ORLANDO, FL—Not talking about money can be costly. An ability to understand personal finance is a necessary life skill that, once mastered, can help secure an employee’s future. Edukate CEO Chris Whitlow wants to show how hotel employers can offer tools aimed at increasing workers’ fiscal well-being.
“After working in the retirement industry for 12 years, it became apparent that there was a better way to help employees understand their personal financial journey and connect them to the most relevant benefits,” said Whitlow.
Launched in 2013, Whitlow left a career at UBS Financial Services to take his idea into Orlando’s accelerator program, Starter Studio, and built the minimal viable product of Edukate. Working full time for three years and investing time and close to $500,000, the team built an enterprise software. In 2017, after completing the second stage of StarterStudio, Edukate raised $825,000 in additional seed-funding to continue the journey.
“We help hospitality companies make smarter decisions about how they think about financial wellness for their employees. That means that for many hospitality workers, their current financial benefit—like retirement plans or deferred savings accounts—just aren’t cutting it,” said Whitlow. “We help employers understand where employees feel most stressed about their finances and provide tools and guidance to those employees to meet those needs.”
Today, the company works with hotel management groups representing Marriott, Embassy Suites, Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Holiday Inn, DoubleTree, Staybridge Suites and various boutique hotels.
Edukate’s service ranges from financial assessments to savings recommendations, providing customized learning paths for employees of all financial backgrounds and knowledge levels to help them achieve their goals.
For hospitality workers, many are earning low wages. Right now, employers typically only focus on one or two primary financial benefits for employees, like retirement or deferred savings accounts, noted Whitlow.
“For low-wage workers, a staggering 86% of them either don’t have access to or aren’t utilizing their retirement benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That indicates that retirement benefits may not be what employees are actually looking for. A financial wellness program can help employees address their more pressing short- and long-term financial needs before they even think about retirement,” he said. “Additionally, by addressing employees’ financial wellness needs, they’ll be more engaged at work. Research has shown that businesses with engaged employees outperform those without engaged employees by as much as 202%.”
To get started, hotel businesses need to identify the demographics of their organization and see where employees might be struggling.
“Edukate provides education around all areas of financial wellness, from learning how to create your first budget, to paying off student loans, to paying for your child’s education. We help employers integrate with external content providers so that every employee experience is unique. This means that if an employer finds a particular resource they trust, like an article from CNN Money or a budgeting course they found online, those resources can be added directly to our content library to be shared with employees,” he said. “We can make recommendations on content we think is most appropriate for each employee’s primary financial focus, but our content library is ever-growing from recommendations made by employers as they understand what’s best for their own employees.”
How can hospitality workers improve their financial outlook? Whitlow shared his expertise.
“I think workers should first focus on identifying what’s causing them the most financial stress and what their goals are, and educate them on ways to address that problem or achieve their dreams,” he said. “Next, I think workers should focus on creating a budget, if they haven’t already. Truly understanding where their money is coming from and where it’s going each month is the best way to start finding ways to plan to address the stress.”
Whitlow added, “Finally, take a deep breath. Understand that it may take time to move past a particular stressor or to reach a certain milestone, but that with the proper education and plan, anything is possible.”
In the next few months, Edukate will roll out a new brand. “We’re shifting our focus on helping employers not only better engage their employees with financial wellness, but also building something that scales with them as they grow and meets the specific needs of their businesses,” he said. “The rebrand will include a new website and, in time, some of our own content to add to our library.”
Also, it recently hit a milestone of 45,000 registered users, and there are plans to keep growing.
“Edukate prides itself on being affordable and scalable with businesses of any size,” he said. “We built our platform to integrate with employers’ existing benefits so that no matter what you have in place already, we can integrate with you and grow as your team grows.”