A new report has found that workers are enjoying more financial wellness benefits from their employers, including the hiring of advisors to provide them with free financial advice.

Forty-seven percent of employers offer workers access to a financial advisor through their benefits plan, up from 40% just a year ago, according to Bank of America’s new 2021 Workplace Wellness Benefits Report. The survey, released today, yielded data from 834 employers and 1363 employees across the country.

“Employers are really moving to improve their benefit programs by offering employees access to financial advisors. In turn, employees rank access to financial advisors as the number one service they get from their plans,” Steve Ulian, managing director of retirement and wealth solutions at BoA, said in an interview.

“For the first time, 95% of employers now feel a sense of responsibility for employees. This might be shocking, but 56% say they find an extreme sense of responsibility,” Ulian said.

That tracks with the uptick in employers who are offering financial wellness programs to employees (46% in 2021, up from 40% in 2020).

“What we’re seeing is a shift from employers who offer a perfunctory benefit plan, to employers who now see plans as key to attracting and retaining talent. This is significant. ... I have been in the defined benefits arena for 27 years and I think this is an amazing transformation,” Ulian added. 

More employers are also offering auto-escalation in their plans, so that annually employee contributions and the likelihood they’ll meet retirement goals are increased, the survey found. Some 83% of employees say they're fine with automatic enrollment at a 6% deferral percentage and 90% of participants stay in a plan once they're automatically enrolled, according to research from the Principal Financial Group.

“We absolutely have seen an increase in auto escalation. It bounced up from 23% in 2020 up to 38% in 2021. That’s a big jump. I think this comes from employees asking for more help in meeting their retirement goals. I also think advisors who help employers design benefit plans know auto programs, including auto enrollment and auto escalation, help drive financial wellness,” Ulian said.

With the economy reopening and man signs of the pandemic lifting, employee feelings of financial wellness are also rebounding, the survey found. Some 51% of employees rate their financial wellness as good or excellent, up from 49% in 2020, and are headed to toward pre-pandemic levels, which hit 55% in 2019.

Still, women continue to lag their male counterparts both in preparedness and levels of worry about financial wellness, BoA found. Some 47% of women rate their financial wellness as good or excellent, compared to 57% of men.

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