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By Glenn Spencer, CEO, Prime Capital Investment Advisors

Financial wellness has been one of the most frequently discussed topics in the retirement plan consulting and the advisory world, referenced daily within the industry as well as in local and national business publications over the past few years. And in the era of COVID-19, it’s a problem that is reaching pandemic proportions, and one that you can’t afford to ignore.

It’s also a topic that retirement plan consultants and advisors should totally own. Most consultants and advisors agree with that sentiment. Yet the industry is failing to have a material impact on the average employee’s financial wellness. Before the pandemic, despite record-low unemployment, relatively strong wage growth, and the longest period of economic expansion in our country’s history, the numbers were dramatically getting worse. And now, with the pervasive effects of COVID-19, most employees’ financial stress, not to mention overall stress, is at an all-time high. How can plan consultants and advisors meet this double challenge?

One answer is better communication: retirement consultants and advisors need to have more effective conversations with their plan sponsor clients. 

Having a Conversation is the First Step

We have heard numerous advisors and constants say, my client(s):

  • are very cautious about people communicating with their employees.
  • don’t want someone selling their employees products.
  • don’t want to interfere with their employee’s personal lives.

While some employers may still subscribe to one or more of these misconceptions, presenting information about financial wellness doesn’t involve any of these behaviors. In fact, our experience is that advisors or consultants will only enhance their relationship with current plan sponsors by having a discussion with them about financial wellness.  

Financial stress is a real social, business, and economic topic in America today. Regardless of what the plan sponsor ultimately decides to do in terms of offering a financial wellness benefit, we have not experienced a conversation about this topic being detrimental to any consultant’s or advisor’s relationship with clients.

This discussion is no different than conversations about which firm is the best recordkeeper, who is the right target date provider, whether they should embrace “auto features,” how they think about retirement income solutions, or how they think about fiduciary risks. Simply because financial stress is such a current challenge for so many employees, that fact alone makes it worthy of a discussion.

And if a consultant or advisor is not having this dialogue with their clients, you can be sure that someone else is or will. 

Some tips for having this critical conversation follow. But let’s start with eliminating any anxiety about having the conversation and embracing the fact that we owe our plan sponsors the dialogue.   

Setting the Foundation

Once you are committed to having a conversation with your plan sponsors, it’s easy to add financial wellness to the agenda for your client reviews moving forward.

Take some time and spend a few minutes getting everyone on the same page at the beginning of the discussion. It’s both fortunate and unfortunate that there are multitudes of statistics and research studies supporting the fact that our country is challenged with financial stress, and you can use these to support your case. So, hop on to the Internet, do a few searches, find the most pertinent statistics, and put them in your back pocket or showcase them into an exhibit or two. 

Here are just a few examples:*

  • 87% of people report financial stress in their lives
  • 48% of people regularly worry about money
  • People experiencing financial stress are 8.2 times more likely to lose sleep
  • Financially stressed people are 4.9 times more likely to have it affect their work
  • Financially stressed people are 5.8 times more likely to not finish daily tasks at work
  • The average financially stressed person loses 19 days annually in productivity to stress

Introduce the topic of financial wellness objectively by stating that study after study supports the following facts:

  • The great majority of our country is experiencing financial stress
  • This stress is negatively impacting people’s lives and health
  • Financial stress spills over into the workplace
  • The company’s productivity is being diminished due to financial stress

Everyone reading this article can be 100% comfortable that every consultant, advisor, and plan sponsor will be able to reach an agreement on these facts. 

The Best Consultants and Advisors Lead with Questions

As consultants and advisors, we are at our best when engaging with our clients. Engagement starts with asking good questions, moves to great listening, and ends with bringing expertise and solutions that are tailored to fit your clients’ specific needs.

So, what are the questions one should ask once the foundation is established?  Below are examples of questions you may want to consider:

Do you agree with the fact that financial stress is a problem in our society and that it not only impacts lives, but affects companies as well?

Do you believe that your company has similar levels of financial stress as our society as a whole?

Do you believe that your people’s productivity is just as critical to your company’s success as business systems, technologies, and processes?

Do you think financial stress is having an impact on your company’s overall productivity?

Do you believe that if there are solutions that can cost-effectively reduce your employees’ financial stress, your company should consider making them available to your employees?

