Posted on: 2020-08-26
Interview: Financial wellness with Deborah Ware
We spoke to Deborah Ware who is the COO at Financial Wellness Group (FWG), one of the UK’s leading providers of free debt advice. Thanks to our new partnership, thousands of FWG customers now have access to a complete wellbeing package, while Personal Group clients gain first-class financial wellbeing services.
Having spent 22 years helping people in financial difficulties, Deborah is extremely focussed on supporting customers and building their financial confidence, enabling them to stress less and live more. She and her Senior Leadership Team have broadened FWG’s strategic focus, beyond the delivery of free debt advice and the administration of debt solutions, to include earlier financial intervention as well as ongoing support after customers complete their debt solutions.
Why focus on financial wellness?
I started my career providing support to customers who were thousands of pounds in debt and extremely worried about their situation. This gave me a real insight into the toll that debt can take on every part of people’s lives: not just their mental and physical health, but their relationships, friendships and even working life.
That’s why we’ve expanded our offering to look at ‘financial wellness’ more broadly. Whilst debt advice and solutions will always be a key part of what we do, we’re working with customers earlier to help them avoid falling into financial difficulty to start with – for example with better budgeting. Similarly, as people recover from problem debt, our goal is to help them stay ‘financial healthy’ – for example sticking to their budget, borrowing responsibly and building up savings. Financial wellness is about taking that broader approach and helping people develop good habits for life, to help them stress less and live more.
Why did you choose to partner with Personal Group?
Our customers were telling us that they wanted to continue improving their financial position during and after they were debt free. We were impressed by Personal Group’s holistic approach to customers’ ‘financial lifestyle’, backed up with high quality wellbeing solutions.
It was also clear that we had a similar customer demographic. There’s a common misconception that people in debt aren’t working. The truth is the majority of our customers are in employment, but unforeseen circumstances have led to money problems. Everyday life events – a separation, losing their job, illness or even a new baby – can leave people with debts spiralling out of control. We want to empower customers to manage their finances better long-term, and Personal Group is the perfect partner to support us in delivering this.
How does financial wellbeing link with other areas of wellbeing?
Money problems don’t exist in a vacuum. The links between problem debt and poor mental and physical health, for example, are well established. That’s why we not only support customers to clear their debts, but also offer help to address other areas of life which may be contributing factors.
For instance, a third of our customers have extra vulnerabilities beyond debt, such as mental health, addiction, or age-related illnesses. Through Hapi, we can support those customers when they really need it with services like 24/7 online GP appointments, counselling, and wellbeing advice.
What is the role of employers in promoting financial wellbeing?
Employees with money worries often struggle to focus at work and their productivity will dip. So employers have a vested interest in empowering their workforce to make the right decisions for their financial health.
Getting the right support makes it easier for employees to build financial resilience. Investment in financial wellbeing for employees will be repaid twice over in increased productivity and loyalty.
How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your customers?
It’s been busy! As you’d expect many of our customers have seen their income drop in lockdown, with 38% of them telling us they were on furlough, for example. Our customer service teams have been focused on working with those customers to ensure that their payments remain affordable until their income recovers.
Looking ahead, we are expecting to see demand for debt advice rocket over the Autumn as furlough and payment holidays come to an end. Sadly, unemployment is also forecast to rise rapidly, which will also drive the demand for debt advice. Whether employers are planning to reduce staffing levels or are just looking to support their workforce through these uncertain times, now is the perfect time to be putting a financial wellness support package in place.
How does FWG support their customers with financial wellbeing?
Customers rely on us to guide them through the issues they face and get them back to being in control of their finances. We support them right the way through, from early intervention to planning for a debt-free future.
We offer a variety of debt solutions, but there are many other aspects to financial wellness. For example, with financial education, we deliver webinars or conferences, clinics, 1:1 financial mentoring, support groups, assessments and budgeting advice.
Through our partnership with Personal Group, customers can save money on everyday purchases with retail discounts, as well as help with mental and physical health issues. We deliver our solutions online, over the phone or face to face, depending on what works best for our customers.
Our aim is to deliver informative, understanding, and straightforward support to get our customers back on track.