by Sandy McCarthy, president, Retirement Services, OneAmerica

As professionals in the financial services industry, we’ve devoted our careers to helping individuals attain financial peace of mind, personal protection, and retirement security.

The pandemic, though, has cast this important work in a new light, invigorating Americans’ interests in all aspects of financial preparedness and personal protection, and highlighting the deep connections between financial, physical, and emotional wellness.

This is a pivotal moment for our industry and the Americans we serve, as we guide those who have just experienced, first-hand, the complex and unexpected path life can take. In this new environment, widening the lens and broadening the view on the traditional idea of financial wellness can help Americans feel prepared and protected for today, tomorrow, and the years to come — whatever those days and years may bring.

Retirement and personal protection strategies go hand-in-hand

As a longtime veteran of the financial services industry, I’ve seen first-hand the energy we’ve collectively spent educating retirement plan participants about market risk, asset allocation, and the importance of beginning deferrals early. Though these are, of course, critical elements, there’s more that’s needed to help individuals establish peace-of-mind about their financial security.

As an industry, we must guide individual workers, and their employers, to look beyond the retirement plan — to realize that true, comprehensive plans for financial wellness also incorporate personal protection and decumulation strategies. This is especially critical and relevant post-COVID, as the pandemic forced the idea of financial protection for loved ones, and our own mortality, to be top of mind in a way we haven’t seen previously.

As uncertainties abound, the products and strategies we provide are a port in the storm — allowing individuals to safeguard retirement savings, set aside money for health or longterm care expenses, or ensure loved ones are protected. And the focus on healthcare expenses, in addition to retirement funds, is one that can’t be overlooked.

According to HealthView Services, a 65-year-old couple in good health will need $387,644 to pay for healthcare costs for the remainder of their lives. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70 percent chance of needing some type of long-term care services and support in their remaining years.

Still, according to a survey from the American College of Financial Services, only about one third of retirees currently have any type of long-term care plan.

Widening the lens on financial wellness

In recent years, we have honed in on examining the critical role emotional and physical wellness play in holistic financial wellness. Financial stress can cause emotional or physical health issues, just as emotional or physical health issues can result in financial strain and resulting stress. These factors are important considerations, especially as our industry navigates how best to engage and educate American workers to take action toward overall financial wellness. We have an opportunity to meet each person where they are, and to help American workers take the next step in their personal wellness journeys — acknowledging and aligned with their individual circumstances or life events. According to Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2020 Retirement Confidence Survey, 7 in 10 workers (69 percent) feel confident in their ability to retire comfortably, though only 27 percent feel very confident. Overall confidence is up slightly from 2018 and 2019, when the survey showed 64 percent and 67 percent. We’re collectively making progress, but there’s still work to be done.

Connecting where it counts

For many Americans, the workplace is the frontline for financial education, and it may even be one of the only places where individuals receive financial guidance. As an industry, it’s up to us to help employers understand the value of providing employees with opportunities to improve holistic financial wellness — both for the well-being of individual employees, and to meet company objectives. Employees who are less stressed about financial, physical, and emotional health are more focused, present, and able to contribute to business success.

This is a significant concept, considering data from the 2021 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey showing that nearly two thirds of full-time employees say their financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic. This has an impact on both productivity and retention, with 45 percent saying finances have been a distraction at work and 72 percent indicating they would be attracted to another company that cares more about their financial well-being than their current company.

The promising news is that employers understand the important role they play; 62 percent of employers feel “extremely” responsible for their employees’ financial wellness, up significantly from 13 percent in 2013, according to Bank of America’s 2020 Workplace Benefits Report. Employers — along with the financial professionals who guide them — will continue to play an increasingly greater role in helping employees strengthen their financial foundations.

Our industry exists for times like these, and our purpose — to protect and secure — has only been emphasized and reaffirmed over the past 18 months.
We’re an industry connected to the people we serve, and it’s an honor to engage with a wide network of professionals committed to bettering the lives of individuals and their families.

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published in LIMRA Marketfacts #4, 2021.