Financial Education: What employers need to consider in terms of brand

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• Employer branding on financial education programmes helps to secure the trust and engagement of staff, which is vital when making changes to key financial benefits.

• Financial education is a partnership, and co-branding a programme to identify its origin from the employer and independence via a third-party provider will reflect that.

• Branding a financial education strategy now can pay dividends in the future, counteracting some of the financial uncertainty affecting staff and smoothing the way for auto-enrolment.

Employer branding of financial education can foster trust among employees, says Alison Coleman

Financial education has been a staple offering in the workplace for many years. In the current economic climate, worries over savings and uncertainty over pensions and other aspects of personal finance have made workplace seminars and workshops, information, and benefit modelling tools and calculators more valuable than ever to employees.

Branding its financial education strategy in some way is a logical step for an employer. It reinforces its value as a staff benefit and helps to drive employee engagement.

But there are a number of factors to consider, says Jonathan Watts-Lay, director of financial education provider Wealth at Work. “We are seeing more employers wanting to go the branding route, driven by the fact that they are offering a huge range of financial benefits that many of their employees do not fully understand. What employers have to be mindful of, if they are doing this under their corporate brand, is the fine line between offering education and advice. The former provides the detailed information employees need to make their own financial decision; the latter recommends which decisions to make, a process that is strictly regulated.”

Focusing on provider brand

So where does that leave the employer in terms of aligning its brand with financial education programmes? Jeanette Makings, director of financial education services at Close Asset Management, suggests focusing on the brand of the third-party provider. “The majority of organisations we work with want their workplace financial education programmes to be presented to staff as the Close brand,” she says. “It emphasises the independence of what they are being offered, and that is important when people are making major decisions about their finances that will affect them at various life stages. We believe the provider brand can add value.”

Others disagree, saying the employer brand is the real key to effective financial education programmes. Tobin Murphy-Coles, commercial director at Lorica Consulting, says: “A well-developed and marketed employer brand is seen as a positive thing by the employees, who come to trust that brand. That is incredibly important when changes have to be made to the benefits package. For example, changing pensions provider can create all sorts of issues and worries among employees, but a strong and consistent employer brand will help to allay any worries. Ultimately, it is about the employer getting the kudos as provider of the benefit and the means by which it is communicated and explained to staff.”

However, others argue the case for a combined approach involving shared branding that reflects a partnership around financial education. Neil Hawkins, executive financial education manager at Friends Life, advocates a customised approach. “There are potential concerns about crossing the line between offering information and advice,” he says.

“Third-party providers are keen to have their own brand message in there, albeit at an almost subliminal level, but there is no reason why [employers] cannot co-brand the strategy, using corporate colours and logos alongside the provider’s branding, on promotional materials and multimedia.”

With auto-enrolment looming under the 2012 pension reforms, and no end in sight to the economic turmoil affecting savings and investments, a financial education strategy that communicates the brand of a caring employer is crucial, says Murphy-Coles.†

“An employer may have 50% of its workforce enrolled in its pension scheme. Is it going to wait until the auto-enrolment deadline to start thinking about how it communicates a new system to the other 50%, or does it focus on improving engagement with its current pension using clearly branded and communicated financial education, so that when auto-enrolment does kick in, it will not be a budget killer?”

Read also: How can an employer stand out from the crowd?

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