Santander on financial wellbeing: 'We have put in place ways to support colleagues in saving money'

Business in the Community's (BITC) Mental Health at Work 2018 report exposed the causal relationship between finances and mental health, with 34 per cent of employees reporting that their financial situation negatively affects their mental health. We spoke to Suzanne Hughes (pictured), HR Chief Operating Officer at Santander, about how the company supports financial wellbeing.

Suzanne Hughes, Director of Learning, Santander UKQ: Can you tell us a bit about why Santander has decided to focus on financial wellbeing as part of its overall wellbeing strategy? And what the response has been like from your employees?

A: Overall employee wellbeing is essential for a productive, healthy and thriving workforce. There is increasing evidence of the connection between employee physical and mental wellbeing with financial wellbeing. The 2018 BITC Mental Health at Work Report findings demonstrate a two-way causal relationship between financial wellbeing and mental health; issues in one area can create problems in the other.  

Our purpose at Santander is to help people and businesses prosper. We achieve this by helping customers at the moments that matter the most and we apply this to supporting our colleagues as well. In early 2019 we re-positioned our wellbeing strategy across four pillars: physical, mental, social and financial. By looking at wellbeing in this way, it has enabled a dialogue across the bank on the support offered across the four pillars.  

Traditionally, getting involved in employees’ finances may be seen as a taboo area. However, looking at the research and listening to our employees we recognised there are a lot of financial pressures on people today and that everyone can be affected by money worries, regardless of salary. For example, the employee financial wellbeing moments that matter can range from: saving for a new home; struggling with debt; wanting to plan for future retirement; or support for those who are part of the 'sandwich generation' looking after both their parents and children.  

As part of our employee benefits package, we have put in place ways to support colleagues in saving money, to set a savings goal or budget plan for everyday life. One of the ways we have done this is by offering our colleagues access to an employee financial wellbeing tool called Nudge, which is a financial education service that aims to increase the skills and capabilities of employees in managing their money and rewards. Nudge aims to bridge the gap between work and home, by providing education on workplace reward (for example benefits, pensions, share plans) but also finances outside of work (childcare to eldercare and holidays to housing). The feedback from employees, where they have used the tool to manage their finances in a personalised way, on this has been positive. 

This focus on financial wellbeing alongside physical, social and mental wellbeing means that we are taking a holistic, integrated approach supporting our colleagues to thrive.  

Q:  At BITC we speak to a lot of organisations that are keen to do something to support employee financial wellbeing, but aren’t sure how to go about it. What advice would you give them in terms of getting started? What do you think are the most important first steps?

A: I think that the first step for us was to start talking about financial wellbeing – to normalise it rather than never discussing it, which results in the topic becoming taboo. By including financial wellbeing as one of the four pillars of our wellbeing strategy, we made financial wellbeing one of the key components of our wellbeing programme.  

Q: Lots of companies struggle between the conflict of implementing wellbeing strategies simply because it’s the right thing to do to look after their employees, and wanting to measure a tangible return of investment (ROI) for their business? Where do you stand? 

A: Our approach is to see the win-win that improving employee wellbeing can lead to – because it is the right thing to do and it can also deliver tangible ROI. Some of the results can be tangible to HR measures such as short-term and long-term absence. The number of cases being referred to our suicide risk-assessment line increased after our Positive About Mental Health training was delivered to line managers. We saw this as a positive increase because it showed line managers were taking more action if they were concerned about a colleague’s welfare. 

Others can be more indirectly measured via employee sentiment about our wellbeing support, which is measured through our employee surveys. We also measure the take-up rates of some of our benefits, including those relating to financial wellbeing – for example, increasing the amount paid into a pension. 

Q: What steps do you think need to be taken to ensure board-level buy-in for wellbeing initiatives? How important do you think their buy-in is to overall success?

A: Wellbeing is discussed so much more commonly now in society than it was a few years ago when it may have been seen as a 'nice to have' initiative. We talk about wellbeing with our executive committee and board as part of the range of programmes that support our culture. For support and investment in wellbeing initiatives it’s important that wellbeing is at the heart of those initiatives that will create a responsible and sustainable culture.  

Q: What are you planning to do next in terms of your financial wellbeing strategy and wellbeing more broadly?

A: For financial wellbeing we are continuing to promote the Nudge tool and will also use that to help increase the uptake of some of our existing benefits, while also using the feedback and insight we get from it to help us to develop new ideas. 

In addition to our focus on financial wellbeing we are also looking at how we approach the social wellbeing pillar of our strategy. For example, one of our aims here is to review and put in place initiatives where colleagues can get involved on a weekly basis – in some of our locations there are yoga classes, choirs, and sports teams.