Welcome to our partner profile series. Each month, we'll feature insights and perspectives from HR professionals and consultants working with a wide variety of clients addressing today's most pressing issues.
This month: Salary Finance US, a social purpose organization that helps employers and employees improve financial wellbeing.
Interview conducted by David Sherman, Director of Channel Partnerships and Strategic Alliances at PTO Exchange.
A Conversation with Anita Ward
Anita serves as the Chief Development Officer for Salary Finance US.
Salary Finance is the recipient of more than 90 recognitions for financial inclusion, innovation and social impact. Their mission is to help millions of working Americans achieve financial happiness and wellbeing.
Anita is a cultural anthropologist and now devotes her talents to helping others achieve financial wellness. See her full bio below.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and Salary Finance.
My family lived in 13 places, 10 cities, and 4 states before I was 15 years old. For most of my childhood, Mom, Dad and 4 kids couch-surfed in the homes of family and friends. My parents were not financially literate, and they struggled to find their financial footing. A few months after my fifteenth birthday, Dad put all of us in a U-Haul trailer and left Harrisburg, PA for Las Vegas, where that trailer became our home for a bit.
I found a job at the McDonald’s and my life changed. The manager of that store recognized that I needed help, and he leaned in. He taught me about entrepreneurship, provided me with opportunities to grow, helped me set up a bank account, and gave me dignity. Eventually, my family stabilized. Mom and Dad found jobs, and I made my way to the University of California, where I became a cultural anthropologist. My greatest lesson during those years was that employers who care can change lives. McDonald’s shifted the trajectory of my life; that manager saved me and my family.
I share this story because Salary Finance also recognizes the power of the employer in the lives of employees. Salary Finance has a mission to help millions of working Americans achieve financial happiness and wellbeing. We do this by partnering with employers to provide a holistic and inclusive financial wellbeing platform to their employees.
At no charge to the employer or the employee, the Salary Finance programs help bridge financial divides, provide inclusive access to literacy and capital, scale financial wellbeing, and reduce the financial stress of the 67% of employees struggling to make ends meet. Salary Finance delivers the financial wellbeing tools that employees need to improve their financial health, including education, coaching, cash incentivized savings, and salary-linked employee borrowing benefits
Financial concern is cited as the most prevalent source of stress for Americans. What are you hearing from your clients and prospective clients?
Many working Americans are still struggling from the fallout of the pandemic and are trying to face the new economic hurdles of 2022.
Over the last couple of years, some employees were personally impacted by job or income loss, or had a spouse or partner who was, and could only scrape by thanks to accommodations from lenders or the enhanced child tax credits that ended in December 2021. Others had to take on the burden of financially supporting family members, adult children, or elderly parents as life circumstances shifted, and best-laid plans fell by the wayside. This year inflation hit a four-decade high, impacting the price of fuel, energy, cars, housing, and food.
Needless to say, this has not gone unnoticed amongst working Americans, 76% of whom said that inflation has impacted their finances over the past year.
This is even more pronounced among low-to-moderate incomes (defined as less than $55,000 a year), many of whom are members of the BIPOC and more vulnerable communities.
As a result of these economic conditions, we've found:
- About a quarter of employees say that it’s harder for them to afford necessary expenses;
- About a third of all employees say that this has kept them from being able to build their savings;
- Two out of every three Americans are living paycheck to paycheck;
- 45% of employees are financially stressed; and
- 20% of employees regularly run out of money between paychecks, and of those who are financially stressed, that number goes up to 58%.
Employees bring their financial stress to work impacting both the culture and bottom line of the employer. It's not just low-income workers experiencing this stress. Believe it or not, Salary Finance research shows that 28% of employees making $168,000 annually are living paycheck to paycheck.
Financial stress is real, and the biggest sources of financial stress for employees of all income levels include debt, emergency expenses and lack of adequate savings.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and we know that financial stress and mental health issues are intrinsically linked. Are your clients facing these challenges and what can they do to help their employees?
The link between mental health and financial health are more interrelated than many people may realize.
Stress resulting from financial challenges is often chronic. High levels of financial stress are evidenced through symptoms such as anxiety, headaches/migraines, compromised immune systems, digestive issues, high blood pressure, muscle tension, heart arrhythmia, depression and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
The consequences of financial stress are significant. Employees who are financially stressed are 10x more likely not to finish daily tasks, 9x more likely to have troubled relationships with colleagues, and 7x more likely to be suffering from anxiety and depression.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute also found that:
- 46% of people with chronic debt also have a mental health diagnosis
- 86% of people with mental health issues indicate that financial stress worsens their mental health
- People with debt are 3X more likely to contemplate suicide due to that debt
Financial health and mental health are key determinants of overall wellbeing. There is a critical and unique role that an employer can play in helping employees escape unhealthy financial situations, and in helping them establish long-term healthier financial habits and stability.
