Americans are feeling the financial squeeze. According to Rebel data, the top three financial concerns in 2023 for American households were high food prices (83%), paying monthly bills (60%), and high gas prices (56%).
Let’s just say… life is expensive these days. Credit card debt has reached a new high of $1.079 trillion, with credit card delinquency toppling 50% year over year growth—for the third quarter running. And nearly 50% of American households have no retirement savings. Yep, you read that right—50%.
Financial pressure is wreaking havoc on our ability to relax. To connect the dots, 74% of Americans report that their finances stress them out. In fact, money issues are the number one issue couples fight about. And just to add some more dulling stats, low financial literacy levels have an outsized impact on personal outcomes. Approximately 40% of Americans have below-average financial literacy levels. How depressing.
On the heels of the intensity of the season, the zeitgeist is focused on financial wellness. We can get behind a general definition of what financial wellness is: the measure of a person’s ability to meet their short and long-term financial demands and obligations while living a lifestyle of their own choosing.
There’s a general definition of what financial wellness is, but depending on where you look in the market, you’ll get a diverse set of product and service options. Personal budgeting tools, the overall picture of your finances, the specific digital platforms we use to accomplish X or Y financial goals, financial literacy education, retirement savings plans, emergency saving plans, and financial tips and tricks—are all categorized as financial wellness programs—and are all very, very different.
Instinctively, we can all agree that financial wellness as a service is valuable. There’s a ton of market research available that identifies a market opportunity—not to mention the crunch Americans feel when managing their cash presents a present-day use case. The financial wellness market is expected to grow $1.89B by the year 2028.
In response to the increasing pressure, there’s even interest from employers who are looking to provide more support to their employees. 84% of business stakeholders report that financial wellness benefits increase employee satisfaction and retention.
However, despite the clarity on the need or use case for financial wellness, there seems to be an overwhelming lack of clarity on what financial wellness as a service actually is—and how employers deliver it to their workforce. Given the ambiguity, it makes sense that while 96% of employers feel somewhat or extremely responsible for their employees' financial wellness— only 2 out of 5 employers actually offer financial wellness programs.
Financial wellness products and services are up against a few hurdles in the market. First, there’s a natural uphill battle to face in user adoption—regardless of how it’s being distributed (e.g., workplace bennie or direct to consumer). The user brings to the table unconscious biases and their own experiences with money that often prevent them from consistently engaging with financial wellness products. As a result, product owners and business stakeholders of financial wellness products often lament that attracting and maintaining engagement is really difficult.
Next, the fanfare and buzz around the industry and services itself has seemed to create confusion in the execution of financial wellness. Yes, these products could serve an enormous and ongoing need in the marketplace—but what is it?! In general, employers seem to be really confused or hesitant to onboard the offering—even though there’s an agreement on the need.
In the setting of workplace offerings, there’s some nuance that providers should be aware of and a few ways to create clarity in an otherwise fuzzy market space.
01—Get clear on the definition of financial wellness the product delivers.
When the entire market is ambiguous about what the thing is—it is imperative that your brand is not ambiguous. The reason for this is simple: in the absence of clarity, humans make their own definitions. So, your buyer may very well be coming to the table with the context and definition of what they think financial wellness is based on their experience or what they know of other offerings. Because there are so many (literally, just so many) definitions of financial wellness, how will you know if they are defining it the same way you are defining it? So tell them.
For employers, understanding how the financial wellness product or service is distinctly different from their retirement program or other workplace financial bennies is necessary for purchase. Even more, communicating this value to employees in a real and tangible way is necessary to drive adoption.
Get crystal clear on what your financial wellness product or service does, what value it delivers, and what it does not. This must be done early on in the brand life cycle, and use the definition to determine what services or features your financial wellness experience is offering.
02—Provide a feedback loop—from employer to employee and back again.
For b2b2c products and services, like workplace financial benefits, the person buying the product (the employer) is not the person using the product (the employee). In these instances, the buyer (the employer) must be able to measure the value the user (the employee) is getting from the product.
What does this mean? Design the product or service experience to provide insight into performance metrics important to overall satisfaction and usage. In this strategy, the employer dashboard and metrics are equally important as the employee experience.
03—Understand your segments and how they think about money.
Because financial wellness takes on such a wide range of services and products, there’s likely a wide range of potential user types and buyers in the ecosystem. Plus, the use case of financial wellness products and services likely aligns with specific life stages or needs.
As a workplace bennie offering, understanding the segment of employers is also necessary. There’s likely a specific business segment that your product or service aligns well with. And each business segment requires a different level of support and needs.
As a result, it’s imperative to understand which segments you are serving—and the order priority to go to market. Moreover, really digging into the pain points for employers and employees can help you identify ways to provide ongoing value to your users.
04—Education is supplemental and connective.
Financial education is a key feature of financial wellness products and services. However, this single feature may not be enough to drive widespread adoption or long-term use. Why? Because Google. Because everyone offers financial education. Because on Instagram and TikTok, there are people dancing while talking about driving down debt. Because it’s an unnecessarily difficult mountain to climb in terms of consumer engagement.
Financial education is too easily accessible for financial wellness products and services to hang their hat on this as the single most valuable feature or service of the experience. So, what now? Rethink how you’re using financial education in the experience. Perhaps it’s connective, consistent, and a way to lead the user through the experience. Perhaps it’s an easy way to stay in conversation with your user through a strong content strategy. Maybe it’s a value-add for employers, not the value of the product.
As life gets more complicated and adulting remains hard, there’s a use case for strong financial wellness programs and products. Employers agree that this could be an offering they get behind—if they clearly understood how it created value for their employees. Employees agree that financial pressure is real and they could use some additional support—but behavior to study good money habits is often fumbled by psychology. Truth is, this is an area of finance that can’t skirt the behavior, the human, or the psychology. Best get to it.