MONEY OUT LOUD
Financial Wellness Is Finding Its Voice
By: Cecelia Girr & Skyler Hubler of Backslash, TBWA Worldwide
Money has topped the “do-not-discuss” list for decades—right alongside religion, sex and politics. Bringing up the “m” word on a first date has long been considered a surefire way to guarantee you won’t get a second one. And just a few years ago, publicly sharing your salary online would have landed you on HR’s naughty list.
But it’s 2021, and transparency is trending. A culture craving authenticity is now breaking the money taboo—transforming finance from a hush-hush, one-size-fits-all, cut-and-dry industry to one that’s more human, empathetic and, dare we say, fun. Financial therapists are tackling the intersection between money and mental health. Financial literacy courses are simplifying complicated finance bro jargon. And the three billion views of #personalfinance content on TikTok prove that finance influencers are officially a thing. As society gets candid about the role money plays in our lives, money talk is moving outside the bank.
MONEY & MENTAL HEALTH
This growing openness is being driven by a much larger mental health awakening. We’re moving on from the vanities of look-good, feel-good wellness and lifting the lid off the heavier pressures that are contributing to an unhealthy society. Wellness is already sparking crucial conversations around therapy, sex and death. So, as the number one source of stress globally, it’s about time money is put under the microscope.
The reasons why it’s taken this long are complex, cultural and deeply rooted in history. In France, strict money silence is attributed to the country’s peasant heritage. Mossuz-Lavau, author of L’Argent et nous (Money and Us), notes that French farmers would hide their cash around the house, being careful not to talk about it so that it wouldn’t get stolen. This led to a superstition that the less you talked about money, the more likely you would be to keep it. Then there’s religion. While financial teachings differ from faith to faith, nearly all caution their followers to tread carefully. The Bible, for example, famously teaches that “the love of money is the root of all evil” and encourages readers to give alms secretly. In more modern times, widening inequality also plays a role. While interviewing wealthy New Yorkers for her book Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, Rachel Sherman discovered that high-earners tend to keep quiet about their income out of guilt. But while the intentions of stealth wealth may be pure, privacy only makes matters worse. And lastly, there are cultural norms. From South America to Southeast Asia, children are taught from a young age that discussing money is a major no-no. By the time you reach adulthood, you know better than to ever inquire about net worth, reveal your retirement savings (or lack thereof), or admit to how much you spent during your last online shopping splurge.
But just as jogging was once considered strange, the road to better financial wellbeing begins with a mindset shift. BlackRock points out that before the 1960s, running wasn’t correlated with health. “But then Nike made the connection. They turned something that was feared and doubted into something that is part of the overall picture of our wellbeing.” Today, you can’t walk on the city streets without a runner breezing past you. In the same vein, society is finally waking up to the link between money and mental health.
The silence around money isn’t making us well. In fact, it’s making us sick. One report from Thriving Wallet found that financial stress affects physical health, blood pressure, respiratory symptoms, somatic issues and rates of tension. Another from the UK Money and Mental Health Institute found that people with anxiety and depression were three times more likely to be in debt. But if you think the answer is as simple as being debt-free, think again. Bank of America Corp. surveyed people who have enough investable money to qualify as “mass affluent” and found that financial concerns negatively affect the mental health of 59% of respondents, while 56% said their physical health had been harmed. And those findings we’re pre-pandemic. As you can imagine, sweeping unemployment and worldwide economic shutdowns haven’t exactly brought sunshine and rainbows. One positive to come out of the crisis, however, is the realization that things need to change.
That’s where financial wellness—not to be confused with financial health—comes in. Financial health is about how much money you have and what you plan to do with it. And while it’s a perfectly logical way to gauge the health of one’s finances, it gives no consideration to the health of the individual. Financial wellness, on the other hand, explores our relationship with money and unearths the deeper issues that are negatively affecting that relationship. Financial wellness is shifting the conversation from the what to the why, from the purely pragmatic to the psychological. And it’s moving into the mainstream. HSBC, one of the world’s largest banking and financial services institutions, expanded their financial wellness offerings at the start of the pandemic. PwC points to financial wellness as a solution to boosting employee productivity while lowering medical costs. And fintech start-ups like Happy Money—which evaluates “happy” and “sad” spending patterns—are banking on financial wellness as the way forward.
It’s true that all the green juices, nap pods and personal training sessions in the world won’t make you well if you’re buried by financial anxiety. So, while finance brands are rightfully pushing for healthier money habits, they can’t work alone. True progress will require a 360-degree approach, one that frames financial wellbeing as a crucial piece of the overall $4.5 trillion dollar wellness puzzle. Up until now, employers have largely been leading the charge. In the UK, major businesses are introducing platforms that champion all-around lifestyle improvements. Tesco, for instance, is a partner of Gympass Wellness, which offers “mind and body solutions including mental health, tailored nutrition plans, mindfulness, meditation, sleep and relaxation programs plus financial wellbeing advice.” We’re also seeing the world’s leading fitness membership company, Classpass, promote financial wellness under the wider corporate wellness umbrella.
Beyond traditional wellness programs, something even more fascinating is beginning to take place. New players are framing money stress not as a finance problem but as a health problem. ZavFit is one emerging player representing this paradigm shift. The European HealthTech start-up has built “the first health tool for money that focuses on improving the health and happiness of the individual as an outcome.” ZavFit’s founder and CEO, Anna Freeman, is on a mission to spark a global Money Fitness movement. According to Freeman, “Being ‘money fit’ isn’t about how much money you have. It’s about how you use the money that you do have. Are you spending it on the things that make you healthy and happy?” To help answer that question, ZavFit includes a Money Moods feature that lets you reflect on the emotional impact of your spending.
This is an excerpt from the “2021: The Year of the Travel Reset” trend in the 2021 Global Wellness Trends Report.
 “Money is the biggest cause of stress in the world,” Huffington Post, November 25, 2015.
 Charlie Vandekerkhove, “In France, talking about money is more taboo than talking about sex,” Quartz, May 25, 2016.
 Frank Cooper, “Money talks, stress walks,” BlackRock, April 16, 2019.
 “Thriving Wallet Research Insights Report,” Discover and Thrive Global, January 29, 2020.
 “Money and Mental Health: The Facts,” Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, 2019.
 Lananh Nguyen, “Wealthy Americans Say Financial Worries Hurt Their Mental Health,” Bloomberg, June 14, 2019.
 “Wellness Industry Statistics and Facts,” Global Wellness Institute, 2018.
 “Employers embracing Gympass’ online mental, physical and financial wellness solution,” Employee Benefits, May 7, 2020.