Financial Education: Effective networking is vital

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• Financial education is now likely to include interactive and online tools, such as quizzes and modellers.
• These can help staff to better understand complex financial topics and engage with their benefits package.
• Some employers give staff time during the working day to use interactive tools.

Case study: BT transmits a model approach to financial education

BT offers a voluntary programme of financial education for employees aged over 50 to help them begin planning for retirement. This includes seminars, offered in conjunction with provider Wealth at Work, as well as BT’s own online pensions modelling tool.

Dennis Gissing, head of people practices at BT, says: “We have a very diverse workforce and around 30% of our employees are aged 50 and above.

“One of the problems we had is the pace of change of employment and tax laws, and, of course, pension scheme changes. We supported our efforts with website information. We did not want participants to go away with simply a paper pack of information that would need updating. Changes are picked up by revisions to the website, so current information is available as it arises.”

Using the pensions modeller, staff can model various scenarios to show what benefits might be available to them in different circumstances. “For instance, the pensionable age in 2009 was 60 and staff could draw their pension in full,” says Gissing. “In 2009, the pensionable age was moved to 65. The modeller takes into account the principle of actuarial reduction – the earlier they go, the greater the reduction will be. The modeller will know what will happen if [staff] go at 55 and make the adjustments.”

These tools help staff to make lifestyle choices while being fully aware of the possible financial consequences. “The tools give staff personal choices in terms of when do they want to stop amassing a bigger pension, in favour of stopping work sooner. The [tolls] are there to get staff thinking about what they are aiming for. They may have a bereavement to contend with, or care or health issues.”

Interactive tools can be a persuasive way to get employees interested in financial matters, says Roger Carter

Sexing up the perennially arid subject of financial literacy is a challenge for even the most creative of communicators. To help employers engage staff in such matters, a host of interactive tools have been developed in recent years.

In fields such as pensions, tax-efficient benefits, flexible benefits and share schemes, financial education is now likely to include interactive and online modelling tools, as HR moves towards ever-more sophisticated communication techniques, including webcasts, light-hearted presentations, blogs and other forms of social networking.

Colin Mayes, European PR manager at consultancy Aon Hewitt, says: “With the help of IT interactivity and other methods, if [employers] can get staff to engage and understand these financial products, then, ultimately, they will value them more, and [employers] will bolster retention.”

Interactive offerings available

Employers can now take advantage of interactive offerings from providers such as Aviva, Axa, Cigna, Legal and General, and Vebnet. These include Aviva’s virtual pensions guide, complete with a television-style presenter, to walk workers through their own scheme, and healthcare provider Cigna’s online questioning, which helps staff analyse dental issues to aid long-term oral care.

In a similar vein, Punch Taverns offers an interactive quiz, constructed by provider Vebnet, which is aimed at helping staff to identify lifestyle choices in relation to their benefits. Through the questionnaire, employees find themselves categorised in various animal guises, such as Happy Hedgehogs or Floating Butterflies.

In February this year, share registrar Equiniti launched an online financial literacy campaign featuring a Gilbert and Sullivan-style cartoon operetta to give its 18 million UK shareholders a better understanding of complex financial topics. Entitled The Big Picture: Hens and Equities, the operetta features singing chickens but covers the serious topic of how inflation can affect a savings nest egg and jeopardise a person’s entire financial wellbeing.

Barnyard operetta attracts attention

Henryk Dubeck, head of products and marketing of Equiniti’s Investment Services division, says: “The starting point behind the barnyard operetta was a belief that while many people do understand financial concepts such as inflation, they are often not confident to use the knowledge in their day-to-day decisions. Our aim is to surface this financial knowledge and give people the confidence to act on what they know, instead of being intimidated. For us, the modular structure of this pilot project delivered on all counts: quirky animation, interactive quiz and survey gathering opinions.

“Our aim was to generate interest in our audience, give them the confidence to seek out what they want to know, and apply what they learn to their financial decisions. We want to encourage involvement and engagement, not just impart knowledge.”

The use of interactive software has become important enough for many organisations to allocate monthly time allowances during the working day for staff to get to grips with the tools.

But the advantages of often-expensive interactive offerings may depend on where employees are on their learning journey. Jonathan Watts-Lay, director of Wealth at Work, says: “Employers need to keep their staff awake long enough to talk about pensions. They have to get the education right, before they get them online. It takes a lot of work to whet their appetite.

“If they have got 25-year-old graduate trainees on low salaries, they are not going to get them excited about pensions – they might be focused on buying a car or saving for a deposit on a flat. The point is, [employers] could have the best interactive site in the world, but they are not going to get people like that interested.

“At the other end of the scale, when employers have got someone in their 50s with an eye on retirement, then talk to them about pensions, use an interactive calculator, show them all the pensions they have got, use the tools to highlight the alternatives in the closing gap until retirement. In short, [employers] must segment the workforce and work out what will drive that group. If they present benefits in the right way, employees will know what is in it for them.”

To get the most from interactive financial education tools, employers should think about what they offer in a clear, holistic way. For example, with the arrival of corporate wrap platforms, which encompass pensions, share schemes and corporate individual savings accounts (Isas) among other benefits, if employers do not educate people, workers may not know why they are going online.

One-to-one help for employees

Angus Jones, chief executive of independent financial advice firm Clarity, says: “Workers often need to be supported with one-to-one help, so a person who is moving up in the organisation may need extra help in assessing their package.”

It is also vital to monitor website or intranet traffic and benefits promotions. Jones adds: “Employers have got to have a range of tools that reach workers so they can solicit three responses. Firstly, databases must record and analyse information from them. Secondly, [employers] must educate [staff] and have calculators in a learning area they can use for their own research. And thirdly, it is about the ability to act there and then. For instance, [staff] have got to have the buttons that, say, allow them to increase their pension contributions by 3% per annum.

“Multimedia and electronic offerings must exist wherever possible to encourage staff about the benefits they will get from using it. Using a pensions calculator may in itself not be very interesting, but maybe getting [staff] to set a scene and positioning the context of a lifestyle goal is a vital theme. A person with decades-long contemplation of retirement may want a second home in Malaysia. It is the thought of such things that will get [staff] excited about financial education.”

Interactive tools can also help to ensure staff do not miss out on the basics. Watts-Lay explains: “Let’s say you have a sharesave scheme. If staff put in the maximum of £250 a month for three years, they get a bonus governed by HM Revenue and Customs. If the share price bombs in the three years, they will get their money back and will get a bonus on top. The upside of successful share performance over those three years is a whole heap better, to boot.

“But if you simply present a worker with a share scheme modelling tool and tell them to go to a website, they just will not do it. The only way to encourage staff to use these tools is to give them the reason why. From that seed, everything else will grow.”

The rise of social networking

• While interactive methods such as online modelling tools and, to some extent, webcasts and podcasts, seem well-trodden territory, the ‘undiscovered country’ seems to be blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and smart phone apps (although JLT has developed a free BenPal pensions modeller app).

• Take-up of social networking to assist in financial literacy seems sparse, at best.

• HR tends to look at effectiveness in terms of take-up. With pensions, for example, this is relatively easy to measure. Social networking is far more difficult to assess in terms of impact, although forums such as Facebook do have the advantage of appealing to younger members of the workforce.

• Twitter may be seen as too much like a news feed, which can seem too transient to be put front and centre around financial education.

• Engaging employees with interactive financial education tools has to start with getting the proposition right.

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• When people have a good experience, they are likely to tell others about it, and sites such as Facebook can help to facilitate this. However, the jury is out on whether this will be a future springboard to propagate financial literacy and education.

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