BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said in his 2020 annual shareholder’s report that “workers lack of preparedness for retirement is fueling enormous anxiety and fear, under-mining productivity in the workplace…”
Employers simply cannot rest their laurels on the fact that, up until the pandemic, the economy has been buzzing along for years with little incidence to employees’ wallets. Would it surprise you to know that inflation at the end of December 2021 was at 7%? Or that this is the highest it’s been since June 1982? And if culture is as great a factor as so many articles claim, companies cannot ignore the stress of their staff, especially financial, should be part of the overall enrichment program. Financial Wellness addresses emotional, mental, and overall health and well-being, and is multicultural, which addresses multiple aspects of well-rounded wellness programming. What’s also interesting is the racial wealth gap in our country. While white households earn, on average, 2 times more than minority households, the wealth gap can be as high as 10 times between white and non-white households. There is little scientific proof for this disparity, although some research speculates differences in wealth accumulation and savings strategies.
Investing in the stock market is not inherent. It’s overwhelming, complex and certainly not user friendly at the onset. It is, however, accessible to everyone, especially today. If senior management truly wants to show care for its human capital, financial education is imperative. Providing investment education might also help to narrow the racial wealth gap among staff, therefore perhaps reducing stress among workers across the board. Companies who have already begun to provide such fin lit resources have seen increased productivity and reduced stress among employees who choose to participate, according to an October 2021 article by SHRM.
Without delving into the technical aspects of stock market returns over the years, it can’t be ignored that, from 2011 to 2020, the benchmark S&P 500, which comprises about 500 of the largest publicly traded companies, has seen average adjusted (for inflation) returns of over 10%, which beats inflation, even at current levels. If you remove the 3 down years for the S&P, returns for the remaining 6 years were up an average of over 14%. The point here is that, if employees take measures to put some of their savings into stocks, whether through mutual funds, individual stocks or other vehicles, they can improve their overall financial health and well-being, without having to physically and mentally tax themselves with additional work. This can help them stay focused and happy and productive while at work. This, in turn, can bring about a happier, healthier community of employees.
This commentary is not suggesting that specific investment ideas should be provided to participants, but more guidance towards building the confidence to take action towards investing. The approach is a process, beginning with the development of a sound money mindset that is unique to each individual. This is an important first step, as it helps people understand their own relationship with money, and determine what type of investor they are, i.e., risk averse, aggressive, income-oriented. The norm to date has been inviting representatives from third party 401(k) administrators to speak to employees about retirement savings. Unfortunately, while this may provide general information about the company’s plan, it falls short of educating people on understanding their own financial management. Often, these presentations are generic and only address the funds/investment vehicles and features of that specific plan. In addition, the third party companies have vested interest in generating more potential business own the road. Having spent over 20 years in the investment arena, brokerage firms and banks typically don’t create actionable plans for participants that address their mindset, emotion and self directed options (such as utilizing robo-advisors or online investing apps).
During each presentation that I facilitate, I always ask how many participants are invested in the stock market. Inevitably, at least half respond with comments such as “It is too scary right now to invest”, or “I don’t know what to buy or how”. Technology and knowledge together can help workers feel more confident when putting their money to work for them, and this confidence builds over time and with more experience. In other words, by offering investing education to your staff, you’re helping them to become better versions of themselves, and to create stronger legacies for their future. Imagine the possibilities.
The Big Picture
Creating your own investment portfolio can be daunting, with so many investment vehicles available. An independent financial educator can bridge this confusing gap by breaking down the steps into small, achievable and understandable segments that workers can review and apply on their own, when they feel ready. This segmented approach also provides room for further questions to be asked by individuals who may need further guidance or clarification on specific topics, like whether to choose a mutual fund over an ETF. The bottom line is, that if employers want to continue to improve their company’s bottom line, they should provide workers with as many tools as possible to set everyone up for success.
This article is authored by Julie Weidenfeld, an independent Financial Wellness Consultant at PeakHealth360. It is meant for general and informational purposes only, and does not provide or attempt to offer any specific investment advice or promote specific investment vehicles for individuals or organizations. Investing in any securities does carry risk and past performance does not guarantee future results.