Workers are more proactive in determining their financial future, but not without a little help from their employers, a new study shows.
Financial Finesse Inc., a financial education company, creates quarterly financial wellness scores from its client database. For the first quarter this year, the El Segundo, California-based company saw employee financial wellness scores improve to 5.2 out of 10—up from 4.9 a year ago.
While the bump may seem small, employees took large steps to improve their financial picture in the first quarter of 2013. Results showed nearly half of workers evaluated their investment risk tolerance, up from 43 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Meanwhile, 39 percent of workers say they felt confident with their investment lineup compare with 33 percent last year. And, more employees—40 percent—are using retirement calculators compared with 37 percent in 2012.
It has been a compelling shift to follow, says Liz Davidson, Financial Finesse's CEO and founder. Ten years ago, only a handful of workers took advantage of financial education tools, she says. Now that the majority of employers sponsor self-directed accounts such as 401(k) plans, workers are realizing they need to be more self-reliant, but need access to financial education. At the same time, employers see they can't fully fund health care or provide employer-run defined benefit plans, so they are looking for other ways to help workers reach financial goals.
"Two things are causing this change," Davidson says. "Employers are providing more [financial] tools, but also employees are asking for help in greater numbers."
This collision happened recently for Black Hills Corp., a natural gas and electric utility company based in Rapid City, South Dakota. In 2010, the company froze its defined benefit plan to new employees, and offered these workers a 401(k) plan, says Deb Bisgaard, retirement services manager.
In making the switch, Black Hills conducted a survey to find out whether employees needed financial education.
"With the shift to a defined contribution plan, we wanted to make sure people wanted the education necessary to manage their finances," Bisgaard says. "We found our employees were hungry for this information. They wanted to know 'When can I retire, how do I know when I can retire, and what do I need to know about retiree health care?' "
Because it normally takes four years of training for Black Hills to replace skilled workers, the company had a significant interest in getting employees to be on track for retirement, says Lynn Burton, Black Hills human resources senior administrator.
In working with Financial Finesse, Black Hills rolled out a pilot program for workers age 50 and up in 2012. The financial education program had three steps for eligible employees: a mandatory, online wellness assessment; a voluntary group retirement plan workshop; and—for a $100 fee—a financial planning meeting with an adviser.
About 56 percent of the eligible employees attended the workshops, and nearly a quarter of those completed the one-on-one planning meetings, Bisgaard says.
Black Hills hasn't yet evaluated results since the meetings recently concluded. The next step for Black Hills is to roll out the program to younger workers, and to keep the program going on a biannual basis, Burton says.
"Word of mouth got out, and so we are expecting this to be a very popular program," she says.