A typical employee does not leave his financial problems in the parking lot before he enters the workplace, any more than he leaves his other worries there. Employers have been providing employee assistance programs (EAPs) for years to help their employees deal with things like marital problems and drug and alcohol abuse.
Two St. Louis entrepreneurs recognized some years ago that those same assistance programs might also offer assistance with financial matters as well. When Stephen H. Wedel, a founding partner of Four Seasons Wealth Management, and Tim Hobart, CEO of H&H Health Associates were beginning their careers nearly 30 years ago, they had a conversation that was a "light bulb moment." They realized employees were just as distracted at work by their financial concerns as they were by other problems. Yet their employee assistance programs did not deal with money issues.
They decided to collaborate, and have been doing so since their partnership began in 1983. "We were on the right side of the curve nearly 30 years ago, when almost all EAPs only dealt with negative issues," says Hobart, whose firm H&H provides employee assistance to midsize companies averaging 200 to 500 employees. "We were squarely in the intersection of employers who wanted highly productive employees and EAPs that did not provide the type of help Steve and I thought we could provide."
Hobart had the contacts with employers and could approach the companies about providing different services such as financial education and advice. Wedel, a CFP, had the financial skills.
There was one stumbling block. They had to assure employers that Wedel, and whoever else he brought in from his firm for the financial programs would not use the sessions as a marketing tool and would not be selling any products or services.
"When we started our collaboration, it was cutting-edge work because almost no one else was doing it," says Hobart. "Back then, as well as today, we assure employers and their employees that the financial advisor is not a wolf in sheep's clothing. Under no circumstance will we allow a salesman into the workplace. Each employer is assured that the financial programs offered are academic and educational only."
"My financial planning services, as well as Tim's employee assistance programs, are separate advisory functions and always will be," Wedel says. "When you recognize and address the fact that for more than a century the educational system has failed to help people with their finances, then a logical solution is to introduce the education in the work environment where personal financial problems are creating a negative impact on performance. This solution created the alliance between financial planning and the EAP."
Companies that hire H&H Health Associates to handle employee counseling can include as one of the offerings financial education and advice. In the beginning, Wedel did all the educational programs himself, at the same time he was building his own financial services practice. He now has 15 advisors on staff, about 150 clients and $250 million in assets under management, and his advisor team now presents the employee assistance programs.
Four Seasons' typical clients have investable assets averaging from $50,000 to $1 million. The firm works on a combined commission and fee basis with fees ranging from 0.8% to 1.2%.
Wedel has refined the presentations since he and Hobart started the collaboration and added more subjects and different levels of complexity, depending on the employee audience. His educational programs range from a "Financial Boot Camp" (a Finance 101 course), to expansive and comprehensive retirement and estate planning presentations.
The first session usually draws a diverse population with many different issues covered, and subsequent sessions draw people with more specific issues. Line employees usually attend the first of the sessions, but Wedel says owners and managers start attending as the programs grow more complex. "We never reveal employee information to an employer about anything we are told or asked, but we do take a survey to see if the attendees feel the sessions are useful and we report that to the employer," Wedel says.