Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Workplace Financial Fitness Toolkit

On April 12, 2011, we launched the Workplace Financial Fitness Toolkit. With the support of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Foundation, Punam Keller, from the Tuck School of Business, and I have designed a customized workplace financial fitness program using an innovative and practical approach based on well-established financial literacy and marketing principles. Every employer interested in starting a financial education program can use this toolkit.

Lack of financial literacy in the United States is well documented—the research tells us that most people lack basic financial knowledge and are not well equipped to deal with complex financial decisions. As a result, many individuals have difficulty making sound financial decisions. Remedying this problem is terribly complicated, one reason being that individuals have different needs, different preferences, and face different economic circumstances.

The workplace is an ideal venue to provide tools to facilitate financial decision-making. The goal in developing the toolkit is to provide a checklist of recommended financial fitness action items along with marketing materials to encourage employees to improve their financial fitness.

In essence we have developed two toolkits: an Employer Customization Toolkit and an Employee Customization Toolkit. The Employer Customization Toolkit contains (1) the Employer Checklist, (2) motivational information about the importance of every employer providing or facilitating 10 key steps to financial fitness, and (3) additional materials to help employers with implementation of the financial fitness recommendations. The recommendations are divided into three stages: basic, intermediate, and advanced. Employers who currently offer financial fitness assistance can use the Employee Customization Kit to motivate employees to participate in the financial fitness programs offered.

The Employee Customization Toolkit is designed to empower employees to improve their own financial fitness. The Employee Customization Toolkit contains (1) the Employee Checklist, (2) motivational information on the importance of every employee improving aspects of their financial fitness, and (3) implementation guidelines for each recommendation. Like the Employer Customization Toolkit, the employee toolkit allows individuals to customize or select the fitness recommendations that suit their needs.

Developing the program was a challenging task. But we very much benefitted from the guidance of Michelle Greene, the VP, Head of Corporate Responsibility, executive director of the NYSE Foundation and a champion of financial literacy. We also assembled a team of experts to help us in this work. We benefitted from the insights of academics like Robert Clark (North Carolina State University College of Management) and Eric Johnson (Columbia Business School), financial literacy leaders like Carrie Schwab-Pomeratz and Michael Townsend from the Schwab Foundation and Ted Beck from the National Endowment from Financial Education (Carrie and Ted also serve on President Obama’s Council on Financial Capability), Janet Parker from the Society for Human Resource Management (a former member of President Bush’s Council on Financial Literacy), and Jennifer Wayman from Olgivy PR Worldwide (one of the creators of the The Heart Truth, an award-winning national awareness campaign about women and heart disease with its signature Red Dress symbol).

On April 12, not only did we launch the program but we also rang the opening bell at NYSE, an experience I will never forget. And yes, we took a lot of pictures which are now posted on the FLC’s Facebook page. You can also watch a video of the opening bell ceremony (did I say it was memorable?).

We hope many companies will embrace the Workplace Financial Fitness Toolkit and customize it to meet their goals of assisting employees in the attainment of financial independence and security. The program can be found here:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Celebrating Financial Literacy Month

April has been declared Financial Literacy Month and we, at the Financial Literacy Center, celebrate it by meeting with our team members to present preliminary results from the 19 projects the teams are doing in year 2. The research teams are tailoring educational materials for people at various stages of their lives: young workers, mid-career workers, those approaching retirement, and retirees. They are also targeting underserved populations such as low-income, young, and disabled workers, all of whom are particularly vulnerable during periods of financial turbulence.

The second year activities cover a range of topics, including:
• How automatic enrollment in pension plans can improve savings
• How to increase the use of the government’s key tax-time savings policies, particularly the Saver’s Credit targeted to lower-income households
• How financial advisors help their clients decide when to claim Social Security benefits and whether this advice is based on client attributes
• How to develop an effective curricula to teach financial literacy to pre-service K-8 teachers and adult learners
• How to improve access to financial services for legal immigrants
• Whether additional disclosure would be valuable in helping people anticipate and plan for health care expenses in retirement
• Whether an intensive online “financial bootcamp” for women is effective in modifying behavior.

We held our meeting at Harvard Law School and I am grateful to Howell Jackson for hosting the workshop in the elegant rooms of HLS. But the New England weather did its April fool’s trick: rather than warm spring weather, we got several inches of snow today. (Note to self: move closer to the equator!)

You can read more about our projects at:
And you can see a picture of all of us on Facebook!