A recent study revealed that 7 out of 10 American workers say financial problems are their most common stressor. Nearly 40 percent dwell on these issues at work, undoubtedly affecting productivity. PICPA member Anna Jungclaus, CPA, CFO of Equal Measure in Philadelphia, explains how corporate CPAs are in a unique position to teach financial literacy to employees. Corporate CPAs can help assuage their fears and, in turn, help them become more productive workers and citizens.
By: Jim DeLuccia, PICPA Communications Manager
A study by Joo Kim, author of Financial Stress, Pay Satisfaction and Workplace Performance found that seven out of 10 American workers say financial problems are their most common stressor and nearly 40% spend at least three hours a week distracted by these issues at work. Distracted workers affect productivity, which ultimately hurts a company. Anna Jungclaus, CPA, CFO of Equal Measure in Philadelphia is a passionate financial literacy volunteer for the PICPA. And she joins me to further explain the value of CPA's offering financial literacy programs in the workplace. Anna, thanks so much for coming to our headquarters to talk about this subject today.
[Jungclaus] Oh, you're very welcome, Jim.
I want to begin, do you find the research, some of the research there that I quoted at the outset, and I think, you know, obviously you and I had some conversations prior to meeting today, some of that research there, do you find that particularly surprising?
[Jungclaus] No, I don't at all. Through the years I have done, as you mentioned, financial counseling with the PICPA, but also in my individual work environment, I've seen culture, organizational culture is so important and the individual's work environment lends their contribution to the culture of the organization. And I think we would all say that we want to have a healthy, happy work environment and culture for our organization. I feel equal measure is a non-profit. Of course we are abiding by our mission and our values. The culture is part of what we feel is important to us and to the foundations that we work with. If you have staff that have financial wellness in their personal lives, I think that they feel much more content coming to work and doing the best job that they can possibly do. That's the internal piece for me.
From externally the volunteer work as you mentioned, over the years I've worked with manufacturing groups where HR groups have called me in to do some financial counseling for people who have had wage garnishments, things of that nature where they really were willing to try to unpack what it was that was working and not working with their personal budgets. And with the PICPA, I've been fortunate enough to work with women's organizations to talk to women about retirement pension, household income and budgets and with youth in Philadelphia, which has been really great because I feel, and I know we'll revisit this throughout the conversation. I feel that if we can teach that financial literacy at a younger age, people understand what their college loans mean. What it means is they're working and living in an apartment and just how to manage their finances. I feel that the stress that has come over the year's comes from a lot of unwellness in that literacy area.
I think you're right. I think that, that's something that I've certainly noticed from just some of my work here at the PICPA and from talking to other members like yourself about just sort of the lack of education. I think that's an important point to mention there. Do you have any success stories to share of how short financial literacy programs at workplaces have held?
[Jungclaus] Yes, I do. I think, well internally for us, I feel it has worked in that we have a really strong talent management HR department and we're a small group. We're 25 staff, varying ages. With those ages brings a lot of different financial good pieces and some that maybe are not so good.
What we offer, because we are a small staff, we offer an outsourced third party financial counseling. They're actually associated with our third-party group who manages our 403(b) and our retirement dollars. And that person will always come out by appointment and we as an organization introduce everyone as they're onboarded to this person and they arrive at our offices. I would say for a seven or eight hour a day, once to twice a year as we're doing our benefit roll out.
People understand that there's a retirement contribution that Equal Measure makes once a year and how important that is and they are understanding something that I feel really helps culturewise is to understand that whether you're 25 or whether you're 55, it's good to continue to save for retirement. Either with their 403(b) their Roth, and this is something that not only do I explain when they're onboarded and when we do our benefit roll out's every year, but the staff then again hear it from this other person, an outside expert. And I think that, that has really helped us over the last three or four years. We have probably gotten 75% to 80% participation in our retirement savings plan, which we were probably at around 20% to 30% of the individual participating prior to that. And along those lines too, we have bigger, higher participation in our transit and our medical FSA.
Tax free savings plan for them to be able to, you know, use a card for their transportation or their medical. And we always explain that several times during onboarding. But again, as we do our roll out with another third party with a broker each year, all of those benefits are explained and just how fortunate people are to have that, so that enrollment has gone up too. And I think most importantly is that these people understand what a benefit it is for them. And all of this is again, because we are a small group, and it's hard sometimes for that CPA, CFO to get the message out there we've also outlined at all in our handbook. There are appendices showing 403(b) and how to be involved in that. The handbook lists every benefit and why it's a good thing. We promote people taking that to their tax adviser so that they can have their own people understanding, you know, and their family members understanding the benefit of what they're doing with that.
