A recent PwC study cited Financial Wellness as the new employee benefit in greatest demand today. Financial Wellness goes beyond just education (“financial literacy”) and considers the psychology around how people think about and feel about their money (“financial psychology”). While scores of personal finance apps crowd the market, household finances in the US are in their worst shape ever. Financial wellness solutions perfectly complement the member-centric mission of credit unions, helping members improve their overall wellness, while enhancing credit unions’ relationships with their members.
What is Financial Wellness?
Financial wellness refers to the overall health of your finances, including income, savings, investments, expenses, and debts. It means feeling good about your financial situation, and not spending too much time stressing over how you’re going to pay bills or make ends meet every month. Or, how you’re going to retire, take that trip to Machu Pichu you’ve dreamed about, or pay for your 2-year old’s college education. The CFPB defines financial wellness as security and freedom, now and in the future. That is, feeling confident that you can take care of life’s necessities right now, and in the future, but also, that you have the freedom to do those things that make you happy – a nice dinner or vacation, for example – but also the freedom to pursue your life’s dreams throughout your life. Importantly, this definition of financial wellness includes nothing about deposit accounts, credit cards, student loans, or investments.
Why Does it Matter?
Just like physical and mental health, financial wellness is something that people can improve. But why should they bother? Here are just a few reasons to care about your members’ (and employees’!) financial wellness.
It alleviates a significant source of stress
Money is one of the most common sources of stress in our lives. In fact, financial stress has been linked to a whole host of health problems, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and even heart disease. So improving financial wellness can positively impact your overall physical and mental wellbeing (remember, they’re all connected!)
It offers greater work/life balance
If you’re constantly stressed about money, it’s tough to focus on anything else. Members might start overworking themselves by picking up extra hours or yet another side hustle.
When you devote so much time and energy to work, it’s easy to lose track of the people in your life who matter most—your family. Improving your financial health will alleviate the need to focus so much energy on work, and make you more effective in both your work and personal lives.
It helps people achieve big goals and dreams
Where do you see yourself when you close your eyes and dream of the future? Do you want to be a homeowner? Maybe you want to start a business? Even if you’re just looking to have a little extra cash to travel or you want to buy a fancier car, financial wellness can help you achieve big goals and small ones, by creating a reasonable plan and sticking to it by developing healthy money habits.
Why Does Financial Wellness Matter for Credit Unions?
US consumers’ and many credit union members’, financial lives are on the precipice of disaster – living paycheck to paycheck, little to no savings, too much debt, and unprepared for retirement. Banks and FinTechs offer a variety of Personal Financial Management (PFM) tools and apps, but clearly something is missing. These solutions fall into three categories, generally: budgeting, savings, and investing. Some are too generic, failing to consider the unique circumstances and attitudes of the user. Others are too complicated, requiring way too much of the user’s valuable time. But the biggest shortcoming of these solutions is how quickly they resort to selling financial products! (One app, after just a few minutes of use, offers the consumer to create a ”do-it-yourself” estate plan. Really.) And often these financial product solutions are debt consolidation loans that don’t really address the root cause of the user’s financial situation.
By promoting true financial wellness, credit unions can move from being a financial product supermarket – competing with big banks on rates and fees – to trusted financial counselors. That means knowing your members, understanding their situation, and their aspirations in life, and helping them achieve those goals. Isn’t that what being “member-centric” is all about?
How Can Members Improve Financial Wellness?
The good news is that credit unions can help members improve their financial wellness. Doing so requires a combination of tools and tactics:
- A holistic approach: Financial health isn’t an end goal in and of itself—people are complex beings with life goals, and financial wellness is merely a stepping stone to give people more choice and opportunity when it comes to building a life they love.
- Knowledge: When it comes to financial wellness, knowledge is power. The more consumers know about their financial situation, the better equipped they’ll be to make informed decisions to improve financial health. This is thought of as “financial literacy” or Money IQ. It requires understanding the fundamentals of budgeting, credit, and investments. It also requires recognizing your situation and where you need to make changes.
- Behavior: Of course, financial wellness isn’t just about what you know—it’s also about understanding financial behaviors. Financial health requires effort and discipline, but like so many human behaviors, our financial decisions are often shaped by emotion: I know I should save more money, but I really want that new handbag. Money EQ is the ability to identify and manage the reactions and emotions that influence your personal finances.
- Tools: Financial wellness requires employing the right tools. There are many devices available, but some of the most important are budgets, plans, and SMART goals. Everyone knows you should have a budget, but that doesn’t require sorting every expense into 50 different categories. One simple method is the 50/30/20 system, in which 50% of your income goes to your Needs, essential expenses like housing, transportation, and food, 30% goes to Wants, non-essentials like travel and entertainment. The last 20% goes to savings or paying down debt.
Next, everyone should have a plan, which forms the basis for their financial decisions. Plans can be short term, such as going back to school or saving for a vacation, or long term, like retiring by age 60. Of course, we are human, and when life happens our plans often need to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a plan. Rather, we just need to stay flexible in our planning.
Finally, everyone should have goals, specifically SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. “I want to run a marathon” is not a SMART goal, but “I will train 4 times a week for the next 16 weeks to prepare to run a marathon.” A SMART financial goal would be “I will save $20 per week for a year to establish an emergency fund of $1,000.” Psychologists have shown that these people have greater success of meeting their objectives when using SMART goals.
Using these tools and tactics can help consumers achieve financial wellness. And by facilitating this journey to financial wellness, credit unions can forge broader, deeper, and more sustainable relationships with their members, while capturing a greater share of wallet from competitors.
Julep is On a Mission to Improve Financial Wellness for All
Julep is a unique financial wellness app that pairs cognitive and behavioral insights with goal-tracking features to help users achieve any financial milestone. So, whatever your member’s goal is, the path is customized to fit their exact financial situation. Julep partners with credit unions to offer a customized member experience while promoting and supporting the credit union’s brand and relationships.