· 6 min read · Features

Financial education: solutions

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Television adverts with a family sitting around the kitchen table, brandishing calculators and bills, while considering the option of a consolidated loan, are becoming as commonplace on our screens as a repeat of a 1996 episode of Friends.

But it is hardly surprising, considering the sheer volume of negative news about finances over the past few years, that the loan companies are taking advantage.

For employees, the stresses of balancing payments, bills, mortgages, pensions, debt, pensions - not forgetting school uniforms for the kids - are growing. But for millions of workers, that has usually been a consideration only for the hours outside the daily nine-to-five.

Luckily, financial organisations have stepped up to the plate and are using the newfound public interest in money to help make sure people within the workplace understand the products and services they offer and how best to make use of them.

According to insurer Axa, it is already a reality that people will spend some of their working week paying bills, making appointments or searching for financial information, especially if they can access the internet - and it suggests employers formalise this process by allocating a few minutes each week during office hours for people to sort out their finances.

With all the news around money, especially in the wake of the Budget and in advance of auto-enrolment into pensions coming into effect next year, HR suppliers and consultancies are upping their game on ways to make financial education more accessible to the stressed-out workforce.

In March, pensions and insurance provider Standard Life launched Lifelens, an employee pension and benefits portal for its clients' staff.

Standard Life head of strategy and planning Jamie Jenkins says: "Workers trust their employer to educate them about pensions, insurance and general financial planning, after losing confidence in the financial services industry and the Government."

"Employers are paying people's wages, so there is a link to helping staff make the best use of their money," says Jenkins. "Staff may understand the role of pensions, but they need to know the consequences of joining or not joining a company scheme."

Lifelens is an employee-centric portal, designed to provide employee pension and non-pension benefit solutions in the workplace. It has the flexibility to allow an employer to configure the solution to meet the needs of their own employees. It offers a range of savings options, flexible benefits, online payslips, total reward statements, planning and modelling tools, product collateral and educational material.

Jenkins believes staff will engage if they are shown the results of sound financial planning. He explains that people need to think about how they will afford that holiday, wedding, first home or a stress-free retirement.

On 4 April, the Consumer Financial Education Body (CFEB) rebranded as the Money Advice Service (MAS) and has started promoting itself to employers. The CFEB was formed by the FSA and is paid for by a levy on financial institutions.

FSA regional delivery manager Paul Frost says staff want clear unbiased advice and CFEB/MAS has worked with more than 1,600 companies, reaching four million workers. As part of its 'Making the most of your money' workplace education programme, it produces advice literature on retirement planning and general money management.

Many employers have moved from a defined benefit to a defined contribution pension scheme or switched from paying their staff weekly to monthly, which affects family budgeting.

MAS hosts free seminars at employers' premises on topics such as how to take control of your personal finances, whether a loan or a store card is the best way to borrow money, insurance tips and why it is important to make a will. There is also a session on financial jargon-busting.

British Gas dipped its toe in the water by holding a pilot MAS seminar in Manchester in March for 50 staff and the company may now roll out the programme nationally.

"MAS provides advice booklets to our field staff," says British Gas wellbeing manager, Zoe Wilson. "Financial education is just one part of our wellbeing programme and we know employees are more engaged if they feel supported by the organisation."

Age Concern is a partner of MAS and has received funding from the Pensions Education Fund to produce the MoneyTrail interactive CD to help employees plan for their old age. It has worked with Legal & General to offer the CD to businesses.

Pension advice does tend to lead the discussions when financial companies begin talking to employers.

Scottish Widows has an online financial education and guidance service called mymoneyworks (see CSC box), introduced initially as part of its pensions offering and which now combines workplace benefits and personal finance advice.

Employees accessing the website can set personal financial goals and add details of their own savings and investments. There is also a Reality Check service, which asks a series of questions to help users prioritise their financial needs and learn how to address them.

"We are trying to capture the interest of workers in their own financial planning," says John Taylor, market director at Scottish Widows. "We want to improve their understanding of fundamental areas such as the need for life cover if they have dependents."

Friends Provident is another company to extend its financial education package away from purely talking about pensions, with the launch of My money and me.

The programme includes a series of education modules with interactive sessions where workers talk about their hopes for retirement. "They discuss what they want to do and achieve and the need for long-term saving rather than going through specific pension products," says Friends Provident financial education consultant, Chris Allen.

Many workers are involved in company share schemes designed as incentives to attract, retain and motivate staff. In January, share registrar Equiniti decided to take a completely off-the-wall approach by producing an online financial literacy campaign featuring a cartoon operetta to engage the UK's 18 million shareholders with complex financial topics. Called The Big Picture; Hens and equities, the operetta includes a series of short clips about inflation.

It may have featured singing chickens, but covered the serious topic of how inflation can affect a nest egg. Future modules will cover retirement planning and saving for children.

The cartoon idea included a game element, which Equiniti head of products and marketing, Henryk Dubeck, says engages people because it plays to their competitive spirit. "We also send a monthly e-newsletter to 250,000 employees on share registers and the opening rate is a healthy 25%, which shows how people want and need help with financial education."

With the austerity measures biting, the subject of personal finance is rarely out of the headlines. As employees take more of an interest in financial products, companies can tap into this curiosity to help them and their staff.

 

CSC: mymoneyworks portal with Widows

The HR team at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) worked closely with the internal financial services department to develop a mymoneyworks online portal with Scottish Widows.

The IT and business processes company wanted to provide its technology-savvy 7,500 UK staff with engaging financial advice on more than just pensions.

"From an HR perspective, the portal had to be about information, guidance and support," says reward and recognition manager Donna Nind. "It had to be online, but there also needed to be telephone support for people if they required it."

Before the portal was launched, employee knowledge of financial issues varied considerably.

Many staff had come from a pensions and benefits tradition where their employer looked after them through defined benefit provision. "We were now asking them to make decisions about their retirement planning and for some this was scary," says Nind.

New services are being added to the portal this year, including a more comprehensive retirement planner and a section on the value of personal loans versus credit cards.

The company has a flexible benefits package and Nind says about 16% of workers log on to the portal at least once a month.

"Employers spend a lot of time and money making benefits available to employees and they do not always understand the value of them or which to choose. We can help to guide them so they make informed financial decisions that are right for them, which means they are less worried at work about money issues."


Informa: microsite with Friends

When media company Informa moved from defined benefit to defined contribution, it wanted to educate its 3,000 UK staff about their eligibility to join the company's group personal pension (GPP).

HR director Tom Humphries organised workshops with Friends Provident to increase the 50% take-up of the GPP scheme. He also wanted to explain what the implications would be of the company moving to the new National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) workplace pension in 2013. "We needed our employees to be financially-savvy around NEST," says Humphries.

The company also launched a corporate ISA this year. "The average age of our workforce is 36, the time when people want to plan for the future - but their priorities are paying off student debt or saving for a wedding or house deposit. The corporate ISA is an alternative investment vehicle and at the end of the term they can draw down on funds or wrap it into their pension," he says.

Informa's pension provider Friends Provident created a microsite separate from, but accessed through, the company intranet. "Everything is branded Informa and my remit was to strip out all the financial jargon which can turn people off and act as a psychological barrier," said Humphries.

Friends Provident also ran a two-hour workshop to explain the commercial reasons why Informa had to close its final salary pension scheme to new recruits.

"Every employer should consider some form of financial education, to give staff the tools and knowledge to get the most from their salary at this tough time," says Humphries.