One way to afford the expense of providing financial training, says Liz Davidson, CEO of Financial Finesse, Inc. (www.financialfinesse.com) is to use your 401(k) plan’s ERISA account. This account is sometimes used to pay for plan expenses and sometimes refunded to participants. As long as the financial education is targeted toward retirement, using the ERISA account to pay for the education is acceptable to the government, according to a legal opinion obtained by Financial Finesse.
You may be in the habit of refunding extra funds that build up in the ERISA account to the plan’s participants, as many companies are. Davidson says that the payoff for using the money to educate employees is much greater than a onetime refund. Financial Finesse performed some calculations, assuming a $150 per employee refund and a 6% rate of return. A participant with 30 years until retirement could expect the $150 to grow to $862 by retirement age.
“However,” Davidson says, “if that money is used to provide a personalized, ongoing financial education program designed to help employees increase their retirement savings and better invest their assets within the plan, that $150 could mean as much as an extra $98,823 at retirement.” Those figures also assume a 6% rate of return, factor in a 2.5% increase in the amount deferred by the participant into the 401(k) plan over the remaining 30 years, and assume an average salary of $50,000.
Quality education demonstrates results
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Sounds good on paper, right? But these days, it is imperative that you see actual results for any program you roll out, including financial education. In fact, Davidson says that if you can make long-term changes in employee behavior, financial education moves out of the nice-to-have category and straight into necessary.
Proof of behavior changes that justify the time and the cost of providing employees with financial education include an increase in deferrals, a decrease in the number of loans and hardship withdrawals, and improved asset allocations among participant accounts. In other words, knowledge must translate to action.
“Our research shows that a huge percentage– 92%, in fact –of employees who participate in retirement education make a major change to their retirement plans within 30 days of receiving the education,” Davidson says. The changes they make are those that make an employer feel great about providing it, she says: They increase their retirement savings, reallocate their assets to a more appropriate mix considering their time horizon and their goals, an
d open an outside retirement savings account, like a Roth or a traditional IRA.
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Education should not be a onetime event, Davidson continues. “It is a process. Similar to the way you wouldn’t expect that working out one time would make you physically fit, financial education needs to be on-going. Successful workplace financial education is designed around comprehensive programs rather than singular events.”
Financial Finesse’s research shows that the more interactions a participant has with financial education, the more they tend to defer to the 401(k) plan. The increase, in fact, is nearly double–employees who have one interaction with the company’s financial wellness program defer an average of 5.77%, compared to employees who experience five or more interactions with the program and are now deferring 11.00% of pay.
“Employers are coming to the realization that in order to impart meaningful behavioral change they need to design financial education around how employees make financial decisions. Financial wellness programs resonate with employees because they get a comprehensive framework AND the knowledge to implement it along with the resources and tools they need to make lasting changes.”
Davidson is absolutely right that education can’t be a one-time event–whether it’s finances, safety procedures, skills training, or professional developement. But who has the budget and time to organize a full-blown training program?
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[Click here to download information on all courses and libraries.]
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