1. In the author’s opinion, how has the Financial Wellness landscape evolved over the years? What are some of the advantages of the current technological evolution?

We’re all very aware that the ease with which we can access our banking has drastically evolved over the last decade and continues to advance at pace. Over the last year or two, for example, even the way we use our debit cards has evolved with many of us now using our smart phones in place of a traditional debit card. I continue to be impressed by the level of innovation in the financial technology space and I think this has been one of the biggest catalysts for change in Financial Wellness. With this in mind, this ever-increasing ease with which we can access and spend money 24/7 is both beneficial in clearly making our lives easier but also sometimes one of the main causes of financial issues for many and this is something we must be mindful of.

Because smart devices have become such a key part of monitoring our budgets and financial wellness, it was important for us at Co-op to give our colleagues the same ease and accessibility when it came to their payslips and financial benefits. With this in mind, a few years ago we introduced a new HR system as we knew it was becoming increasingly important to our colleagues to have this easy online access to their own payslips as this helps to improve the way in which they are able to manage their personal finances.

We proactively seek out support from others that take a multi-channel approach to assisting our colleagues. This includes providing our colleagues with access to responsible lending, as well as resources such as a financial wellbeing hub with online tools, budget planners, webinars and blogs that users can access at any time.

2. What according to the author are some of the challenges plaguing to the Financial Wellness landscape and how can they be effectively mitigated?

Unsurprisingly, COVID has probably been the biggest challenge of late. We’re proud of our colleagues, who have worked incredibly hard during the pandemic and that’s why we made the decision to share a thank you package worth a combined £13m earlier this year. We wanted to ensure that as well as recognising all of their hard work, this thank you also helped to support them financially and hopefully alleviate some of the financial worries that a lot of our colleagues were facing during very uncertain times.

“Smart devices have become such a key part of monitoring our budgets and financial wellness”

However, as other wage-earners in our colleagues’ families continue to be affected, possibly through furlough or redundancy, we know that household income continues to be a cause for concern. We train our leaders to identify when a colleague may be worried or stressed, so that they can engage them in conversation and signpost relevant routes to help. We have a 24/7 support line for the same reason, but also videos on budgeting and an online financial health check all available as our colleagues need them.

As well as guidance, it’s important to offer routes to practical financial support too. And, it’s important that they’re delivered with trusted partners that don’t take advantage of a need for ready cash, with above average interest rates. That’s why our partner Neyber offers a loan service, which colleagues can pay back from their wages each month. We also offer an interest-free rent deposit loan to make sure our colleagues are able to afford to rent a home for themselves and their families without the additional worry of trying to find the deposit upfront.

3. Does the author have any advice for industry veterans or budding entrepreneurs from the Financial Wellness space?

I think it’s safe to say that advances in technology should never be underestimated or overlooked. I’ve learned that it’s important to assess the right developments as quickly as possible – if you see a practical and most importantly meaningful way to make a difference to your workforce, it’s good to be ahead of the game and pre-empt a need before it arises.

This is especially true when considering that financial wellness and technology are growing together, intertwined. As our colleagues can make purchases or transfers with the same ease as accessing their social media accounts, advice and support for a responsible employer should be just as easy to access and navigate. We must help our colleagues and look after their financial wellbeing in the same way we look after the other aspects of their wellbeing