· 5 min read · Features

Financial education: employer case studies

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Gone are the days when bosses paid staff and that was about as involved as they got in their employees’ finances.

According to Mercer's Employee Rewards, Benefits and Savings Survey, published last November, 16% of firms now provide their staff with financial planning tools so they can work out their pensions.

It may not sound a lot, but with defined contribution pension enrolment just over a year away, individuals are expected to make more of their investment decisions themselves. As confirmation, a further 28% of firms promise they will also offer planning tools to employees in the next year, according to the same survey.

The reason? For starters, it's what most staff want: 86% want it, in fact. But there's much more to it than that. The paternalistic cycle has gone full circle. In March, Standard Life revealed that 80% of employers now say they feel responsible for their employees' financial security, with 22% feeling primarily responsible (Insights into Financial Responsibility report).

The credit crunch has invariably had some impact. As companies shed staff, or award below-inflation pay rises (average incomes recently dropped for the first time in 20 years), half of businesses believe providing financial education is more important now than it was five years ago. Unsurprisingly, statistics from the Open University, which has run six-month, flexible, part-time 'You and your money' courses on behalf of employers for the past three years, proves it: more than 7,000 students have completed it.

Savvy employers know that providing financial education is something that sets them apart (64% think it will attract employees). So how are companies going about it and how easy is it? HR magazine looks at the organisations that are helping staff become more financially astute.

Standard Chartered

Just because Standard Chartered is a bank doesn't mean all of its staff are financial mavens. In the past, Standard has run rather-piecemeal financial education campaigns, ranging from informal sessions taking staff through pensions and tax reforms to generic training on its share save scheme. But David Curtis, its group head of pensions and benefits, says a much more consistent scheme was needed.

"These previous attempts at financial education were not very enticing or engaging to people and we missed our targets on encouraging staff to save more," he says. "To change this, we're launching an IT platform developed with Vebnet that doesn't push particular schemes, such as pensions or share ownership, but instead says any type of saving is good, and it will give them help and advice along the way."

To start with, it will offer staff Standard Chartered's own products, although in time it will branch out to other, generic saving options. "Critical to all of this, though," adds Curtis, "is that it will explain how the product works and also enable staff to set targets for what they would like over their life and what they need to do to achieve this."

The scheme only launched last month (April) and at the time of interview Curtis was busy communicating the project, everything from advertising it internally on cup-holders, to email teaser campaigns. "What is important is that we've pooled our financial education information so that it is in an easier place for staff to access," says Curtis. "We even ran pre-implementation surveys with staff so we could get a sense of people's issues. One of the things we found was that staff revealed concern about the level of knowledge they had - such as over-estimating what their pension outcomes would be. But there was also strong reaction to other savings options."

The system will be rolled out to all Standard Chartered's UK employees this year and to the rest of the world in 2012. "We have tried to inform staff how easy it is for them to amend their choices and see how it impacts on their take-home pay and pensions," says Curtis. "We have never had this level of personality to financial education before."

Staff with pensions will be protected at a minimum 9% contribution, so staff can't skim money off here into other products, but the idea of the portal is to gradually see how staff use it. "If we make information available, individuals can decide how much or how little they want," he concludes.

Curtis isn't aiming for a set number of users, but with the bank matching any money staff put into the choices they can have access to, he believes this extra enticement will make the project a success.

 

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer prides itself on having one of the lowest staff turnover rates in the retail sector, which means most of its 70,000-plus employees will often have no other input in their financial affairs than the money they receive each month in their pay packets. In that context, M&S senior remuneration and employee share schemes manager, Ann Govier, says she decided to launch its 'Your M&S Financial Education' programme in May 2009.

It was launched for two distinct reasons: "First, we want staff to have a better understanding of the perceived value of our existing reward/benefits package, such as our share scheme and pension; but secondly, we wanted to help employees make better financial decisions and plan for a more secure future."

She says: "M&S believes financial health is integral to an individual's overall wellbeing, whatever their personal circumstances and priorities." But the sheer size of the company presented its own hurdles. "From an early stage, we realised that the needs of our diverse workforce would not be satisfied by a 'one size fits' all approach," she says - which is why she joined forces with employee financial education provider Wealth at Work to roll out a programme developed in partnership with the Consumer Financial Education Body.

Through the partnership, financial education programmes were also stratified, from management, covering all levels from executive directors, right through to newly employed graduates. However, each target has a two-tiered approach: general and specific.

"We provide general financial education - comprising general seminars and an employee website, providing information on the key elements of financial planning and wellbeing, such as savings and investments, debt management, tax efficiency, maximising benefits," says Govier. "But we also have more focused financial education: targeted seminars, webcasts and 1:1 personal sessions providing detailed information on specific topics such as legislative changes, share schemes, and company benefit changes."

Seminars (typically lasting half a day) were organised to reach staff direct, but continuing support was provided online (such as with podcasts) via M&S's wellbeing website. "Ultimately, for the business, our financial education helps us build a workforce who feel more valued, more engaged and who are getting the most out of the benefits we offer them," says Govier. "But there have certainly been personal benefits for those undertaking the course: 94% of attendees say their understanding of money has improved and 92% that they intend to take positive action relating to their personal finances as a result."

Such is the success of this project, financial education is now a continuing part of M&S's employee benefits proposition.

Tesco

In 2008, Tesco launched a financial education programme for all of its 280,000 employees. It mainly comprised distributing the FSA's 'Just the facts about making the most with your money' booklet, supplemented with a separate update on Tesco's own annual benefits, with hour-long briefings for staff in its distribution centres. "We want to ensure we are doing all we can to encourage staff to take up all the benefits available to them and, by linking with the FSA, to ensure they have access to information about how best to manage their finances," says a Tesco spokesman. The programme is still ongoing.

Norfolk County Council

Paul Brittain, finance director at Norfolk County Council, has just overseen managing budget cuts upwards of £60 million this year, including removing 750 posts and nearly 1,000 jobs. However, he says he still believes in having a commitment to providing financial education to staff. "We need a financially literate workforce," he says. "And we're looking at actively improving our level of training and education. The courses are in place - we have decided to develop our own in-house ones, rather than go to outside providers - but we're just waiting on going through a process of making sure they will definitely happen. We think it will. It is important that budgeting knowledge - the sort of stuff we financial people are good at - is extended to all staff."