Much has been written about the financial stress and anxiety the Covid-19 pandemic caused amongst the US workforce. And a recent study conducted by the Icon Retirement Innovation Research Center confirms that most Americans (63%) still feel stressed about their finances. But this phenomenon is not new. It was not created by the pandemic, just exacerbated by it. Instead, a lack of financial literacy and a workforce that largely lacks access to workplace retirement plans has steadily built the wave of financial stress Americans are experiencing today. Luckily, there is something employers can do about it, and Icon is here to help.

The Data

In 2021, FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) published a report on financial anxiety, stress and literacy in American workers. It collected its data between 2018 and 2020, when the economy was in expansion and the U.S. was experiencing record-low unemployment. Despite these favorable economic conditions, the study found results similar to Icon’s: that 60% of respondents felt anxious when thinking about their finances. More than half weren’t saving money and 20% had accumulated debt.

So during a period when individuals should have been able to improve their financial situation, more than half were not able to do so. Why? There are many factors that both FINRA and Icon found that correlated with problematic financial behaviors like lack of savings. But it’s a lack of financial literacy and access to a workplace retirement plan that are the two hurdles most people couldn’t overcome despite being completely solvable.

In terms of financial literacy, FINRA defined financial literacy as being able to demonstrate a basic understanding of financial terms like interest rates, inflation, and risk diversification. In their study, they found that 63% of financially illiterate people reported feeling financially anxious vs. 51% of financially literate respondents that reported feeling that way.

The FINRA study also found a link between low financial literacy and problematic financial behaviors like overdrawing their checking account and accruing expensive credit card debt.

What can Employers Do?

Employers can provide workers opportunities to save, starting with a retirement plan, and increase workers’ financial knowledge and awareness in the process. Why start with a retirement plan? Those feeling financially anxious are less likely to plan for retirement and need access to a plan through work. And retirement planning is a strong indicator of wealth and a good indicator of how savvy people are about how to use their resources.

Icon found that ⅔ of workers don’t trust their own financial decision making. So they look to their employers to help them save for retirement. If these workers are among the 81 million who lack access to a workplace retirement plan, they’re not likely to feel comfortable investing on their own.

The current 401k-dominant retirement system has created a wealth gap between those whose employer offers this benefit and encourages saving, and those who don’t have access to a retirement plan. The result is generational financial stress and illiteracy get passed down, making it very difficult for people to improve their financial situation.

How Icon can Help

The retirement system as it exists today is broken. It only covers W2 workers who have been at their company for a certain period of time and each 401k plan is an island unto its own. Meaning, 401ks can’t be connected even if they’re owned by the same person. The results are:

  • An estimated 80 million American workers don’t have access to a retirement plan.
  • There’s more than $1 trillion sitting in abandoned 401ks.
  • Over 20% of all 401ks are lost or forgotten.
  • There’s an estimated $3.68 trillion gap between what Americans will need in retirement and what they have saved.
  • Two classes of savers. Plans with larger asset balances pay lower fees than smaller plans, which means it takes employees of smaller companies longer to reach their financial goals than their counterparts at larger employers. 

We need a new system to save for retirement and that’s exactly what Icon has built. Icon’s plan is a retirement savings benefit that enables employers to offer every worker, regardless of classification, a way to achieve financial stability. Our fees are transparent and the same whether you have five employees or 500. Our plans are also portable. This means workers never lose access to their retirement savings. When they leave your company, we simply “unplug” them from your system and “plug” them back into that of their next employer.

Employees want to save. They want to feel like they have more control over their finances and their future. Most also need their employer’s help in doing so. 

What employees don’t want is to navigate a complicated and expensive system. They don’t want to have to read (and understand) complicated plan documents in order to discern how much they’re paying in fees and how they’re supposed to roll old accounts into new ones (or if they’re even allowed to do it). They want saving for retirement to be easy so they can focus on their actual job.

We’ve created a retirement benefit that allows them to do just that. Changing the tide of financial anxiety and illiteracy and lack of savings will take time and continuous effort. But with Icon, employers can help their workers invest in their futures and by doing so, show their workers the company is invested in them. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Icon and how we can help you reduce your employees’ financial stress, reach out to a retirement specialist today.

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