And then externally what I always remember as a great success, I worked with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension years ago and that was where I went in and did some financial counseling for a manufacturing firm. And out of I would say five or six people, two to three of them really, really understood what they needed to do for literacy coaching and just to really understand where their budget dollars were, how they would pay loans off. And there was one woman who really took every receipt for the week, understood where the money was coming from and going and just really ran with it. And that's one that I always remember. When Mylin with the PICPA asked me to volunteer again, it really did come back to me - what a great feeling that was. And you know, it was, I would say two or three were very successful out of eight to 10. And that's okay because I think others do take something away if they had no literacy coaching in the past, they always have a good takeaway.
The statistics bear it out, and I guess your experiences do as well. There's certainly a correlation between the education and action, I guess from people and taking good action as far as savings, whether it's saving for retirement or maybe saving for college or something like that. There's a correlation there that if you educate, people are likely to make better decisions. That's certainly encouraging.
[Jungclaus] True. And that's why I really feel that the literacy work in, with the girl scouts, with the youth of Philadelphia. I just think that's so important because it's something you take with you from that minute on.
In your current workplace or others, have you ever counseled employees about personal finances and if so, what is one surprising takeaway from these conversations?
[Jungclaus] I have counseled some of our staff, I think the surprise was first the numbers that I gave you on enrollment in our 403(b) and our Roth participation. I would say there were two other pieces that were a bit of a surprise. Over the years we will contribute annually a pension contribution, which is separate because we don't have a matching or anything of that nature. We do have a pension contribution that we promise our very best if the organizational health is there, that we will participate from 0 to 8% every year of their salary. And over the years, people really didn't understand what a great piece that was and that, that was physically being placed in their account for them to manage for future years, so that was a little bit of a surprise. And then once I realized that was up to me to educate staff regarding that, it helped with that pickup on the 403(b) Roth as well. Again, financial literacy education is such a great piece.
And the other piece that surprised me was probably more on my side that I wasn't thinking about this. I've had more staff lately coming to me asking where in their financial planning, paying back of student debt should occur and how they should calculate. Should they be, because they're looking at paying off student debt and they're looking at contributing to their 403(b) Roth, which clinically we would say absolutely you must put money toward your retirement. But now there are studies coming out that the largest debt for people over 65 has become student debt, because they have not paid that off. And if it's government debt, that involves your Social Security and everything else as you grow older. I think as we learned what has worked and not worked through the years, we need to help these generations to not have those same pitfalls that we found or I don't even know that people were aware.
I think the awareness on the CFO's part as well as the employees part, that they need to look at these pieces organically and holistically. You need to treat the student debt in one way, but you need to treat your savings in another.
That's a really interesting point you mentioned Anna because we recently recorded a half hour program for Pennsylvania Cable News network on saving for college and paying off college debt. And one of our members mentioned sort of the dilemma that's out there for millennials especially regarding ‘how do I balance my finances there between saving for retirement, saving for college, possibly for their children, and obviously paying off the debt.’ It does seem like it's a really tricky equation that a lot of folks are experiencing right now.
[Jungclaus] I agree. And then their living expenses and job market, right?
Yeah, it definitely seems like a really challenging environment in that regard. Now, I wanted to kind of bring this home a little bit to our listeners out there and I think a lot of this conversation as far as financial literacy in the workplace, I think it's really going to apply especially to members who are, you know, corporate accountants who are working in the corporate environment as opposed to those who are working in public. But though it may apply to those working in public as well. But do you think it's critical for CFOs and other business and industry leaders who are CPAs to take the lead on making sure their employees have basic financial literacy skills, so they aren't stressed about this in the workplace. And if so, where can they turn for guidance on developing a program?
[Jungclaus] Yes, I absolutely do think, I think it is up to us and as CPAs we have an expertise that we should share. Maybe one of the biggest issues is sometimes we take for granted that everyone understands what we're saying or understands our speak. And if we could share more of that information at every group, but especially in your workforce because you do know, you have a hand, you have a finger on the pulse of what is going on in your workforce. And if someone is an unhappy worker, not only just don't you want that from a value standpoint, but it also creates a less efficient worker as well. And we want people to come in and want to work at Equal Measure we were always, we're doing surveys on culture and morale and seeing what more we can introduce.
