Keep­ing a fin­ger on the pulse of what em­ploy­ees want

When it comes to es­tab­lish­ing a ro­bust re­tire­ment pro­gram, BP’s Cliff York keeps com­mu­ni­ca­tion open and fresh, us­ing cur­rent data to pro­vide work­ers what they need to re­tire suc­cess­fully.



AS THE HEAD OF pen­sions and ben­e­fits in the Amer­i­cas for one of the world’s lead­ing gas and oil com­pa­nies, Cliff York can­not speak faceto-face with the more than 26,000 em­ploy­ees of BP. In­stead, the 30-year cor­po­rate ben­e­fits vet­eran re­lies on an­nual sur­veys to find out how BP em­ploy­ees think the com­pany can help them se­cure their re­tire­ments. It’s this outreach and a se­ries of re­tire­ment fi­nan­cial tu­to­ri­als that makes York EBN’s 2017 Ben­e­fits Lead­er­ship in Re­tire­ment Plan­ning win­ner.

Ac­cord­ing to data from a re­cent Wells Fargo/Gallup poll, more than 75% of U.S. in­vestors say they are con­fi­dent they will be able to main­tain the life­style they want through­out their re­tire­ment, a nine-per­cent­age-point bump from Au­gust 2014.

In Yorks’ view, BP helps work­ers to feel that same con­fi­dence about re­tire­ment via two as­sess­ments — a fi­nan­cial fit­ness test and a re­tire­ment readi­ness test — that pro­vide the data needed to set up a suc­cess­ful pro­gram.

“The in­for­ma­tion that we get from the ag­gre­ga­tion of re­sults is re­ally a roadmap for our com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts,” he says.

And un­like most fi­nan­cial wellness pro­grams, York’s strat­egy of­fers the abil­ity to mea­sure be­hav­ioral changes.

BP em­ploy­ees have achieved higher scores across all cat­e­gories mea­sured in their fi­nan­cial fit­ness as­sess­ment (cash and debt, re­tire­ment, in­sur­ance, in­vest­ment, es­tate and ed­u­ca­tion plan­ning) since the pro­gram be­gan in 2012. Over­all, their fi­nan­cial wellness scores have seen in­creases of 10% and re­tire­ment readi­ness scores bumped up 11%. Par­tic­u­larly large im­prove­ments were seen in ar­eas that pre­vi­ously had the low­est scores — in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion and es­tate plan­ning.

By pair­ing the as­sess­ment with a coach­ing call to dis­cuss the re­sults, par­tic­i­pants are able to talk through their con­cerns and iden­tify other re- lated fi­nan­cial plan­ning ques­tions. As the same par­tic­i­pants have com­pleted the as­sess­ment and coach­ing over the years, a 24% in­crease in over­all wellness scores was noted.

Al­though there was no sin­gle press­ing is­sue that pushed York to put in place the new pro­gram, when he came to BP in 2001, the com­pany was still com­ing to­gether from merg­ers with Amoco and ARCO, and he saw there was con­fu­sion among em­ploy­ees re­gard­ing in­vest­ment choices.

“While we had a fi­nan­cial ed­u­ca­tion provider, the uti­liza­tion was very low. It was re­ally just an on­go­ing con­cern on how we en­gage em­ploy­ees,” York says.

Healthy heart and a full wallet

York cred­its the higher scores to the way the fi­nan­cial as­sess­ments tie into the com­pany’s health­care ini­tia­tives.

Cliff and his re­tire­ment ben­e­fits team in­te­grated fur­ther recog­ni­tion for tak­ing the as­sess­ment sur­veys into BP’s suc­cess­ful phys­i­cal health and wel­fare pro­gram. Af­ter doc­u­ment­ing the im­pact of fi­nan­cial stress on phys­i­cal health, the re­tire­ment team

ex­panded the amount of points that can be earned via fi­nan­cial wellness ac­tiv­i­ties to 375 of the to­tal 1,000 that em­ploy­ees must earn dur­ing the year in or­der to be el­i­gi­ble for more cost-ef­fec­tive health­care op­tions.

