| Personal finance education a valued benefit for water authority employees
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Personal finance education a valued benefit for water authority employees

SDCWA's Gretchen SpaniolEducating employees about how to manage their personal finances is paying big dividends for the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA).

The wholesale water supplier received a $24,884 grant in 2020 to develop a financial wellness program for its staff and the more than 16,000 employees at its 24 retail water agencies, which include cities, special districts and a military base in the San Diego region. (Pictured above, SDCWA’s Gretchen Spaniol “shining a light” on personal finances)

Employee communication about finance coursesThe grant was provided through Mission Square Research Institute, which awarded a total of $1.4 million in funds to 24 public employers across the United States. 

The funding enabled SDCWA to contract with the nonprofit Association of Financial Educators and other organizations to offer a series of financial courses, incentive prizes, and an online, interactive financial wellness platform beginning in 2021. (Pictured left, employee communication about the online financial education platform, Enrich)

“Financial wellness has been a focus for public agencies for many years, but even more so in the wake of COVID-19 and the budget and economic crises many employees face today,” said Gretchen Spaniol, special projects manager with SDCWA. “Employers like the SDCWA have found that financial stress has a significant impact on productivity, focus and engagement.”

The grant enabled SDCWA to offer a comprehensive financial wellness program, including ideas and resources for content. Staff who completed online courses, attended webinars and participated in financial literacy tests received a mini-Mag lite flashlight to “shine a light on their personal finances.”

Employee messaging about retirement courseTopics covered in the financial courses included how to reduce debt, save for retirement and reach other financial goals. Most sessions were provided during lunchtime and recorded, if possible. Additional self-paced education was offered on-demand through the online platform, Enrich.

“What most excited the SDCWA about this grant was the opportunity to provide this benefit to its own staff and all employees from its 24 member agencies, in a pandemic-friendly method,” Spaniol said. “Through program metrics and employee feedback, we learned that employee stress levels related to personal financial issues had decreased. Many employees – especially those early in their careers – said the financial literacy classes improved their skills and confidence.”

Employees also offered examples of how the educational sessions impacted their lives and helped them plan for specific goals.

“One employee mentioned how much he appreciated learning about long-term care, its costs, and options for coverage for a spouse with a chronic medical condition that had been causing him stress,” Spaniol said. “Another mentioned how much she appreciated the Investing 101 sessions, since she hadn’t received that information in school or learned it in her household growing up. On average, more than 60 individuals attended each of the remote educational sessions, with an average 95% high satisfaction evaluation rate.”

SDCWA plans to continue offering the digital platform and educational sessions provided by facilitators from the Association of Financial Educators while annually evaluating its attendance, engagement and effectiveness.

Mission Square Research Institute conducts research and insights to help attract and retain public sector employees. Rivka Liss-Levinson, senior research manager with the institute, said financial wellness can result in more productive and engaged employees, improve morale, lower absenteeism, alleviate burnout, and reduce health care costs.

“Well-designed financial wellness programs are a win-win for employees and employers, especially at a time when governments are struggling to recruit and retain workers,” she said. “Ultimately, these programs improve employees’ ability to deliver vital public services.”