The number of employers offering financial wellness programs through the workplace is expected to nearly double over the next several years, according to a new study by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).

The MassMutual Financial Wellness Trend Study surveyed a total of 863 employers online that sponsor retirement savings plans with assets of between $1 million and $75 million.

Nearly half (42%) of employers said they offered financial wellness programs; 19% of employers said they were in the process of implementing programs; and 19% said they planned to introduce wellness programs within the next three years.

The bigger the employer, the greater the importance placed on financial wellness, MassMutual found. Overall, 86% of employers characterized financial wellness programs as “important,” with 72% of smaller employers (fewer than 25 workers) and 94% of larger firms (1,000 or more workers) agreeing with the majority of respondents.

Employers had several motivations for offering financial wellness programs, MassMutual found. The chief motivation, according to 90% of respondents, was that employers “really care about their employees.” Eight in 10 employers also cited the opportunity to support employees at a minimal cost, while being on the “cutting edge of benefit offerings” and gaining an advantage in hiring talent.

When asked what made for an effective financial wellness program, 47% of employers said it should address an employee’s full financial picture. Others pointed to combinations of retirement, insurance, education benefits and advice. Other popular components included credit/debt counseling, help with medical costs, and childcare and elder care, MassMutual said.

Although many employers said that online financial planning tools were a must have for any effective financial wellness program, nearly one-fifth of respondents (18%) said online tools were the least successful component of their program. Factors for determining a financial wellness program's success included employee feedback, participation in programs, employee metrics and retention.

The most popular components of a financial wellness program were retirement (90%); online retirement tools (86%) or financial planning tools (86%); protection products such as life, disability and medical insurance (82%); and access to a financial advisor for financial planning (77%) or retirement planning (76%), the study found.

While nearly half of all respondents cited communications as a determining factor for a program's success, one-third of respondents (32%) said that financial rewards, including discounts, cash awards and free credit reports, drove participation.

“Financial wellness need not be expensive for either employers or employees,” said Una Morabito, head of client management for MassMutual, in a news release. “Working with the right provider, effective tools and education, and a mix of voluntary benefits designed to meet a wide variety of needs can make all the difference.”

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