Most importantly, removing the taboos around mental and financial health is critical and having a comprehensive and ongoing communications plan is a great start. Organizations that communicate frequently, utilizing a range of channels, have the highest levels of employee engagement and awareness.
As you launch financial inclusion initiatives, consider your wider wellness and diversity and inclusion activities, and recognize where you have opportunities to align or even combine communications. One of the advantages of a more aligned approach is the ability to combine mental and financial health messages and deliver a more impactful employee experience.
Is there a specific demographic(s) that suffers disproportionately from macroeconomic trends such as inflation, etc. and would therefore have higher levels of financial stress?
Each year Salary Finance publishes the results of its employee/employer research in a report entitled, Inside the Wallets of Working Americans.
The data indicate that the most vulnerable employees within a population are the ones most likely to be experiencing financial stress.
- 50%+ of employees identifying as female, Hispanic or Latino, LGBTQ+, or disabled are financially stressed, vs. 42% of the overall working population.
- Only 35% of African-American and 37% of Hispanic or Latino people have 3+ months of expenses saved, vs. close to 50% of the overall working population.
- 55% of African-American employees and 45% of Hispanic or Latino employees say they are unhappy with their level of savings, vs. 37% of the general population.
In addition to increased financial stress, there are clear disparities in the strength and persistence of mental health disorders across race and ethnicity.
A survey of over a million visitors to Mental Health America (MHA)’s free online screening found the following.
- The highest proportion of people reporting moderate to severe symptoms of mental health disorders were non-white.
- Loneliness, isolation, and past trauma ranked as the top contributing factors to mental health problems for non-white respondents.
Individuals experiencing financial stress and worsening mental health are finding it much more difficult to cope in current socioeconomic conditions. Inflation is top of mind for many Americans as they experience the impact first-hand at the grocery store, at the gas pump, and with their utility bills.
Mental health and financial health are challenged each day, and people need a lifeline.
Salary Finance focuses on financial wellbeing for employees. How are you able to make that connection for your clients and do you have any specific insights you can share?
A little over a third of all employees say that they believe their personal finances are private and they wouldn’t talk about them at work. This holds true across income brackets and race but differs pretty drastically by age: 19% of Gen-Z (18-24) feel this way vs. 46% of Baby Boomers (57-65), illuminating a generational shift around this topic.
Again, younger employees are more likely to feel this way than older generations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees making more money are more likely to say they feel comfortable talking about personal finances at work and are confident they’d get help if they needed it. Only 8% of employees who make less than $55,000 a year feel this way.
Why the hesitation?
- 20% say that money is “not the kind of thing we talk about at work;”
- 13% say that they don’t believe their employer cares so “there’s no point in discussing it with them;” and
- The remainder either feel they would be judged or feel they can talk openly but wouldn’t be helped if they did.
When asked what they actually want out of financial benefits, employees most commonly mention benefits that would help them save money and pay down existing or avoid further high-cost debt without having to use retirement funds.
Next week: Steps employers should take when launching a financial wellbeing initiative.
About Salary Finance
Salary Finance helps employers meet the needs of employees. Salary Finance offers a holistic financial wellbeing program – education, financial coaching, cash incentivized savings, emergency resources, and low-interest personal loans – at no cost to employers or employees. Implementing the Salary Finance financial wellbeing program can be accomplished in a few steps with positive impacts on mental and financial health.
About Anita Ward
Anita Ward has been recognized as an organizational shaman, a catalyst for transformational change, and one of the Top 100 Fintech for Sustainable Development Goals Influencers. A cultural anthropologist by training, Anita has led organizations through seemingly daunting challenges to find economic success through noble purpose, inclusion, and the delivery of dignity in the workplace and community. Currently, Anita is serving as the Chief Development Officer for Salary Finance US, a social purpose financial wellbeing Fintech and recipient of more than 90 recognitions for financial inclusion, innovation and social impact.
Anita is a cultural anthropologist with a love for people, music and art. She is a Trustee for the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta where you may find her at a concert for the Philharmonic, a play at the Alliant, or an exhibit at the High Museum. Her son, Tommy Ward, is a recognized jazz singer and recording artist, and her nephew, Trey Curtis, is in the Hamilton Los Angeles cast where on Sundays he performs as Hamilton!
Use PTO to Enhance Financial Wellness
PTO Exchange developed the first flexible benefits platform that allows employees to self-direct the value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other needs and causes. The platform caters to employees’ individualized needs and different transitions in life (retirement accounts, student loan repayments, charitable donations, and more) – offering a choice and flexibility to control the value of their unused vacsation. PTO Exchange helps companies stand out in a competitive job market, increase employee engagement, build loyalty, reduce balance sheet liabilities, and strengthen culture.
Learn more how PTO Exchange can help with financial wellness - download our free data sheet below.