One of my first memories of investing has stayed with me all these years, and looking back now, it still makes me smile – and even cringe a little.
I stood up slowly, distracted and shaking my head wondering how I could possibly do it as I shuffled through what seemed like an endless packet of details. The bold font at the top of the page shouted at me, demanding to know how I was preparing for my financial future.
I was recently released from active duty in the Army and beginning a new role as a contact center representative. I was overwhelmed. How in the world was I ever going to be able to contribute to my 401(k) with all the other competing financial obligations on my plate? I knew it was important, but at the time I didn’t see a way to make it a priority — or so I thought.
Even though I came up with every excuse as to why I couldn’t contribute to my retirement plan, Lorrie – an early leader and mentor, now longtime friend – was relentless. Over the years, she gently prodded me, and I finally gave in just before my 28th birthday and have continued to contribute to my future ever since. It’s the best gift I have ever given myself.
Lorrie’s passion for sharing her wisdom for the betterment of her team, both professionally and personally, stuck with me as I grew in my own career. Looking back on the many lessons learned, one stands out more than any other: having a good understanding of personal finances is so incredibly important.
Fast forward through the years, and here I am leading a team of more than 2,000 amazing colleagues as the Head of U.S. Contact Centers for TD Bank. Now armed with the wisdom that only comes from experience, I want to help my team avoid the mistake of thinking they can delay or wait until they are “all grown up” to take responsibility for their finances and pay that advice forward just as my mentor did for me all those years ago.
The Case for Promoting Financial Wellness
Looking back, focusing on my financial wellness was easy to avoid early on. I was young and things like retirement seemed so far in the distant future. I had time – why did I need to worry about it now?
Boy, was I wrong – and unfortunately, I am not alone. During a recent study, Kiplinger found that one in four Americans ages 30 to 49 are saving nothing for retirement, and more than half said they plan to save more aggressively “later” to make up ground.
For me, had I listened to Lorrie when she first started counseling me, I would have likely contributed about $9,000 more to my retirement. Factoring in compound interest using a 7% annual rate of return, that $9,000 would have turned into $131,000 by the time that I retire.
It’s a stark truth I wish I understood much earlier: The sooner you start saving and investing, whether it’s for a house, college or retirement, the better.
My experience aside, money and personal finances are the number one stressors for Americans regardless of the economic climate, according to the American Psychological Association. Additionally, a recent workplace study conducted by financial firm John Hancock found that 69% of workers are stressed over their finances, with 72% admitting to worrying about their personal finances at work, and one in three doing that more than once a week.
As a people leader, I have an opportunity – a responsibility, really – to enrich the lives of my team, which in turn, allows them to enrich our customers’ lives. From a leadership perspective, if I can have a positive influence on my team’s life, it not only has a lasting impact on them, but it also carries forward to the passion and level of service they put into supporting our customers.
Multiple studies have shown financial stress can result in everything from depression and anxiety to migraines, ulcers and heart issues. On the business side, financially stressed employees are less productive, more distracted at work, have poorer relationships with co-workers and higher rates of absenteeism. A poll of 10,000 American workers conducted by Salary Finance suggests that employees’ personal financial stress is costing businesses upwards of $500 billion a year.
To me, it’s strikingly clear: If employees do not feel financially secure, there is a very good chance it can impact their overall health, or at the very least serve as a significant distraction from their work – all of which can have far-reaching impacts on morale, retention and, of course, the bottom line.
However, helping colleagues develop better financial practices is not something accomplished overnight. Becoming financially literate is crucial, but it is also only the first step. It is not a single topic or one course: it’s a continuous process. Like any training, it takes time, effort, planning and continuous commitment from both the colleague and the leaders who support them.
How I’m Paying it Forward as a Leader
Financial well-being is widely characterized as having a strong sense of confidence about and control over your ongoing financial responsibilities; a capacity to manage unexpected expenses and an ability to meet long-term financial goals.
But, like anything else, developing good financial well-being habits takes time, work and practice. That’s why my leadership team and I are developing a comprehensive financial well-being program for our contact center team. The six-quarter initiative empowers colleagues with the resources and knowledge to make financially healthy decisions. It’s our goal to ensure all aspects of financial well-being education align with every element of personal financial wellness. Throughout our program, participants explore what it means to be financially fit; receive and review helpful resources to create personalized goals, plans and budgets; and learn about personal finance topics such as savings, credit, debt management, home ownership and retirement.
In addition to my efforts to help improve the financial well-being of my team, I am proud to work for a company like TD that also promotes the importance of financial well-being for all its employees, through free financial services and information covering topics ranging from foundational financial wellness to investing basics.
My colleague, Alyson Klug, Head of U.S. Wealth National Sales at TD Bank, recently shared that “while the financial services industry is seeing a rise in clients wanting to be more hands-on with their investing, those same investors must be comfortable investing and have the time to invest on their own, as well as be armed with the right information needed to invest.”
So, in terms of financial well-being, knowledge is power, and information is king.
Making the point to change my behaviors and overall outlook on financial wellness has made such a positive difference in my life. Now, it is my hope that helping my team develop financial knowledge will lead them to feel more confident about building their futures and attaining their dreams. Further, from a leadership perspective, helping my team better understand the importance of their own holistic financial wellness – even in small ways – has allowed me to build strong, meaningful, and lasting relationships with them. And for me, that is one of the most rewarding professional investments I continue to make.