It’s been said a thousand times already, but Covid-19 has changed everything.
Not just our economy and our ways of working, travelling and communicating. It’s even changing the discussions we have and the things we talk to each other about.
And by that, I specifically mean money.
A year ago I never would have thought I’d see such an open public discussion around money and financial health.
Now you only have to scan the headlines or scroll through Twitter to see people sharing stories and advice relating to budgeting, saving, mortgages, income and financial support.
Of course, it’s terrible that this situation has forced us to have these conversations — and I’m aware that, for many people, they aren’t positive conversations. But I believe that bringing information into the public sphere and being open about financial issues will only be helpful for everyone.
Learning about Covid finances with Better With Money
So, I was really excited to join a webinar led by @Sarah Steel from Better With Money a few weeks ago.
Better With Money is an organisation that helps employers provide financial education for their workforce. I joined their session on ‘Covid-19: Curing your finances’, which is specifically designed to help employees tackle the financial challenges of this mad, unprecedented time.
I learned loads of really useful, practical stuff — which I’ll get to a bit later.
But, most importantly, I found the session a really easy way for employers to support their team with their financial health.
After all, at a time like this it’s not just about talking the talk, and saying that you care about the people in your team. It’s about walking the walk too, and actually providing the help and support they might need.
Joining the webinar really inspired me to think about how I could do this better – hopefully, reading this blog post will inspire you too!
Practical advice for improving financial health during the pandemic
I’ve worked in the FS space for two decades now, so I went into the webinar feeling that I shouldn’t have too much to learn.
But I was surprised by the amount of small tips and quick wins Sarah provided that I never would have thought about on my own.
Here’s just a quick selection of some of the practical advice which really surprised me:
- WFH tax relief: if you’re working from home during the pandemic you can claim tax relief on £6 of your pay a week for the extra expense accrued by using your home as an office.
- Pensions: now is a really good time to invest in your pension. But if you’re not in a place to invest, then it’s best to leave your pension alone. Don’t try to consolidate pension plans or switch, as it will only lock in your losses. Instead, it’s best to let the market recover, and the value of your pension will increase over time. If you’re approaching the eligible age to take your pension, Sarah recommended the Pension Advisory Service.
- Mortgages: if you’re struggling with your mortgage, you can take a mortgage holiday, meaning you stop or reduce mortgage payments for up to three months. The FCA has made it possible to apply for a mortgage holiday until October 31st 2020. You agree to this holiday up front, so it has no impact on your credit score. But, Sarah noted, it’s important to remember that interest will still accrue while you’re on a mortgage holiday.
- Save on your car insurance: for many people, travel habits have changed drastically since lockdown. If you’re using your car less, you could save money by changing the class of use on your car insurance. Sarah pointed out that comparison websites are the best place to start, as it provides the cheapest quote for most people (although it’s good to remember that Aviva and Direct Line aren’t on comparison websites so you might need to go direct to them to find the best deal).
- Scammers on the rise: there’s been a recent increase in malicious scamming activity by 400% over the last few weeks, so it’s important to stay vigilant and take care not to share your details with anyone who contacts you. If in doubt, check your bank’s website for their contact number and call them directly.
While this advice was all extremely helpful, I found the Q&A at the end of the session to be the most valuable.
It was clear from the amount of questions that came through that the employees on the webinar really appreciated having Sarah there to explain certain things in more detail.
I think it goes to show that, in the confusing financial world, there’s huge power in having someone there to take you through things and help you understand.
Here’s how employers can help
Sarah opened the webinar by explaining that 40% of us will be worse off due to Coronavirus.
But this sobering fact is countered somewhat with the news that 25% of people will actually be better off (probably because expenditure has been dramatically reduced over lockdown).
In this kind of environment, employers play a crucial role in helping their employees cope with the difficulties and take advantage of any opportunities that may emerge.
Speaking after the webinar, Sarah explained how she thinks employers can take steps to support employees who might be worrying or struggling with money.
She set forward a few clear suggestions that all employers can follow:
- Communicate little and often: Sarah said the key to getting financial health messages across to employees is to talk about it regularly in a small way. Even if employees aren’t always receptive to the messages you’re sending out, they know you are there with financial health resources when they do have the headspace to think about it.
- Make messages simple and practical: Sarah pointed out that it’s all about creating a format that everyone can find useful. The feedback following the webinar showed that almost every attendee said they were going to go away and do something, whether that’s apply for a new savings account or claim tax relief. And that’s hugely positive — you’re making a tangible impact on the financial health of your employees, even if it’s just a small step at first.
- Keep the conversation going: obviously Covid-19 has created a big moment to talk and connect over issues of financial health. But employers can’t let it stop there! We need to build on this foundation and keep an open dialogue, so that employees always feel they can reach out and ask for support when they need it.
The time is now
If you (as an employer, or even just a colleague or a friend) can help someone take one step towards feeling better about money during this difficult time, it’s worth it. And that’s what Sarah’s session was all about.
But for me, the really important lesson that came out of the webinar related to my earlier point about opening up the conversation about money.
While this time is hugely challenging for so many of us, we have to recognise that it’s an opportunity to take the stigma out of talking about money.
And employers have an opportunity (I would even argue a responsibility) to use this moment to open a dialogue about financial health in the workplace.
When we have open dialogue about our finances, everyone can make more informed financial decisions — and, ultimately, lead a healthier, happier life.
What employer doesn’t want that for their employees?
Find out more about Better With Money and the support they offer here.