SunTrust Banks CEO Bill Rogers has his hands full at the moment dealing with a potentially huge employee theft of customer data. But he’s not letting that interfere with perhaps the most important initiative of his seven-year tenure as chief: boosting the financial literacy of the people who work for SunTrust and for its client companies.
The Atlanta-based financial-services giant launched an internal platform for improving financial literacy a few years ago after Rogers learned that even bank employees experience huge stress and uncertainty about their own economic futures. A big reason why is they simply lack the understanding and tools to plan.
Rogers brought in a small consulting firm to teach SunTrust’s employees and then acquired the outfit so that the bank could offer the same financial-literacy services to companies across the U.S. that also perceived the need. Now, he told Chief Executive, Momentum onUp has become a not-for-profit outfit as well as a key program internally and externally.
“We said, ‘We’re actually on to something here,’” Rogers recalled. “We wanted to offer it to our clients. They can make themselves the heroes with their employees. And we gain more credibility with the client. It’s an opportunity also to help bend the curve for society; we can all learn together.”
At this point the vast majority of SunTrust’s 24,000 employees have taken the onUp coursework, and more of its clients’ personnel are doing so as well in a course called Momentum onUp. The classwork is supplemented by an online platform that offers savings calculators, budgeting tools, and lots of helpful content as well as a “gamified” experience that helps players work on financial goals.
“They were like the cobbler’s children with no shoes.”
After completing the financial-literacy program, more than 80 percent of SunTrust’s employee participants are “more confident about their finances,” Rogers said. Employee retention is about 50 percent higher for those at SunTrust who complete the program than not.
SunTrust introduced its concern about financial wellbeing to America with a Super Bowl commercial in 2016, then launched the online, gamefied consumer version of its curriculum to the general public as well in an initiative that was reinforced by a Winter Olympics TV spot this year. More than three million Americans have participated in some aspect of it.
Rogers first considered a financial-literacy effort as a way to show employees that SunTrust has a purpose beyond the bottom line for its employees and clients. “There’s a lot of opportunity being able to be an employer of choice,” he explained. “We certainly hear from our workforce that they want to work for a company that stands for something, and onUp is one of those overt things that signals we stand for something outside the company.”
The CEO also saw data that stunned him: About 40 percent of SunTrust’s employees were “not confident in their own finances,” he said. “They were like the cobbler’s children with no shoes.”
Many other Americans also feel economic insecurity and demonstrate a lack of even basic financial skills amid a growing economy, Rogers said. “They live paycheck-to-paycheck regardless of their income level, and many have nothing saved for retirement,” he said.
At the same time, research told him and his team at SunTrust that “employer-led education about financial wellbeing has the highest correlation to success. The education and the paycheck coming from the same place is an obvious corollary.”
Atlanta-based clients including Delta Airlines and Home Depot have taken advantage of Momentum onUp, and more than 100 companies overall are using the platform. SunTrust does the teaching and provides the tools for its clients’ and other companies’ employees while allowing the clients to brand the services as their own. As the Momentum onUp enterprise has grown, SunTrust has added a version in Spanish.