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Canary and GreenPath: Investing in financial wellness for all Americans

Canary has partnered with GreenPath Financial Wellness, a nonprofit that, for nearly 60 years, has worked to strengthen financial wellness for everyone at every step of their financial journey. GreenPath has a goal to “remix the American Dream so it works for everyone.” Together, our companies have launched the GreenPath Grant Circle, powered by Canary, to provide critical aid to workers experiencing financial hardship. We spoke with Nicole Mellor, Director of Partner Experience, and BreAnne McPhilamy, Employee Experience Leader, about how they think about financial wellness not just for their clients but also for their own employees.

Canary: What made you want to have an employee relief fund solution, and why did you fight hard for it with your HR colleagues?

Nicole Mellor: GreenPath is a company of more than 500 employees. While we’re one of the largest credit counseling companies in our industries, we’re just small enough to really still feel like a family. We know each other. A lot of people stay here because it’s good work, and we love the people we work with. When you think about this journey of financial wellness, we’ve gotta do well by our people! We thought, “how might we set people up for success? How can we show up and be even better to our people?”

As we were ideating around this, an idea popped up that I’d be willing to put in $5 a paycheck to help people at our company. One of our employees’ babies went through a horrific situation, about 10 years ago, and everyone at the company was contributing funds. But that was all informal. We thought, why can’t we have something like that where it’s more formally available, and it would be there for you in an emergency? We thought that was a great idea, but we didn’t know how to do it. A couple years went by, and we learned about Canary. We realized this is what we were lacking because we didn’t have a formal mechanism or a way to do it well on our own. Having the structure, insights, and data research really took us to the next level.

Canary: When the Grant Circle was presented to HR, what made you want to explore it further?

BreAnne McPhilamy: I started at GreenPath in a client-facing role. I started with a lot of judgment, thinking, “These people are crazy. They didn’t manage their money well. They made poor choices.” It didn’t take me more than a couple weeks of client calls to realize that I’m only one hardship away from being a client at GreenPath. You try to plan, but you can’t necessarily have thousands of dollars saved up for when crazy things happen.

Fast forward to me being in HR now, and I was hearing how some of our employees actually go through the same situations as our clients. When the Grant Circle crossed my desk, I thought, “Why wouldn’t we do that? Why wouldn’t we want to support our employees internally when we support our clients externally?”

We pay our employees well for the work that they do, especially as a nonprofit, but the reality is that life is expensive. Just a small $400-500 expense can be a huge impact for someone who is trying to cover rent that’s $1,000 a month. Canary’s message that the right money at the right time matters really resonated with me. A little money can go a long way toward keeping people on track.

Canary: How do you think about your company’s role in helping people deal with financial challenges?

Mellor: Our Employee Experience team has really shifted to actually focus on the experience of our employees and not just be an HR “check the box” department. As we’ve done that, we’ve seen that who you are as a person impacts how you show up at work.

We’ve had real life examples where we realized you can’t show up with empathy for your clients who are struggling when you are struggling yourself. We’ve got to make sure we have tools available for our people so that they have what they need to succeed, so they can show up strong for the work that they do.

Canary: What impact do you think the Grant Circle is having at GreenPath?

Mellor: Even if this just helps one person, it’s monumental for us. I know there are some people on my team who were really going through it: cancer, multiple surgeries, legal issues. It was the stuff of daytime soap opera television. But we have a strong ability to retain good talent at GreenPath because we’re able to say, “No, stay with us. The Grant Circle is a benefit that’s available to you when you’re going through this crazy thing.” Knowing we are there for each other that way, being able to help -- and that gratitude and appreciation for having something like this at a time when they need it -- to me, those benefits are immeasurable.

McPhilamy: I remember a team member messaging me saying they needed to apply for a hardship loan from their retirement account. I could have just answered, “here’s the information.” But because the Grant Circle exists, I could ask, “What’s going on? What are you trying to do?” Because I went one step further by asking them these questions, I was able to refer them to Canary and tell them this emergency relief fund existed. The ability to have those conversations and think about things differently has been an awesome benefit.

Another team member was living with their significant other, broke up with them, and then didn’t have a place to live. At that point, they were thinking about leaving GreenPath. Similarly, I was able to say, “Hey, this exists for you. Try this first. Don’t hit the panic button.” We hope that this is enough to fill those gaps and help keep them on track, engaged, and okay. We were able to retain a strong employee who might have otherwise left.

Canary: What have people said about being able to contribute to the Grant Circle?

McPhilamy: People have been reaching out and saying, “I am so glad this exists for supporting our team members.” The majority of the people who are contributing aren’t even in super high paying roles. They’re the middle-income earner who wants to give back, be part of this community, and support their coworkers.

Canary: What makes working with Canary special?

Mellor: First and foremost, the Canary team really do care about the individuals. You’re as invested in our employees as we are. The fact that Canary is a step removed from GreenPath and that there’s a level of confidentiality for our employees is so important. We weren’t ever able to get this off the ground even though we had this idea for a really long time because we needed that level of distance to help get people comfortable with it. You also ask questions. You guys are constantly showing up with a curiosity mindset. That has been super helpful because sometimes we don’t even know what we need until we start looking at things from different angles, and I’ve really appreciated that part of the process.

McPhilamy: Your team cares. You’re in it for the same reasons that we are. From a vendor perspective, you’re thorough. You follow through, but you’re human in the process. We had that accountability to keep moving things forward and to see things through. I really appreciate the data side of things, having the detailed, hard data about how things are going. You tie it all together so that it’s not just a spreadsheet but a story. I don’t think all organizations take that time with their people.

What would you say to other employers who are looking to help their employees in times of financial hardship?

McPhilamy: Do it! Since when is supporting people a bad thing? When our team members hear about the Grant Circle, whether it’s to give or to receive, they feel so supported and love that GreenPath puts their money where their mouth is. We don’t just support people in their financial wellness externally, but also internally. It’s a great way to take care of your people, keep them engaged, and keep them feeling supported by your employer. It’s also super easy to set up the payroll deduction side of things. People report that it took a minute to sign up, and it was a great experience.

Mellor: Investing in your employees, tell me when that has led to a bad return. Having something that makes their lives easier, reduces their stress, allows them to show up as their full selves, when is that wrong?

As with any other benefit, you want to put the time and energy into it and make sure people are aware of it. If you’re going to commit to it, commit to it. It is such a great tool and such a human tool that’s needed, especially in light of this pandemic. Having a tool like this really helps to get through hard times.


Thank you to Nicole Mellor, BreAnne McPhilamy, and the whole GreenPath team for their commitment to providing financial wellness to all Americans and including emergency relief funds in that vision. If you want to learn more about partnering with Canary, we invite you to explore our website and get in touch.

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