How To Reduce Financial Stress And Boost Productivity

A Massachusetts cooperative shows what financial coaching looks like when it’s done the Workers way.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Attracting and retaining talent remains a key challenge for credit unions.
  • Workers Credit Union offers free financial wellness coaching for members and employees. Trained coaches listen, answer questions, and provide tools and support for good decisions.

Financial stress costs employers $4.7 billion per week, according to a recent Bright Plan survey. And just as the pandemic has made it more challenging to hire new workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.5 million people quit their jobs in August of 2021.

Many companies offer employees physical and mental health benefits, but financial wellness rarely gets the same consideration. Workers Credit Union ($2.2B, Littleton, MA) believes financial wellness coaching is the next frontier of employee benefits and has made it a key differentiator in its own business. Under its “Workers Way” program, the credit union has transformed its front-line staff into financial wellness coaches.

Peter Rice, Chief Banking Officer, Workers Credit Union

Here, chief banking officer Peter Rice shares more about the program and its roots.

When did workers introduce Workers Way financial coaching? And, why?

Peter Rice: It’s been in full operation for two years, but we’ve offered the program for three years in total. I’m a big believer in piloting things.

The goal of the coaching is to help people understand their financial wellness like they might understand their mental and physical health. It’s the last leg to that stool, but many don’t understand what financial wellness means. It doesn’t necessarily equate to being richer, it’s about getting value from your life and understanding the psychology behind your relationship with money. It’s not a spreadsheet operation, nor is it about products and services. It’s about understanding members’ hopes, dreams and worries across the financial spectrum.

Talk more about the program. What makes it different from other coaching programs?

PR: Our financial wellness coaching is about turning the traditional financial services model on its head. Our locations are not transaction centers, they are planning centers, and everyone in our branches is a trained coach certified by the National Financial Educators Council. Our program empowers people by giving them the knowledge to make their own best decisions. We’re not going to tell someone they’re spending too much money, we’re there to listen without judgement.

We offer coaching through whatever channels are most convenient. It usually starts as in-person but can switch to video through our ITMs, Zoom, phone, text, or other channels. We have a lot of flexibility and give staff flexibility as well. Evenings are better for some staff and some members.

Is there a set number of sessions for members to complete?

PR: Individuals want coaching and advice for different reasons, so it depends on the goal for that member. In some cases, it might be two coaching sessions, in others it might be four sessions. If the issue has been resolved, we might not hear back from that member for a year or two.

However, we believe in the member for life concept. We encourage regular check-ins to see how members are doing. The program is built on some of the same concepts that have proven successful for organizations in the physical health space, such as diet apps, to get to the psychology behind habits and help members understand and break down barriers.

Who has completed the program so far?

PR: All our employees go through the program as part of their certification process. We’ve had 4,500 members complete financial wellness coaching sessions as well. We’re also offering the program as a free benefit for Massachusetts employers.

CU QUICK FACTS

WORKERS CREDIT UNION
Data as of 09.30.21

HQ: Littleton, MA
ASSETS: $2.2B
MEMBERS: 115,630
BRANCHES: 16
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 24.3%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 1.0%
ROA: 0.53%

What results have you seen from offering the coaching?

PR: The statistics are stunning. The depth of member relationships has increased as coaching sessions are completed. For example, we have a 35% penetration rate with checking accounts in our general membership population. In members who completed four coaching sessions, that penetration rate shot up to 82%, and we’re seeing similar trends for other products and services. Even though the coaching sessions are not focused on products, those are the business results we’re seeing.

In terms of our employees, we’ve always had a low turnover rate, but we’re seeing improvement there as well. Anecdotally, we had a member who went through the process and decided to become an employee because of it. She wanted to help others the way Workers helped her. That was one of the best moments in this entire journey.

Have there been drawbacks to employees coaching one another, such as not wanting co-workers to know what they make or how they’re spending?

PR: The way to battle shame and stigma is with openness. As a society, we haven’t addressed financial wellness in the same way we’re addressing mental health. You must tell your own story, so I start with myself. I talk about my mistakes and the moments in life when my wellbeing and finances intersected.

I’m a single father. I lost my first wife to cancer. She was diagnosed shortly after our second son was born, and she didn’t have life insurance. This was a struggle for me to address, even with a good education and a good job. Another personal example: I had a beloved pet dog who passed away, and I couldn’t bring myself to cancel the recurring health insurance payments. You go on with your life and don’t address something and a lot of money goes down the drain.

If you’re open and honest, it makes it easier for others to do the same. I’m better for sharing these stories. My financial health and mental health are stronger.

What advice do you have for other credit unions considering their own financial wellness initiatives?

PR: Follow your purpose, and don’t be complacent about it. We must evolve at the pace our members are evolving. The game is changing. A lot of organizations have focused on digital transformation. Although better digital experiences can remove friction, people transform lives. We have an opportunity to coach people on their financial wellness, how to be successful with their money, and how to leverage money to maximize its value.

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