And it can be a very simple piece, but the education I think has to happen and whether it's helping staff to understand what an app is on their phone that they could use. I think you and I mentioned it before, there's NerdWallet, they are like a whole group of budgeting tools that you can use as well. And I think though for many people that's one of the more comfortable ways to do it so that if your bank activity is just feeding into this budget sort of a program, your understanding how much you made this week, how much went out for withholding's that you had to have, how much went out for entertainment. And you can quantify all of that and then change your behavior based on that. And I think those tools, I think the CFO especially, so many of us feel that there just isn't enough time in the day to do everything that we need to do.
I think we always try to utilize HR talent people to keep a beat on this and to help roll out programs. You could always have a, there could be a brown bag. We do a lot of brown bag lunches where we gather everyone together. We talk about, we could talk about a product and it could be something like a budgeting app or like Mint, Acorn, Prism, Personal Capital, that sort of a thing. It could be a checklist that you make up for your staff. You know, am I a financially literate or successful person? Do I understand these terms? Another could be a basic budget, which I know I've used with some of the youth in Philadelphia before they do their intern work. Here's the dollar amount you're bringing in, how much are you spending in transportation? And usually when someone looks at those numbers for the month and then for the year, they're astonished at how much money is going to each of these pockets, if you will.
But I think that whether we're trying to leverage the limited amount of time we have or whether it's because we have many hats that we're wearing, I think there are many ways. The brown bag and the apps, but then also PICPA has a great amount of literature on their website. And I've gone to other CPA groups to from say like D.C. or other locations and just grabbed a few things here and there. But the Pennsylvania CPA society has many basic pieces that I've been able to use with staff and just to get the word out and have them start to think about it. And I feel that successful if they then drop by my office and say, "I just don't quite understand how this would work for me with X, Y, Z." But I do feel like that is part of the role of us as, as CPAs with expertise and trying to keep the culture positive.
You mentioned resources, obviously NerdWallet is a big one. And you mentioned the PICPA and we do have resources at www.picpa.org/mandl, which stands for Money and Life. We have some presentations there. And to your point about the girl scouts, we have the Girl Scouts presentations there. Since we do a lot of work with them in the community, it help them earn financial literacy badges. I think it's important to know too and Anna, maybe you'll probably, you may end up mentioning this so hopefully I'm not stealing your thunder, but the AICPA has a huge financial literacy initiative and campaign that's been going on for many years now. The folks out there can access all the resources they have at www.360finlit.org, which that URL stands for 360 degrees of financial literacy. It's pretty easy to find it.
Again, there are so many tools out there that are, I think would be helpful for CPAs to use, you know, in their workplaces or just in the community at large. Finally, what if CFOs and corporate, CPA's in our audience, what if they're just not comfortable setting up a program like this? Where can they turn to be sure their employees are comfortable and productive?
[Jungclaus] Well, I think a lot of these resources, as you mentioned, will help them to craft that piece. But I feel the CPA societies are a great place to go. But again, as we mentioned before, leveraging third parties is a great opportunity. As I believe when we talked about the retirement, our third party adviser for retirement, they can come out and speak privately to employees and if an office manager or someone has a bead on when the most staff are in the office, sometimes we'll do it after a staff meeting or right before a benefit package roll out. Try to gather as many people as you can so that they have individual opportunities to speak with a financial adviser about everything. I mean, nothing is off the table as far as their financial issues or concerns.
The other piece is we often use our benefits broker when they come out to do a benefits roll out. They also speak of some financial literacy programs that they will have. Next time a CFO is shopping for a new benefit broker you can always see what there is there. And another piece that I have heard just wonderful things about is there are nonprofit organizations that do a lot of financial mentoring and brown bag sort of, you know, one- to three-hour illustrations of what they have to offer in knowledge. And it's very similar to what we could receive from the PICPA website as well. But, I know Clarify does a lot of wonderful work in Philadelphia and they will come out and I believe they will do group or individual counseling. I'm not sure about that. But they've been here for a very long time and doing great work with a lot of members of our staff actually who have been at other positions.
That's great. So, there are options.
[Jungclaus] There are, there are.
Always good to have tons of options.
[Jungclaus] Agreed. But I believe it's our job to keep that ball rolling.
Right, right. Well, Anna, thanks so much for sharing your experience about financial literacy education with our listeners. I personally think it's an important message, and I think a lot of people out there would agree with that.
[Jungclaus] I agree wholeheartedly, Jim.
If you want to volunteer for financial literacy efforts with the PICPA, become a member of PICPA’s speaker's bureau, which is called CPA Voice, and you can sign up for that at www.picpa.org/cpavoice.