Every year, professional-services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers conducts its Employee Financial Wellness survey to gauge how U.S. workers are doing with money. And in this segment from Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp talk to guest Kent Allison, National Leader of PwC's Employee Financial Wellness Practice, about what PwC does when helping companies develop financial wellness programs today.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on June 6, 2017.
Robert Brokamp: So, nuts and bolts, what does a financial wellness program look like? So when you have a client, or you go and help an employee, what types of things are you doing?
Kent Allison: The word "financial wellness," right now, there's a lot of confusion around it. It hasn't been fully defined. So a lot of organizations just change the name of their financial literacy program or their retirement education program and called it financial wellness and called it a day.
Brokamp: And by financial literacy, you mean basically information.
Allison: Information and an education session. And you hope that people get the information they need and then do something with it. When we talk about financial wellness, financial wellness is really about understanding what their behaviors are and changing those behaviors for the better. So it's much more tactical, much more prescriptive, much more targeted.
Alison Southwick: More incentive-based?
Allison: Yes and no. You're measuring and monitoring, and then you're recognizing and rewarding the positive behavior, so in that way, yes. But it's also about kind of getting into the psychological reasons as to why they make decisions and removing the obstacles that are preventing them from moving on to make even better decisions.
So, examples. We always talk about somebody -- a parent who wants to take care of their kids first. A natural inclination. So I'm going to pay for their education at the expense of funding my retirement.
So the reason they're doing it is they care about their kid. They put their kid first and they want to make sure they're OK. So you have to deal with that psychological aspect of their decision-making, but try to get them to the right decision.
Brokamp: Which, by the way, is save for your retirement first, everybody.
Allison: Exactly. That's exactly where I'm going, because at the end of the day, if you haven't saved for retirement, you then become a burden for your kids.
Allison: So you get to the point where they're starting to realize, well, there is value in it. And by the way, when you get to retirement and you're all well and good, you can take care of your kids, and if they went the student loan route, or whatever, take care of them that way. But at least you're not becoming a burden to them. So it gets people through that psychological barrier that basically says, "I've got to put my kids first and me second."
Brokamp: Gotcha. So part of what you do provide, I know, are workshops. Phone access to professionals. Things like that. Not everyone, probably, can afford all of those things. You work with, generally, bigger employers. So let's say you are an employee somewhere, or you are an employer, but you own a smaller company. Where should you start, first? What has the biggest payoff in terms of a financial wellness program?
Allison: It's interesting, because if you ask the employee, every single employee will tell you their No. 1 thing is to have somebody to talk to. So whether that's over the phone -- whether it's through the internet, on their phone, through a mobile app, or face-to-face -- they want to connect.
And the reason being is even the self-help people, at some point in time, want to validate what they think. They may do a lot of the up-front work themselves and ultimately look to somebody to say, "Does this sound right?" Others will pick up the phone first and want to talk to somebody right away because they're just stuck. So to me that connection to an advisor is ultimately, probably, what everybody wants and probably what is most interactive.
Now to the extent that technology can give them that type of interaction, I think that's where a lot of technology is trying to head, but I have yet to see, in my 30-some-odd years in this business, technology replace an advisor, and it's been going on a long time. Every time a new technology comes out, they say it's going to. Just a few weeks ago they came out with all these robo-advisors that are now going to a hybrid model where it's the robo-advisor connected to a real advisor.
Brokamp: Now I will say from my own personal experience that sometimes in a workplace there is someone to talk to, and it's basically the person connected to the 401(k) or the 403(b). They might be a good person to ask questions to. They might really just be a salesperson and they don't really know what they're talking about. Am I wrong in basically not thinking that those people are like, that doesn't scratch that itch?
Allison: The reality is the role of that person is to get you into the retirement fund, that you're properly diversified, and then ultimately when it's time to leave the company, probably roll it over with us and we'll try to make it last. It's all focused on the retirement aspect. That's their bailiwick and that's what they know. They're not necessarily going to help you with the other things, and they won't have deep subject-matter expertise in the areas of cash flow, debt, insurance, and so on and so forth.
So really who you're talking to and where their starting point is, and what their bailiwick is, is as important in terms of what you're trying to get out of it. They're certainly fine to talk about the retirement plans and the type of investments in the retirement plan and the benefits of contributing to the retirement plan. But when you start to talk about these other issues, it really starts to stray away from really where their expertise is.