How AI is helping drive employee financial wellness

In recent months, employee financial stress has risen through the ranks of HR’s priorities, given the economic impacts of the pandemic, but it’s far from a new issue. In fact, it’s long been a major challenge for many employees no matter their position or salary range, says Kristina P. Keck, vice president of retirement plan services for insurer and consulting firm Woodruff Sawyer.

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Yet, C-suite and senior management often assume that financial stress only impacts new workers and low-level employees.

“What is amazing to me, having been in this space for over 20 years, are the assumptions leadership has over who has a financial wellness need,” says Keck. “There is a great deal of stress even in the top-paid group.”

Keck recalls a story about a doctor who had no debt and owned a home yet still lacked a budget and a financial plan–so has no clear understanding of where money is going. And, on the flip side, she says, she has met younger employees under age 30 who had detailed budgets.

Kristina Keck of Woodruff Sawyer
Kristina Keck

Employee surveys back that up, with 63% of employees reporting that their financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic, according to PwC’s 2021 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, but it certainly didn’t start with COVID-19, experts say.

“The COVID shock only magnified financial vulnerabilities and the associated risks of not having a financial plan. Companies of every size and industry are releasing new employee benefits packages aimed at easing pandemic-related financial stress in the workplace,” says Rebecca Liebman, co-founder and CEO of financial wellness solution provider LearnLux. She adds that employers are eager to provide benefits that enable their employees to stay productive and work towards better financial stability.

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In an effort to reduce the financial stress of all of its 600 employees, Woodruff Sawyer last month rolled out Aimee, a virtual financial wellness app from Financial Finesse. So far, 60 Woodruff Sawyer employees have engaged with the AI-powered tool that also features a live coaching component.

Aimee, which stands for “artificial intelligence motivating employees everywhere,” is not affiliated with any financial institution and is currently in use in such firms as Aetna (now CVS Health), Nestlé, the NFL Players Association and Great Place to Work. Financial Finesse claims that the mobile app solution is offered to 46 Fortune 1000-type organizations, including “one iconic social media company.”

The app–which features videos, a calculator tool, articles and webinars, all about financial wellness–closes the action gap when it comes to helping employees manage their finances, according to Financial Finesse CEO Liz Davidson. When an employee tells Aimee they don’t have a will in place, for example, she suggests action steps, provides relevant resources, offers a call with a financial coach and provides links to related employer-provided benefits such as Rocket Lawyer.

See related: HR’s next big investment: employee financial wellness

According to Lisa Painter, a senior consultant with Financial Finesse, Aimee offers “bite-sized” pieces of financial information to advise employees about their finances and the options they can choose. “It’s based on 20 years of our one-on-one coaching and proprietary data that we’ve captured through our financial wellness think tank,” says Painter. “We’re looking at what’s working and what’s not from an online and live human perspective.”

The coaches, who have a minimum of 10 years of financial planning expertise and are available on call to answer employees’ questions, can tap into the emotions of the user and target how they save and spend their money “to move forward with their financial lives,” says Painter.

The financial wellness application space is populated with mobile solutions that aim to lighten the fiscal stress of U.S. employees. LearnLux, for example, blends fiduciary digital planning with access to one-on-one guidance from Certified Financial Planners. Likewise, Tapcheck is a mobile app that integrates with existing payroll programs.

“For many people, the pillars of their financial plan come from their employer–things like retirement, equity, healthcare and insurance, etc.,” says Liebman of LearnLux. “Financial wellbeing programs benefit HR leaders because they help acquire and retain top talent and show employees how to optimize their benefits alongside all other financial decisions from debt to budgeting and planning for the future.”

That’s why experts say that employers who ignore their employees’ financial wellness needs are also ignoring their bottom line.

“We’ve performed research through our think tank to actually show the cost [in terms of] improved productivity, the cost of delayed retirement and what that means in unplanned absenteeism,” Painter says. Keck adds that health issues and workers’ comp claims are other potentially costly side effects of employee financial issues that bleed into the workplace.

And workers are open to receiving help. Employers know this, thanks to employee surveys and exit interviews.

“Almost every survey I have reviewed in the last five years shows that workers want financial wellness as part of their core benefit. If you consider that all of our financial lives start at work with our paycheck, financial wellness should fit right into a core benefit menu,” Painter says.

In fact, one employee who left Woodruff Sawyer for a new position asked about continuing with the Aimee solution.

“I think that shows clearly that these benefits are meaningful to employees,” says Keck.

Phil Albinus
Phil Albinus
Phil Albinus is the former HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children.