Employers and Employees Agree Financial Wellness Programs Are Valuable, but Disconnects on Approach May Be Hindering Engagement

August 1, 2018 at 9:00 AM Eastern

Released today, a new study finds the vast majority of employers and employees1 agree that financial wellness programs offered in the workplace are effective. However, participation may be hindered by a disconnect between employers and employees on what matters most to support financial wellness. About one-third (31 percent) of employees participate in these programs, despite the fact that many report struggling financially. The 2018 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report – the eighth annual edition of the series – tracks the growing importance of workplace financial wellness programs, pointing to personalized advice and planning as key to improving participation and employees’ financial wellness.

The report examines how employers and employees feel about financial wellness, their expectations of one another, and the types of resources employees want in the workplace. Based on a nationwide survey of 657 employees who participate in 401(k) plans and 667 employers who offer both a 401(k) plan and financial wellness program, key findings include:

  • Thirty-eight percent of employees consider themselves doing less than financially well, including 44 percent of workers under 40.
  • Employers tend to focus on actions to manage immediate financial needs, such as budgeting and handling expenses. Meanwhile, employees most prioritize long-term financial goals, such as tactics that help them save and invest for the future.
  • Only 7 percent of employees identify health care as an important building block of financial wellness, yet 53 percent have skipped or postponed at least one health care need (e.g., medical appointment, medication) to save money.
  • Employees say advice from a professional would be most helpful in improving their financial wellness.

“Employers report financial wellness programs are paying off – leading to greater employee satisfaction, higher productivity and other benefits for employees and the firms they work for,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “However, there is still room for progress in increasing employee participation.”

“Bank of America Merrill Lynch is dedicated to collaborating with employers to provide relevant and timely education, tools and guidance that can drive widespread participation, support employees’ growing financial wellness needs and help them live their best financial lives,” Sabbia adds.

Women’s retirement savings gap

The report finds that women are less financially well than men, underscoring the need for financial wellness programs that are tailored to a woman’s financial journey and life path. Forty-seven percent of women say they are less than financially well, compared to 29 percent of men.

The study also uncovered a gap in women’s retirement savings. Female employees contribute less to their 401(k), and they have $119,000 in investable assets on average, compared to $196,000 for men. The gender savings gap is particularly concerning given the increased financial demands placed on women, including higher health care costs and more years of retirement to fund, as uncovered in the recent Merrill Lynch Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line study.

Employees are hungry for help and clear about what they want – personalized advice

The report finds that employees are looking to their employers to help manage their financial lives. The study also explores what employees seek in an employer-sponsored financial wellness program:

  • Employees feel the best approach to improve financial wellness is getting a personal financial assessment, supported by specific actions to take.
  • Employees would also like help measuring their progress, through tracking and measuring of accomplishments.
  • Seventy percent of employees say they would be comfortable sharing financial information, such as savings and investments, as part of an employer-offered financial assessment.
  • Eighty-one percent of employees say they prefer that financial wellness be offered as a bundled program rather than as stand-alone resources.

“Employees are speaking loud and clear about their desire for programs that give them a holistic, personalized and measurable roadmap for achieving financial wellness,” said Lisa Margeson, head of Retirement Client Experience and Communications at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “At Merrill Lynch, we are dedicated to pioneering programs that not only address employees’ wide-ranging financial needs, but also tangibly measure results and fully account for employees’ diverse financial goals, challenges, life paths and experiences.”

2018 Workplace Benefits Report Methodology

Boston Research Technologies interviewed a national sample of 657 employees who participate in 401(k) plans from December 15, 2017 through December 27, 2017 and 667 employers who offer both a 401(k) plan and a program designed to help improve financial wellness from December 15, 2017 to January 3, 2018. To qualify for the survey, employees had to be current participants of a 401(k) plan and employers had to offer a 401(k) plan option. Neither was required to work with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Bank of America Merrill Lynch was not identified as the sponsor of the study.

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is a leading provider of comprehensive wealth management and investment services for individuals and businesses globally. With 14,820 financial advisors and $2.3 trillion in client balances as of June 30, 2018, it is among the largest businesses of its kind in the world. Merrill Lynch Wealth Management specializes in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals through investment, cash and credit management. Within Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, the Private Banking and Investment Group focuses on the unique and personalized needs of wealthy individuals, families and their businesses. These clients are served by nearly 200 highly specialized private wealth advisor teams, along with experts in areas such as investment management, concentrated stock management and intergenerational wealth transfer strategies. Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is part of Bank of America Corporation.

Bank of America

Bank of America is one of the world’s leading financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 67 million consumer and small business clients with approximately 4,400 retail financial centers, including more than 1,700 lending centers, more than 1,900 Merrill Edge investment centers and more than 1,300 business centers; approximately 16,100 ATMs; and award-winning digital banking with approximately 36 million active users, including 25 million mobile users. Bank of America is a global leader in wealth management, corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 3 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations across the United States, its territories and more than 35 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is a marketing name for the Retirement Services business of Bank of America Corporation (“BofA Corp”). Banking activities may be performed by wholly owned banking affiliates of BofA Corp, including Bank of America, N.A., member FDIC. Brokerage services may be performed by wholly owned brokerage affiliates of BofA Corp, including Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (MLPF&S), a registered broker-dealer and member SIPC.

Register for news email alerts.


Reporters May Contact:

Julia Ehrenfeld, Bank of America
Phone: 1.646.855.3267

Matt Card, Bank of America
Phone: 1.617.434.1388


1 95 percent of employers who offer the program and 91 percent of employees when offered the program