Employers these days seem to be more attuned to their employees’ healthcare plans than ever. Companies offer fitness programs, incentives, benefits packages, and gym membership breaks to workers because a healthy worker is good for the employees and the employers.
But think about how much effort those same employers put into fiscal education. Few give their employees anything more than the manual that comes from HR about what their 401(k) plans mean. Past that, there is very little in the way of financial literacy and fiscal management education for American workers. And that, says Michael Sabatino, managing director of financial planning and education at Lifecycle Financial Advisors, really needs to change.
“There’s a big need in the workplace for education that goes beyond the 401(k),” Sabatino says. “For credit unions, the mission is financial wellness in the workplace.”
Sabatino will address that subject Thursday, September 25, at 8:30 a.m. at the Somerset County Business Partnership in Bridgewater. Sabatino will discuss the results of a financial wellness survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published in May about what employees know and what they should. Cost: $30. Visit www.SCBP.org.
Sabatino works for Lifecycle Financial, a subsidiary of the McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union. This perch, he says, gives him the best opportunity to talk to employees about their financial health and to see what it really looks like for people as the economy staggers back to normal.
“The SHRM survey showed that six years from the financial crisis people are still hurting out there,” Sabatino says. More people, in fact, are borrowing against their 401(k)s or taking hardship withdrawals from the plans. “There’s a pretty healthy number of people who have done that in the past 12 months.”
This doesn’t surprise Sabatino, who says that the topics of cash management and budgeting are never really taught to workers. What almost always happens is that a company offers a 401(k) plan and then hires an administrator like Fidelity or Vanguard to come in and discuss what the plan is. This is necessary, of course, but by law these administrators are only allowed to discuss the plan itself. They can’t advise on general financial planning or money management outside the scope of the 401(k).
The emerging opportunity. Sabatino sees the presence of financial professionals like him, who can give a perspective on financial management from the point of view of a not-for-profit entity like a credit union, as an emerging market for fiscal education. He relates it to the growth of health wellness education that companies in recent years have started to invest more heavily in. And, really, he sees financial education as a form of health education.
Financial drama, Sabatino says, “creates stress and uncertainty for people. We’re seeing more of the socially conscious type of employers looking to do more for their employees. There’s a big appetite for us to go into these companies to give workshops.”
Stages of life. People are aware of the big moments in life, but not a lot seem to make financial plans to deal with them. And while the worry about money is universal, the focus on what to do about it is usually specific to different age groups.
For instance, 20-somethings. They’re new to the workplace and generally paid less, Sabatino says. They’re not worried about retirement just yet, but they often have high student loan debts to contend with, as well as the dilemma of not having built up much credit. Saving for a house or getting a mortgage or auto loan can be trickier that it would be for someone in their 30s who is looking to start a family and needs to adjust to the idea of “our” finances as opposed to “my” finances.
The most urgent group to get through to, however, is the pre-retirement set, Sabatino says. Those people in their 50s and early 60s are faced with a daunting reality: You can’t borrow for old age. “You can borrow money to go to school, you can borrow money to buy a house,” Sabatino says. “But you can’t borrow money for retirement.”
The solution a lot of people go with is to not retire until much later. But people often think that Social Security and Medicare will have them covered. And they will, but only about halfway. So learning how to manage your money by this age — by realistically looking at what you can save versus what you have to spend — is vital.
The message, Sabatino says, is twofold: Be realistic and anticipate the types of changes different stages of life will bring. You know you’re going to age. Be prepared for what that will bring you.
Sabatino grew up in Mountainside and earned his bachelor’s in history from the University of Richmond in 1993. His father worked for a large insurance brokerage and his in-laws — a pharmaceutical professional and a business consultant — bring him to Plainsboro frequently.
Rather than pursue a career in history, Sabatino worked for several financial firms before landing at the credit union in 2012, which he says is much more his speed. Unlike for-profit banks, he says, credit unions are more community-centered. Until recently, credit unions concentrated mainly on traditional banking products like savings accounts and mortgages. These days, though, they are expanding into the community to provide more awareness and education about the importance of having sound financial chops, especially as retirement age nears.
If he had a piece of advice for companies, Sabatino would say that human resources departments need to get a sense of what their companies’ workers know and understand about their personal finances. He’s aware that HR departments already do enormous amounts of work, but the domain of employee knowledge lies with them, and employees need to be more educated about their money.
For one thing, HR reps need to know how to apply the results of the SHRM survey, which Sabatino says is a good, but broad template. The survey shows a general set of information for workers, but HR reps should apply the answers — and ask the questions — to their own workforces.
“We have to start the dialogue,” Sabatino says.