How Financial Literacy Classes are Giving Gas South a Competitive Edge

When employees are concerned about their personal problems, they're not as productive. Gas South CEO Kevin Greiner is using financial literacy classes to help eliminate the disruption.
A financial literacy class at Gas South

Kevin Greiner is worried that his employees are worried—about their personal finances. So the CEO of Gas South has sprung for employees of the Atlanta-based natural-gas utility to take courses on financial literacy that are being provided by a corporate neighbor, SunTrust Bank.

Research by Atlanta-based SunTrust shows that the average American worker spends 28 hours each month stressing over his or her personal finances, which costs companies about $5,000 per year per employee in lost productivity.

“That means they’re not exactly doing all this worrying on Saturday morning,” Greiner told Chief Executive. “When our employees are worrying about their own finances, they’re unable to serve our customers as effectively as they could.”

“When our employees are worrying about their own finances, they’re unable to serve our customers as effectively as they could.”

Already piloted at more than 40 other Atlanta-area companies, including Home Depot and Delta Airlines, SunTrust’s financial-wellness course is called Momentum onUp—SunTrust’s marketing platform these days is the “onUp Movement,” aimed at giving its customers “financial confidence.” Momentum onUp is a series of classes and online exercises meant to inspire employees to embrace the challenge of understanding and controlling their personal finances, then educating them about how to do it, and equipping them with a range of tools to get a handle on their situations.

First, SunTrust trained 16,000 of its 24,000 employees in Momentum onUp. “And we moved the needle in some very significant ways as far as financial wellness is concerned,” Brian Ford, who heads Momentum onUp, told Chief Executive. “We reduced turnover and increased productivity.”

Ford said that he’s able to get consideration of Momentum onUp on the personal agendas of many CEOs. GasSouth’s Greiner was one CEO who understood viscerally the importance of what SunTrust is trying to accomplish, Ford said.

“We let CEOs like him know what we’re doing, and their eyes light up about it because they know, for example, that their 401(k) programs have low employee-participation rates, and they know the panic that ensues with employees if the company misses a pay day because of some technical glitch. They say, ‘This is an issue in our company.’”

Greiner explained that becoming a “No. 1 place to work” is a major goal for Gas South and that providing “a service around building financial confidence” could help the company achieve its goal.

“You hear about 80% of Americans saying they experience a great deal of financial stress in their lives, and there’s no reason to think  our employee base is any different from that,” Greiner said. And indeed, at Gas South, he says, “There are signs that people are taking loans from their 401(k)s, which gives you an indicator that folks are experiencing unexpected financial challenges and have to dip into their retirement to take care of that. We thought that this is something we ought to offer our employees to help with managing their money.”

Gas South covered the modest cost of launching Momentum onUp at its headquarters and provides up to $200 in financial incentives to each of its 220 employees for finishing the course. Greiner said  he expects 100% participation in Momentum onUp by next spring.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and the financial incentive further attracts people,” he said.

Ford said that one reason CEOs are attracted to Momentum onUp is that, while SunTrust teaches the course, as a brand it recedes into the background and helps each company present the materials with its own branding and even its own course name if it chooses.

“CEOs are seeing this as a new way to differentiate themselves and to build trust,” Ford said.

Claiming that “financial wellness” is a rising employee benefit akin to how companies now routinely pay for “physical wellness” benefits, Ford said CEOs are struck by the common-sense appeal of Momentum onUp compared with programs that provide workout benefits or healthy-eating incentives.

“An employee doesn’t know if he’s going to die of a heart attack in three years, but they do know they’re fighting with their spouses and they’re ill-prepared for retirement and their kids are going to college,” Ford said. “So financial wellness is much more on the mind of the employee, but it’s under-served in the workplace.”


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