There’s been a lot of fuss surrounding financial wellness programs. How much does it cost? How do you do it? Does it even work? Opponents would argue that this sort of education doesn’t work because it doesn’t modify behavior and employees forget anything you tell them almost instantly. On the flip side, organizations like the Voya Financial believe that “The success of a financial wellness program will depend in part on its ability to provide appropriate, dynamic and accessible delivery channels, but also on the quality of content and delivery of individual program components.” No matter how you feel about financial wellness programs, whether you agree or disagree, there’s a lot to be learned from those who have been successful.

For this article, we will take a look at one of the most successful corporate Financial Wellness Programs - with the hopes that we can glean some intelligence from this program that can be applied to the higher education space.

EMC Corporation’s Bet on Financial Wellness

EMC Corporation is an international corporation headquartered in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. With over 33,000 employees, EMC is one of the world’s largest provider of data storage systems. EMC offers data storage, information security, virtualization, analytics, cloud computing and other products and services that enable businesses to store, manage, protect, and analyze data.

Amid the financial turmoil in 2008, EMC Corporation decided to launch its financial wellness program called WealthLink - an online Financial Wellness portal that provides employees with personalized and action-based tools.

EMC Corporation understood the value of employee retention, but raising compensation or benefits substantially in a period of such financial turmoil would have been very difficult. So EMC had to think “outside the box” for ways to strengthen their employee retention. One of the first things that EMC did was to analyze the needs, wants and personality traits of its employees. Many of these employees belonged to “Gen Y” - a generation with some pretty alarming characteristics when it comes to employee retention:

  • Age 25-34 Average tenure: only 2.9 years
  • View employment as a financial transaction
  • Strong focus on work - life balance
  • No strong commitment to employer

This early step in program development is often referred to as a “Needs Assessment”. If you are planning to develop a financial wellness program, this should be your first step. A needs assessment can take the form of an online survey, focus groups or just informal conversations.

Program Goals and Development

EMC assembled an internal team representing Benefits, Compensation, Treasury, Finance, and HR Communications with the goal of finding an innovative approach for EMC employees to save for retirement and address other financial needs. I love that EMC incorporated personnel from so many different departments; this validates a conclusion that we reached in our 2014 study which identified cross-departmental task forces as one of the key financial wellness program success indicators.

The primary goal for the financial wellness program was to maximize the company’s return on investment for the company’s benefit programs - both for EMC and its employees. According to Kevin Close, senior vice president, global compensation, benefits, HRIS and M&A at EMC, "We figured we should start with the access and the education first, because we were just not in the financial position where we really could be increasing the overall benefit cost we were providing to employees.”

After identifying the primary goal for the program, the team identified secondary user-based goals - they wanted to help their employees to:

  • Identify their personal financial goals
  • Understand how their individual decisions affect their wealth accumulation
  • Understand investment options and principles, as well as tax consequences
  • Appreciate the value of employer-provided benefits

Results

Within the first month, about 15% of employees signed up to access WealthLink - and over the next 4 years the participation quadrupled to around 60%. This is a very high adoption rate - and something that all organizations should strive for, but not necessarily expect. Many organizations expect high adoption rates within the first year, but this is far from the norm. Although employees are eager to say that they want this type of program and information, we can’t expect them to beat down the door once it is launched. Financial wellness programs must be promoted and grown organically over time. If you are interested in finding out more about how to increase participation organically read this article.

Actual behaviors seen in financial wellness program users were even more encouraging (keep in mind this data was during the 2008-2009 recession):

  • Among WealthLink users, there was no scale back in 401(k) contribution, while 7% of nonusers decreased their contribution.
  • 38% of WealthLink users increased their HSA (Health Savings Account) contributions, while there was no change among non-users.
  • Among non-users, there was a 20% decrease in the Employee Stock Purchase Plan, but only a 5% decrease among users.
  • The Flex Spending Account benefit saw a 17% decrease among non-users, but a 3% increase among WealthLink users.

Conclusion

EMC Corporation’s financial wellness program was one of the first of its kind in the corporate space, and has had resounding success.

The voluntary employee turnover at EMC Corporation was only 2% in 2013, substantially lower than the average voluntary turnover of 10.4% based on data from 40,000 organizations that same year. The replacement cost of hiring and training a new employee is roughly 16-20% of that employee’s annual salary - depending on the salary level. According to SalaryList, the median salary at EMC is $82,400 - putting the average replacement cost at $13k to $16k per employee. If these numbers are correct, this would mean a savings of over $35 million compared to the average replacement costs for a company that size. Keep in mind there are rather large discrepancies on these statistics from various sources (although I tried to use the most conservative figures I could find), and that EMC is doing many things in addition to financial wellness to lead to their lower employee turnover rate.

While launching a financial wellness program is by no means a “magic pill” - a well-planned program combined with strategic promotion and integration can have dramatic benefit for both the employee and the organization.

Source: Fidelity
Source: Metlife
Source: Crainsnewyork
Source: Compensation Force
Source: CBS News
Source: Salary List 
Source: EMC