This phrase originated in America from the 19th Century when saloons offered ‘free’ food alongside your first beer. The food was always dry and high in salt creating thirst and often lead to the purchase of more beer. Unfortunately, this sales strategy is still often in operation and is rife in the financial wellbeing sector, let me explain.

I absolutely love my work. As a financial services professional, I take great satisfaction in the fact that my team and I positively influence behavioural change and instil long term financial habits that will, over time, dramatically improve the financial lives of thousands of people through a robust workplace financial wellbeing strategy.

Due to my profession, I am often asked to speak at or attend various employee wellbeing events and in June of this year, I was invited to a financial wellbeing event.

I walked into a flagship office of a very well-known, credible and established British institution, a household name who were hosting the event. The venue was extremely impressive, shiny marble everywhere, incredible views and superb hospitality – canapes and beverages. Attendees were milling about, networking and chatting about financial wellbeing.

As hosts of the event, their Head of Financial Wellbeing was given the opportunity to present their financial wellbeing proposition. I am always keen to learn from others and so with pen and notepad in hand I sat back ready to gain some new insights. As the presenter began to deliver their message, I started feel my energy slowly draining to a point where my initial enthusiasm became utter disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, the individual came across professionally and there was no doubt his intentions were good, however, in my opinion, he and his organisation did not fully understand the true meaning of financial wellbeing. The presentation was littered with financial jargon and acronyms only known to seasoned financial professionals. The whole presentation descended into nothing more than a sales pitch for their lending and investment products and failed to address the issues facing employees in terms of their financial wellbeing.

To make matters worse, the content was being promoted as “free of charge” to employers. Free of charge?? Shouldn’t they be paying for the privilege of selling their wares to employees? I actually felt embarrassed and cringed when the explanation for the ‘free to employer’ aspect was that they cared for employees and that’s why they do it!

Ok, if you regularly read my blogs, or follow my activity on social media, you may recognise that I often give things away.  However, there’s a difference between sharing useful information and resources that I know will help you shape your financial wellbeing strategy as opposed to specific product giveaways that really do benefit the provider more than you and your employees.

Now back to the event. I felt really deflated at this point. The hosts were stood in front of a group of influential people, that represented thousands of employees, and the impression they were getting of financial wellbeing was this. The damage that could have been done was immense. Should this experience have put any of the audience off who may have been looking at their own employee financial wellbeing, it would be a travesty for the employees within their organisations.

So why did this happen? I believe that the main reason is, the motivation for these programmes is primarily to sell their products to your employees rather than improve their financial wellbeing.

With HR departments generally struggling to get management buy in and set out meaningful budget for financial wellbeing, I can fully understand the need for employers to gravitate towards the free options route.

But please, if you are embarking on your employee financial wellbeing journey, remember that free is not always better for your employees and can work out more costly in the future. If the supplier requires your employees to borrow or invest money with them, please take care. In my opinion, some suppliers of ‘free to employer’ financial wellbeing solutions, are under pressure to achieve sales targets and this pressure can manifest itself in your workforce and be counterproductive.

Consider rewarding suppliers for a measurable improvement in employee financial wellbeing rather than by how much money they can extract from or loan to your employees. By doing it this way, both yours and their objectives will be aligned, and it can lead to a more appropriate employee outcome

On a positive note about the event, there was a highly academic speaker who had originated from occupational health and talked, with depth, about employee wellbeing. He wasn’t selling anything other than his knowledge and experience as a consultant in this area. He single handedly changed the tone of the event – thank goodness – otherwise people would have left with the wrong impression of the sector.

There are plenty of other people out there like him so take your time looking for a good one. Before you get involved with a financial wellbeing professional, check out their business model. Ensure their objectives are primarily focussed on the benefit to your employees and not their product sales targets.

If you would like to improve the financial wellbeing of your employees, then you should begin with developing a strategy that is specifically designed to address the needs and wants of your workforce. I also recommend you have a way of measuring financial wellbeing and introduce the right solutions, to the right people at the right time, continuously measuring the effectiveness of your strategy. Any improvement should and can be translated into a return on investment which will be needed to justify further investment and strengthen management buy in.

If you would like to understand more about financial wellbeing and how to get started on your own financial wellbeing journey, then The Workplace Financial Wellbeing LinkedIn group is running a conference on 19th September, in London.

The speakers are all experts in this area and there is a strict “no selling” rule so you can relax and enjoy the content and personal experiences they have to share.

Oh, and by the way – I am one of the speakers.

You can register for the Workplace Financial Wellbeing Conference here.

Darren Laverty, Speaker, Author and Financial Wellbeing Strategist