The University of Lincoln has introduced a financial education programme for its staff and students.
- The University of Lincoln launched a financial education programme three years ago, intending to engage staff at a time of low pay increases and pension changes
- It refined the process after the early sessions to ensure they were working best for employees
- The programme also engaged staff with the university's broader benefits offering
Like many universities, the University of Lincoln has historically had a good package of benefits. It has good defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, additional voluntary contribution (AVC) plans and a range of other benefits available through salary sacrifice.
It also has a diverse workforce with a mixture of academics, some of whom continue working into their 80s, and professional service employees.
But, while it has had contractual membership of its pension scheme in place for a number of years – meaning it was less affected by auto-enrolment than many other organisations – it wanted to help people understand their financial benefits better at a time when pension provision was changing and pay rises were being limited. As such, three years ago, the university began to implement a financial education programme alongside Wealth at Work.
Clarifying government policy
University of Lincoln reward and benefits manager Ian Hodson says there was a range of other reasons for launching the programme. First, he says, the introduction of auto-enrolment was creating confusion among the workforce – and highlighting the fact that people didn’t really understand the pension benefits they already had.
“People were seeing posters of Theo telling us that he’s in and were asking what that means for them,” he explains.
Hodson explains the removal of the contracting-out rebate was also a key driver, as the university needed to make sure people understood that coming out of the pension scheme was not going to change their National Insurance situation, so it had to explain that the two events were not linked.
In addition, the removal of the default retirement age was significant within the university’s workforce, as were the changes to the lifetime and annual allowances, which have had a huge impact on the higher education provider’s workforce.
“The £40,000 threshold made us have to think about how we reward people because we were increasingly thinking we were doing the right things in rewarding and then actually finding out that individuals felt de-motivated because they were getting a tax bill from HMRC,” explains Hodson.
As well as this, he says an increase in stress and emergency loan requests was also driving the need for financial education.
“We were seeing it more and more through our employee assistance programme statistics; issues in finance are becoming much more prevalent. And we were seeing an increase in terms of the number of employees coming to us as their employer and looking for support with personal loans,” he says.
Finally, Hodson says the university was becoming more international – and an increasing number of academics were coming from overseas and needed education about how our financial system worked. On top of all this, the university also wanted to offer this programme to students, both to support the student experience and to help prepare students for their future careers.
Hodson says making sure the university’s financial education did not stray into financial advice was really important.
But, after that, he explains that one of the most important themes they picked up on was the extent to which financial planning underpinned career planning. He notes that when the university ran focus groups with its staff, it turned out that many key career decisions – such as when to retire, when to accept a promotion and so on – were driven by financial concerns.
One size does not fit all
Realising this was not a one-size-fits-all process was also important and he says the university split the audience for the financial education programmes into five groups: pre-employment (students), early career (quite often interns), mid-career, late career and high-earners.
The university also looked at how different generations looked at finances – noting that the young had different priorities to the older generations and were more likely to have debt.
“We wanted to cover the same topics and the same themes but to give them a slightly different approach and angle, depending on the audience,” says Hodson.
The University of Lincoln was also keen for the education programme to be very broad and for it to include the basics, such as checking tax codes and reminding people to tell previous pension providers their new address as well as the more standard information on pensions and savings. It also focused on the reward package offered by the university as it finds this can often be forgotten by employees.
“We find that individuals will take note of our benefits when they join, but often they won’t access them during their career – they’ll forget about them. So we wanted to make sure that we refreshed what they were aware of in terms of what we offer as an employer, so that when it does become relevant, they are aware of what they can save through it,” explains Hodson.
The key benefits highlighted by the programme include voluntary benefits such as high-street discounts as well as child care and salary sacrifice for work-related training.
The final item on the agenda for the education programme is financial wellbeing – an area Hodson says is becoming increasingly important, especially when financial worries start to spill over into a workplace that has seen stress overtake the cough, cold and flu as the cause of the most days of absence for its employees.
When the University of Lincoln first piloted its financial education programme three years ago, it was run very much as a number of one-off sessions but the university soon found that it was important for people to see it instead as a programme of activity.
“One of our big challenges has been helping individuals see financial education as something which is layered knowledge, rather than a one-stop shop,” says Hodson.
“We refresh our programme every year, making it relevant to what is changing in terms of taxation, pensions legislation, and what’s changing with us as an employer. And we encourage people to keep coming along so it becomes almost a habit that people refresh and update their knowledge. So putting a programme together is absolutely key in terms of the communication and rollout.”
Hodson says he has found that the length of sessions was also very important – noting that asking people to sit in a classroom environment for up to three hours, something Lincoln tried initially, didn’t work.
Forming a plan
The University of Lincoln spends quite a lot of time forming a communication plan for the programme, with the aim of trying to embed it so it is there all the time.
“We will have sessions where we will run them at certain times of the year, where we’ll have more publicity of them. But in every corner of the university, you’ll see the awareness campaign on financial education, promoting our early-, mid- and late-career sessions – and with the students and the higher-earners – so we want it to be part of the culture that’s there all the time,” says Hodson.
Another key thing to bear in mind is how to communicate with staff, and Hodson says it is crucial not to underestimate how much you have to tailor the programme to different audiences. He also believes it is important to step back from just talking about pensions and bring in the full range of benefits, as well as things that are happening outside the workforce.
And he says that he thinks it is crucial to break down the jargon and make things easy to understand, adding that the University of Lincoln tries to make the language accessible so talks are about late-career planning, rather than retirement – he finds that breaking away from stereotypical terms can help people understand and engage better with the programme.
The university has also made the courses accessible by operating them on a lunch-and-learn basis: encouraging people to use their lunch break to come along and learn something.
It has also used employee champions as case studies for engagement and has a number of individuals throughout the workforce whom it has asked to provide statements about what they got out of the course in order to promote it to other members of staff.
Hodson says there is always a need to be able to justify the investment in a financial education programme. He says he uses tangible measures such as absence levels, staff surveys and real-time session feedback, but notes the intangible measures, such as employee engagement and cultural changes, are the ones that are really significant for the university.
“Part of this is saying what we are about as an employer. We want to make sure that our employees are informed and they can make informed decisions – it is part of our all-round education piece,” he says.
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