The invitational business roundtable at the Assets Learning Conference was like a good buffet: you can’t eat everything, but you’re glad to have so many good options to choose from.
Jack Towarnicky, a Benefits Planning manager at Nationwide Insurance, talked up the virtues of their auto enrollment strategy in the company’s 401k plan. Behavioral economists are pushing auto-enrollment, and the impressive results at Nationwide are part of the reason why. It’s a no-brainer, and I hope more companies will jump on the bandwagon.
Justin Worthley of Rhino Foods in Burlington, Vermont, spoke about the trickier topic of financial coaching in the workplace. They developed an employee emergency loan program, which evolved into an initiative with the local United Way and other partners in which a paid “Onsite Resource Coordinator” works with a number of companies in Burlington, providing office hours at each firm for one-on-one counseling with low- to moderate-income employees who are facing financial hardship and need assistance to get through a difficult period while maintaining employment. It seemed like the model had not been strongly tested yet. They have grant fundng for three years to pilot the service. I’d be interested to know more about how expensive it is to provide such services, and how effective it has been.
The third presentation, covering “broad-based employee incentive plans,” was delivered by the head of the nonprofit advisory arm of a community development venture capital firm called SJF Ventures. I like the idea of promoting broad-based option plans in venture-funded companies to offer a wealth-building opportunity to employees at all levels, but that’s a pretty specialized topic: how many people have the occasion to advise venture-funded companies on option plans? I wish SJF well in it its efforts, but its work doesn’t feel like much of a take-away for me (until I find myself running a fast-growth start-up). I doubt there were any founders of such companies in the room apart from the representative from groSolar, an SJF-funded company (which also happens to be located in my home state of Vermont), who was there to talk about the virtues of broad-based option plans.
All in all, it was a lively afternoon that left me wanting more time to explore asset building in the workplace.
By the way, the handout folder for the roundtable also contained some interesting materials that New American Foundation is encouraging employers to adopt: one describes a proposal for an “Autosave” program that would help build unresticted savings into the payroll system, and the other provides policy recommendations for offering “Financial Education in the Workplace.” Both worth a read.