Written By: Cherie Stueve, Ph.D. AFC® FFC®
More employers are recognizing that a financial wellness benefit is a win/win for both the employer and the employee. A 2020 report found that 62% of employers felt extremely responsible for their employees’ financial wellness and 83% of employers believed that increased financial wellness increased productivity (Bank of America, 2020). BrightPlan’s Wellness Barometer Survey (2021) reported a loss of 15.3 hours weekly of reduced productivity and engagement because of employees being financially stressed, at an estimated cost of $4.7 billion per year. This recognition is opening up more career pathways for experienced Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) professionals.
Financial wellness benefits are typically part of a larger EAP hub program that includes physical health, mental health, and legal assistance resources. Employers of all sizes pay for these programs that have different features such as web-based written and video resources, live presentations, and limited or unlimited coaching sessions.
The greatest financial wellness benefit feature may be the personal and confidential one-on-one coaching sessions. A majority of consultations are telephonic, although more programs are opening up video conferencing for stronger nonverbal communication and the screensharing of personal budgets or a financial statement.
With an employer-provided financial wellness benefit, an employee may feel safe sharing their private financial circumstances, challenges, or dreams with a financial professional. Given the muddled marketplace and limited access for lower-income households to professional guidance, employees are relieved to have a financial professional already vetted for education and experience available for assistance at no cost. The ultimate outcome of a single or series of conversations is that the employee walks away with a greater sense of confidence in past decisions and/or stronger clarity with their next action step.
The specific situation that prompts scheduling a coaching session varies across all forms of financial helping (e.g., preventative, remedial, or productive), but most likely is a major milestone event (e.g., first job out of college, relationship commitment or dissolvement), a new family member, first home purchase, loss of a family member, preparing for college expenses, inheritance, or retirement) or a financial shock (e.g., reduction or loss of household income, loss of housing due to eviction or domestic violence, impact of inflation, or unmanageable debt now possibly going into collections). Sometimes an employee will state that they just want to learn best practices to make the most of their employer’s benefits (i.e., FSA or HSA programs, ESPP opportunities, health insurance selections, and retirement plans) and feel ready to achieve their life goals.
The greatest challenge to a financial wellness coach is the need to quickly form a trusting bond to make the most of a 30-minute consultation. Fortunately, most employees are in a contemplation, preparation, or even action State of Change. This readiness sets the stage for a positive and impactful conversation since the employee has already taken multiple action steps to learn about the benefit, locate the telephone number, initiate a referral from the EAP portal, set an appointment, and prioritize time to accept the incoming call.
Another challenge to a financial wellness coach is the ability to shift gears very quickly. A full-time coach may have between 9-13 prescheduled consultations a day, transitioning within minutes from helping someone identify rental assistance in their home community to avoid eviction to educating a near-retiree about the taxes on their 403b plan withdrawals.
A coach wears many hats, and sometimes the skills that will help the most aren’t known until a few minutes into the call. Brainstorming to help clarify a goal from multiple options? Detective to identify risky red flags or opportunities? Empathetic listener to a difficult challenge? The coach needs to multi-task while actively listening and speaking to collect both qualitative and quantitative data points. These reports of aggregated outcomes show how the employer’s cost outlay is providing increased financial wellness, and are worth continuation as a financial wellness offering.
Working for a provider of a workplace financial wellness benefit is most likely appropriate for an AFC® professional with a few years of counseling or coaching experience. The position may be onsite in a call center environment or virtual in a home office. Additional advantages of employment as a financial wellness coach may include team members that support technology needs and online resources, scheduling and rescheduling assistance, and peers to help problem-solve tricky or unusual situations.
Financial wellness coaches can be segmented by specialty in the appointment-making systems, so not every coach has to be well-versed in every potential topic or need. Yet, a coach that specializes in budgeting or credit rebuilding is more versatile if they also understand student loan repayment programs for example. Regardless of knowledge and experience, a financial wellness coach will learn something new every week and be constantly honing their craft!
Cherie Stueve, Ph.D. AFC® FFC® has been educating and encouraging individuals and couples to reach financial goals since 2009, and most recently as an employer-provided Money Coach completing an average of 500 consultations each quarter.
Bank of America (2020). 2020 Workplace Benefits Report. Retrieved from https://www.benefitplans.baml.com/publish/content/application/pdf/GWMOL/2020-Workplace-Benefits-Report.pdf
BrightPlan (2021). 2021 Wellness Barometer Survey. Retrieved from https://www.brightplan.com/2021-wellness-barometer-survey