Many Americans do not have the cash on hand to cover an unexpected emergency expense, a reality that has become more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
That has led to a growing call for companies to step in and adopt programs to help people sock away those rainy day funds.
Investment firm BlackRock on Wednesday announced that it is expanding its $50 million philanthropic Emergency Savings Initiative, which it founded in 2019 to address the issue, to include five new corporate partners.
New participants include payroll services company ADP, consumer electronics retailer Best Buy, financial technology company Self Financial, regional bank Truist and digital bank Varo.
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To participate in the program, the companies must agree to launch an effort addressing emergency savings within a year and share anonymized data of results from those efforts with the initiative. In return, they gain access to the expertise BlackRock provides through partners such as Common Cents Lab, Commonwealth and Financial Health Network.
A recent Capitol Hill hearing on retirement security highlighted on key hurdle to increasing long-term savings: People tend to withdraw money from their retirement accounts to pay for short-term emergencies.
A 2018 Federal Reserve report found that 40% of Americans would have difficulty paying for an unexpected $400 expense. A survey released by Bankrate.com in January indicates that those cash reserves still fall short for many people, with only 39% of people able to pay for a $1,000 emergency expense out of savings.
More companies began reaching out to BlackRock for help with starting emergency savings initiatives amid Covid-19, according to Deborah Winshel, global head of social impact at BlackRock and president of the BlackRock Foundation.
“Covid just laid bare what was already a serious problem,” Winshel said. “Not only did it amplify it — it made it even a broader and deeper issue for so many people.”
The problem is not that people do not want to set up short-term savings but instead that they often lack the ability to easily and automatically establish their ability to do it.
“Almost everyone, regardless of income level, wants to save,” Winshel said.
New program participants like Truist are planning to test programs aimed at helping to change that.
Truist, which was formed by the combination of regional banks SunTrust and BB&T, mostly serves the southeastern U.S.
Its focus includes traditional mass market customers, as well as the unbanked and underbanked segment, according to Arijit Roy, head of strategy for the retail community bank at Truist.
Almost everyone, regardless of income level, wants to save.Deborah WinshelGlobal head of social impact, BlackRock
More than 25% of the population that lives in Truist’s footprint falls into the category of those who could not pay for a $400 expense, Roy said.
Through the collaboration with BlackRock, Truist plans to launch a pilot program this summer to encourage that population to save. Instead of offering traditional sign-up bonuses for savings, rewards will be triggered by achieving balance goals.
The pilot may ultimately reach up to several thousand people and may eventually be applied to the bank’s other client segments, Roy said.
Teaming up with BlackRock has helped Self Financial, a “mission-driven” financial technology company based in Austin, Texas, get the word out about saving, said chief marketing officer Brett Billick.
Self, which has been around for about six years, has focused mostly on helping people build credit.
However, with the help of BlackRock, the company late last year launched a new “Dream Builder” campaign, with ads on TV, Facebook, YouTube and radio, to inspire people to reach for their financial goals.
Since then, Self has seen a 49% increase in committed savings compared to the previous six months before the initiative launched, according to Billick. In addition, 80% of customers have expressed interest in continuing to work with the company after they have repaired their credit to continue to grow their cash balances.
The results coincide with a growing awareness among the company’s customers of the need for emergency savings, Billick said.
“They recognize now after going through this period of time that it’s long-term financial health planning,” Billick said. “It’s an incredibly important component, particularly if there’s ever another shock like this.”