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Improving employee financial wellness

Client: National bank | Role: Intervention design, UX design | Year: 2019

Project Abstract

The challenge: Most employee benefits, like retirement accounts and health insurance, serve employees who are already financially well. Our client wanted to create an employee financial wellness benefit that addressed not just financial security in retirement, but financial security in the present.

Solution: This seven-month project included a literature review on the determinants of financial wellness and prior effective interventions, a survey of 2,000 moderate to high income Americans to develop user segments, and 72 audience interviews to further refine those segments. The project team synthesized these findings into a guide that gave an overview of the user segments, their needs, and strategies the bank could implement to improve employee financial wellness. We worked with our client to select two focus areas (paying off debt and saving for retirement) to design concepts that could be implemented digitally.

Outcomes: Our client is currently working to implement our recommendations within the bank’s retirement offerings and identify additional departments to collaborate with in future phases of the project.

Project approach

Timeline: 7 months
Project team: Behavior change designer, behavior change design director, experience research director, content strategist, visual designer, project manager
Team contribution: I was responsible for half of the literature review and report. I served as both a moderator and note-taker for interviews and helped synthesize insights to communicate to the client team in reports and presentations. I led creation of the final intervention strategy guide and translation of these strategies into design concepts and screens.

First, understand the current state of financial wellness in America and what factors influence financial wellness.

Since financial wellness is a new and not well-defined construct, our first goal was to understand what factors contribute to or detract from an individual’s financial wellness. My colleague and I reviewed industry resources on best practices in promoting financial wellness, government publications on the state of financial wellness in America and best practices for financial planners, and published academic literature on financial wellness and related concepts, such as financial literacy and financial capability.

Ultimately, we found that in addition to nonmodifiable factors like age, education level, race, and marital status, behaviors like setting aside at least $400 in emergency savings, paying off or avoiding high-interest debt, and minimizing income and expense volatility were essential foundations for individual financial wellness. Helping individuals overcome their barriers to achieving these goals became our guiding principle for creating the financial wellness benefit strategies.

Key deliverable: Literature review of barriers, facilitators, and previous interventions to improve financial wellness

User segment illustrations by Rich Woodall

Then, identify what segments we can serve in the benefit program and their specific needs, priorities, and barriers.

One-size-fits-all solutions are rarely effective, so we needed to understand the range of needs employees would have and use that to personalize the benefit program.

The team developed these segments in two phases. First, we used findings from the literature review to design a survey that included questions about financial wellness indicators, such as expense-to-income ratio each month, financial experiences, types of financial products used, financial status, financial knowledge, and financial stress. From just under 2,000 responses in a nationally representative sample of employed Americans, the Mad*Pow team worked with a data scientist to develop an initial user segmentation.

We supplemented survey responses with 72 in-depth interviews with members of each segment to learn more about needs, attitudes, and concepts that we couldn’t cover in the survey. From this research, we were able to identify four segments to guide concept development.

Key deliverable: Segmentation survey on financial behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes, audience interviews, final user segments

Then, develop strategies to help people in each segment improve their financial wellness.

Financial wellness behaviors are often spoken about as completely distinct, but are in fact closely related. For example, it’s difficult to pay off high-interest debt if one has no emergency fund; credit becomes the only way to absorb financial shocks, and the resulting interest payments detract from one’s ability to save.

After defining target behaviors, barriers, and facilitators for each segment, I led a collaborative session with our clients to understand the priority order for these behaviors. My colleague and I presented representative scenarios for each segment and asked our clients to sort cards to show the most effective order of operations for building financial wellness. We synthesized this order of operations, findings from the audience survey and interviews, and the literature review to create an intervention strategy guide with prioritized recommendations to address the needs of each segment, as well as examples of how those strategies could be implemented in a benefit program.

Many of these strategies were aimed at organizational-level interventions, like providing no-or low interest loans to employees with low credit scores in an emergency or auto-enrolling employees in retirement contributions, since changing systems is often the most effective way to change individual behavior.

Key deliverable: Co-design workshop to prioritize opportunities, intervention strategy guide

Finally, design concepts to visualize how these strategies could be enacted in an employee benefit program.

After sharing the intervention guide, we worked with our clients to select two strategies to build out in more detail to demonstrate how the bank could integrate these strategies within their digital benefits offerings. They selected paying off debt and saving for retirement.

Our concepts for paying off debt integrated many of the challenges we heard about in our interviews, including difficulty prioritizing multiple debts, balancing paying off debt with saving, and missing opportunities to optimize debt, such as refinancing or consolidating loans.

For retirement, we helped visualize the impact of additional contributions, provided contextual guidance on allocation and diversification, and redesigned the 401(k) loan experience to discourage non-emergency loans, help employees identify other credit resources, and connect them with a financial planner.

Key deliverable: Concept design for two digital financial wellness benefits