Has your company instituted any type of physical wellness strategies aimed at improving your employees’ overall health?  When was this implemented?  What kinds of results have you experienced?  What did you learn through this experience? 

What types of financial wellness solutions do you think may be most effective with your employees?  What do you think would be unacceptable to your employees or culturally not a good fit?  Why?  

Do you believe providing resources to your employees could help improve financial stress in your employee’s lives?

What do you know about what companies are doing to reduce financial stress within their workforces?  What approaches do you like?  What are your thoughts about how these may work within your company?

We could easily list more questions, but questioning is really second nature to anyone reading this.  The idea to gain a greater understanding of the plan sponsor’s:

  • beliefs about financial stress overall
  • beliefs about their workforces’ level of financial stress
  • feelings about the company’s responsibility to help with financial stress
  • successes and experiences with physical wellness programs
  • familiarity with financial wellness strategies being employed today

Our experience is that having set the foundation and then explored your client’s beliefs and experiences, you are well-positioned to ask a truly critical question: 

Do you believe that we should explore this issue more fully? 

Again, at this juncture, some plan sponsors will table it permanently or temporarily due to other organizational priorities. Our experience, however, is that the vast majority of plan sponsors today want to dig a little deeper into this topic. 

Financial Wellness Market Overview

This is your opportunity to bring your experience and expertise to the forefront.  Our advice is to keep the discussion high level and philosophical during this introductory conversation.

At the highest level, there are three methodologies for delivering financial wellness solutions to plan participants:

  • Technology-Based Solutions. This refers to the use of financial technology (fintech) alone; deploying a fintech solution to participants and relying on them to engage.  This is generally done with a fairly significant degree of written communication and instructions. 
  • Technology with a Phone Bank. This involves some form of technology with telephonic support that is inbound responsive, placing outbound calls, or a combination of both approaches.
  • Face-to-Face Education Services. This involves having qualified financial coach/educators/consultants meeting with groups of employees and one-on-one.  These services may or may not be supported by technology. 

Financial Wellness Service Delivery Matrix



FinTech w/Phone Bank

In-Person Education

Engagement Rates


Rate of engagement is driven by the communication strategy around the technology.


Again, engagement rate is driven by communication and active outbound calls.


By far the preferred methodology from an employee’s perspective; 80% of people report the desire to have a personal financial coach. 

Persistence Rates


The relatively low overall engagement rates will tend to run steady.  That is, those that engage do tend to continue.


Adding the human touch, although not live will tend to increase persistence as you have human follow up with participants.


There will be some drop-off, but the persistence rates of those that have engaged tend to remain very high. 


There are hundreds of technologies available and most are very strong from a technological perspective.

Augmenting the high-quality technology solutions available in the market improves service delivery to participants.

There is a very limited market for stand-alone financial education providers. Most recordkeepers do have services available and availability is driven by plan sponsor fee levels.


Technology creates an ability to easily scale these solutions. 

Technology creates an ability to easily scale these solutions. 

Without robust technology supporting the in-person services, scalability is a significant challenge.

Data Reporting

Although data reporting capabilities vary by vendor, most are high quality and very robust.

Some phone banks can add to data reporting from the technology provider which can “round out” the information that plan sponsors receive. 

Reporting will vary by education provider and is drastically improved to the degree technology supports the “in-person” education.  Once technology is introduced, you gain all of the quality and have more data points to consider. 

Economic Model(s)

Generally priced on a per employee basis. In some cases, flat fees can be negotiated for a given population. Finally, this service may be included with certain recordkeepers, depending on the fees they are collecting overall.

Generally priced on a per employee basis.  In some cases, flat fees can be negotiated for a given population.  Finally, this service may be included with certain recordkeepers, depending on the fees they are collecting overall.

Fees can be charged per day, flat, or as a percentage of assets.  Again, recordkeepers will sometimes include these services

Moving Forward with Your Plan Sponsors

Moving forward from this type of marketplace review is straightforward. You will work with your plan sponsors to develop a plan by exploring the solutions and service providers that best fit the needs and preferences for each plan sponsor. 


Financial stress is a not-so-hidden epidemic affecting almost half the US population, and it’s one that is present in almost every workplace. Retirement plan advisors and consultants will only help their plan sponsors by bringing up the topic. It’s a win-win-win for you, your plan sponsors, and most of all, for their employees.

*Source: 2019 Guide to Financial Wellness by Salary & Finance

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