commitment that inspires behavior change. That’s why we champion the coaching and behavioral model of financial wellness.

Have you guessed which category SmartDollar belongs in yet?

Programs that emphasize coaching and behavior change deliver the most impressive results. Since they’re holistic, they take into consideration every aspect of the employee’s life and address them all with these key features:

  • inspiring and trusted content
  • powerful coaching through dynamic videos
  • a clear plan
  • customizable tools that meet employees where they are
  • personalization that reflects a record of financial progress

This is what employees drowning in debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck are hungry for—something that can inspire and encourage them on the road to a real financial turnaround. Only the coaching and behavior approach to financial wellness can produce the winning blend of facts and fun that leads to durable results.

It’s clear that a financial wellness benefit needs to take the whole person into account to be effective. And that’s exactly what SmartDollar does in thousands of companies across America. 

Coaching and Behavior Change: How It Works

Here are the essentials you’ll find as a SmartDollar client, from both the employee and employer perspectives.

For Employees

  • A simple-to-follow, step-by-step plan. We skip the fancy financial terminology and give users the simple truth. This means your workers will have access to understandable action steps they can begin pursuing right away!
  • Content that not only delivers the truth about money, but does it with plenty of heart. No amount of graphs or charts has ever moved anyone to make a big change with their money, and our team of speakers and authors know just how to relate to workers who are going through the pain of money struggles.
  • The EveryDollar budgeting tool. While we know tools alone can’t get the job done, that’s no excuse to be sloppy in helping employees take control of their money every month. Our budgeting tool makes it easy for users to sync with checking accounts and develop both short- and long-term plans for financial progress.
  • A points system and personal profile allows users to see how well they’re doing over the course of their experience.
  • Mobile access maximizes flexibility and convenience. No matter how many business locations you have or how many work shifts employees fall under, they can access SmartDollar anytime and anywhere.
  • Unlike so many other financial wellness vendors, we never send users any solicitations in the product. 

For Employers

  • Aggregate reporting lets you see how the program is helping your organization in each of the following areas: total participants, employee engagement, overall progress through the plan, and total financial turnaround as defined by debt paid and money saved. You can also use report results to design contests and company events that will get everyone even more engaged as success rises.
  • Turnkey format. Our turnkey promotional posters, banners and other assets make it easy for you to launch a financial wellness program for everyone.
  • A dedicated relationship management team. You know what helps thousands of SmartDollar employers and users every year to gain greater financial wellness in their organizations? Access to our team of benefit experts! These wellness pros will help you to be aware of how SmartDollar is working in your company and do everything possible to improve your long-term prospects.

Your employees are stressed out about their money—and those issues are impacting them at work! They need your help. And SmartDollar has everything you need to become the financial wellness expert at your company.

Are you ready to bring true financial wellness to your team? If you want to take a deeper dive into how SmartDollar works and why it’s transforming financial wellness in companies nationwide, check out our latest webinar “What You Need to Know About Financial Wellness”. You’ll learn:

  • Why financial wellness is here to stay
  • Why companies are expanding financial wellness
  • How the industry has progressed
  • What the financial wellness landscape looks like

The Financial Wellness landscape doesn’t have to be confusing. It’s never been easier to get started—sign up today!