“It oc­curred to me if we could some­how get in on the points re­quire­ment for the wellness pro­gram — where points are re­quired [to reach cer­tain tiers in the health plans] — it would be just enough of a nudge to get peo­ple to en­gage,” he says.

“The ex­tent to which peo­ple did en­gage, al­beit to get their points, was stun­ning,” he con­tin­ues. “We never had that level of en­gage­ment be­fore.”

Through its part­ner Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers, BP of­fers the fi­nan­cial wellness pro­gram to 26,000 em­ploy­ees and their spouses in the U.S. and 14,000 pre-Medi­care re­tirees and their spouses. Strong, well-timed com­mu­ni­ca­tions high­light fi­nan­cial wellness as a key com­po­nent of the over­all wellness pro­gram, and com­ple­tion of fi­nan­cial wellness ac­tiv­i­ties like as­sess­ments, coach­ing calls and on­line ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses en­ti­tle work­ers to points that count to­ward lower health­care pre­mi­ums.

When you have a sig­nif­i­cant amount of peo­ple tak­ing the as­sess­ments year af­ter year, you see re­sults im­prove and you can con­clude you’re mak­ing some progress, York notes. “Oth­er­wise you’re shoot­ing in the dark, and you don’t know what’s con­nect­ing and what’s not.”

The pro­gram’s suc­cess is mea­sured based on its ef­fec­tive­ness at cre­at­ing true be­hav­ioral change among em­ploy­ees. An anal­y­sis of re­sults by de­mo­graphic finds that the pro­gram al­ready has shown suc­cess in key ar­eas of mea­sur­able em­ployee fi­nan­cial be­hav­iors, says Emily Serna, a man­ager at PwC. How­ever, BP rec­og­nizes that there is no short-term fix for fi­nan­cial wellness. York keeps the pro­grams up to date. “You can’t just set it up and for­get it. You have to main­tain it and keep it fresh,” York adds.

And as work­ers be­come aware of the strengths and weak­nesses through the as­sess­ments, BP pro­vides a se­ries of on­line, cus­tom­ized classes, which cur­rently in­clude 19 dif­fer­ent top­ics cov­er­ing every­thing from man­ag­ing cash and debt to fund­ing a child’s ed­u­ca­tion and in­vest­ing, Serna says. Among the more pop­u­lar cour­ses are those that high­light BP ben­e­fits in the con­text of fi­nan­cial plan­ning. “Us­ing Your Health Sav­ings Ac­count Ef­fec­tively,” for ex­am­ple, guides em­ploy­ees through the ways that their HSA can help off­set costs of cur­rent health­care ex­penses and fu­ture ex­penses in re­tire­ment.

“Debt man­age­ment is another pop­u­lar one,” York ex­plains. “Many of our young pro­fes­sional hires are com­ing to work with a huge col­lege debt, so we are help­ing them ad­dress how to man­age that.”

York cred­its the me­dia with in­tro­duc­ing work­ers — par­tic­u­larly younger work­ers — to the im­por­tance of sav­ing for re­tire­ment.

“We’re see­ing a lot more mes­sag­ing on the gen­eral im­por­tance of sav­ing for re­tire­ment,” he says. “I’m sur­prised at how in­ter­ested some of the young em­ploy­ees com­ing out of col­lege are, and how fo­cused they are on sav­ing for re­tire­ment.

“In my view, there have been great plan­ning and as­set al­lo­ca­tion tools on the mar­ket for years,” he con­tin­ues. “There are great re­sources; it’s just get­ting peo­ple to use them. Ty­ing them into the points gave us just enough of a push to get the en­gage­ment — and we hope peo­ple want to come back and be en­gaged enough to see value.”

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