Why CFOs Should Play A Role In Employee Financial Well-Being

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Providing financial wellness programs for employees is good for talent—and good for the business, says Ralph L. Leung, CFO of Achieve.

Debt-related stress can not only impact an employee’s well-being, but also their employer’s bottom line, says Ralph L. Leung, CFO of Achieve, based in San Mateo, California. Companies can help by providing workplace financial wellness programs—and CFOs, with their expertise, should play an integral role in that effort.

Leung has led more than a dozen IPO processes end-to-end as lead-left underwriter, numerous private fundraises from Series A through D, and successfully raised more than $60 billion of equity and debt capital, including as both CFO and as investment banker. He spoke with StrategicCFO360 about the impact of employee financial stress, what companies can do and how the CFO role is changing.

How do personal finance-related issues impact employees’ performance and morale at work?

Many people consider their personal financial journey a private and sensitive topic, especially at work. While it’s an understandable sentiment, it can lead to employees who are grappling with significant financial challenges, despite appearing to be doing well on the surface.

Only recently has there been much awareness of all the ways debt can take a toll on people, including while they are at work. One recent financial wellness study of employees of medium and large companies found that among workers experiencing debt stress, about half reported spending an average of one hour per week at work dealing with their debt-related issues. The study—independent research conducted by the nonprofit Financial Health Network—also found that 65 percent of respondents reported debt-related stress was affecting their physical health, while 40 percent reported having to skip at least one day of work due to debt issues in the past year. 

Debt-related matters can cause employees to lose focus at work and they may need to temporarily step away from their jobs to handle their private financial matters. In addition, being distracted at work can lead to professional setbacks, and can even create hazardous work environments for some workers. Strong and healthy workplaces thrive on employees with high levels of positive morale, but staying upbeat at work can be a challenge for those with lingering financial issues. 

Why should companies invest in employees’ well-being, especially when it comes to their financial security?

Employees are the foundation of a successful company, and in return, employers must find ways to support the physical, emotional and financial well-being of their staff in flexible ways. This starts with organizations doing their part to help employees achieve financial security. For example, investing in employees through financial wellness benefits programs demonstrate that a company values its employees and is committed to helping them be financially secure. Financial wellness programs also effectively increase employees’ satisfaction levels, which can reduce turnover and recruitment costs. 

While companies frequently offer workers healthcare and retirement benefits, there is a need for more assistance in the financial wellness space. Employer-sponsored financial wellness benefits are a great way to provide helpful tools to employees to aid in their financial journeys. Providing financial education tools is often a great start for employers looking to help employees make more informed financial decisions. Programs surrounding financial literacy and debt-related financial support can also encourage employees to learn more about their financial options.

How can CFOs advocate for financial wellness programs?

The role of the CFO is constantly evolving. From my perspective, every CFO has the responsibility to ensure their company remains financially stable with an eye toward managing growth and risk, while also focusing on giving employees the resources to work effectively day-to-day and reach and maintain a comfortable financial situation.

Given their unique role, CFOs can be a trusted voice in the workplace, especially when it comes to financial wellness topics. Allocating budget dollars and planning for the future are core tenets of the CFO’s job. That makes us a natural fit to champion employer-sponsored financial wellness benefits, both in the C-Suite and when it comes to encouraging employees to participate in these programs.

CFOs should embrace the role of mentor and encourage employees to be proactive about their financial wellness—especially with more junior workers who are still developing their personal finance skills. This can help employees establish good money habits early on and help those who are already struggling regain stability faster. As more workers seek out upskilling and other development programs to advance their careers, companies should also consider offering financial wellness education tools to complement resources that help workers hone their professional skills.

How do financial wellness programs increase productivity and employee retention?

The workplace can be full of distractions, but personal financial issues shouldn’t be one of them. Employers can be proactive about addressing the issues their workers face by offering financial wellness benefits programs that are designed to reduce debt-related stress. In today’s highly competitive job market, employers must look to new, innovative measures to keep employees engaged with their work and satisfied with their jobs. By providing these benefits to their workers, companies also realize tangible benefits in the form of increased productivity, job satisfaction and employee retention. This is incredibly important, especially in today’s competitive job market.

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