Plans for financial advice in workplace meet cool response from HR

Plans to use the workplace as a key avenue to deliver a national money guidance service have been met with a lukewarm response from leading HR professionals.

Insurance chief Otto Thoresen outlined in his Treasury commissioned report how employers could ‘push’ a service that would offer general advice on issues such as managing debt, budgeting, retirement planning and understanding financial jargon.

Thoresen said employers were a “trusted intermediary”, and the workplace was an ideal place for engaging potential users of the new service.

Money worries are a major source of stress for individuals. Research quoted in the report said stress related to debt problems caused 8.7 million lost working days in 2004, costing employers £497m.

Any new guidance could lead to huge benefits in increased productivity and reduced sickness absence, the report said.

There are examples of where the workplace has been used to deliver financial guidance. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has reached about 1.3 million employees with its advice workshops. The National Association of Pension Funds’ free retirement planning service has also reached thousands of workers.

But senior HR figures expressed caution at getting involved in any kind of new service.

Saudagar Singh, HR director at energy firm RWE Npower, said: “I don’t believe the workplace is appropriate for delivering a money guidance service. I would not want to be responsible for any financial advice for employees, given the potential risks involved.”

Anne Jessopp, HR director at disabled worker agency Remploy, said employers could provide access to training and advice in this area. “However, this would need to be sourced from an external body, as I believe most would be cautious because of potential litigation around financial advice,” she said.

And Brendon Hills, head of HR and development at Shropshire County Council, said there was a danger that employers would become “nannies”, and that staff would worry about confidentiality.

But Jackie Scarfe, HR business partner at business services firm Mitie Group, said: “Financial concerns have a serious impact on someone’s ability to function effectively, and it is in the organisation’s best interests to help ease pressures where possible.”

She said her company was in talks with the FSA about rolling out its money workshops to all its employees.

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