Even before the Covid-19 shutdown, many Americans were having a hard time financially. According to PwC’s 8th Annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey from 2019, 67% of employees reported that they were stressed out from their financial situation. This includes 41% of employees making over $100,000 per year. Add to this the fact that nearly half of all Americans, pre-Covid-19, said that they could not handle a $400 emergency expense and it’s clear that trouble was brewing even before the pandemic.
Jamie Clarke, Senior Director of Salary Finance, says that his company has a solution that is even more valuable today for those in need. “Our company works with employers to help their employees achieve greater financial literacy and thereby, financial wellness,” he says. “Yes, we want to remove the stigma surrounding personal finances for many people,” he continues, “but our data shows that achieving financial wellness has a direct correlation to employee mental health and productivity. Therefore, employers & people, benefit greatly.”
As we have been finding out since the pandemic began, some of the employees most vital to keeping our infrastructure open and goods flowing, are the least paid. Jamie, who has worked in social care for various nonprofits for years, says that his personal values of helping others aligns perfectly with the goals of his company. “We intend to help 10 million Americans move from debt and into savings, that’s our mission,” he says.
Jamie was born and grew up in Middlesbrough, England, a steel town in the north. At 15, he joined the British Army in a Junior Leader’s Regiment and stayed in the army for five years, completing tours of duty in Operation Desert Storm, amongst others. Assigned to the Royal Artillery, he also played football (Soccer) for the British Army. At 20, he says that he “achieved every English boy’s dream” by being given the opportunity to play soccer professionally. “It was fun,” he says, “I continued playing semi-pro, while also working, for over 20 years.”
“After football, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do as a career,” Jamie says. “Because I had been so focused on being an athlete, I decided to do some volunteer work while making up my mind. Lo and behold, my volunteer job at a residential drug rehab unit soon turned into a real job.” He was soon in management, leading teams, setting goals and planning. The various care groups that Jamie managed included ex-offenders, drug and alcohol rehab and mental health Services. He did so well in these programs that they received Commendations for innovation from the British Home Office.
In 2016, Jamie had made the move into the private sector and was attending SXSW in Austin, Texas, where he met Grant Wainscott from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, who invited him to Atlanta. “I came to Atlanta and I kind of just knew this is where I needed to be,” he says. “Everyone was so friendly, there was an energy about the City and the weather was perfect!”
While Jamie and his family were delighted with Atlanta, he was becoming less sure about his for profit job. “My first thought at that time was that perhaps for profit work was not for me. After all, I had been in nonprofit for my entire career,” he says. Last year, however, Jamie became engaged with a company called Salary Finance and discovered that it was more a case of finding a company that reflected his own values and interests, whether for profit or not. Working with them first as an advisor, he later joined as Senior Director to direct and support business growth across the US from Atlanta.
Salary Finance was founded in London and from the start had as its mission to help people who were working hard but struggling with finances. They engage in a partnership with large employers and set up company specific Salary Finance platforms as part of HR systems & processes, Providing Financial Education & making loans available at affordable rates of interest. Salary Finance is then paid back via an agreed upon deduction from wages. As the loan is paid back, the employee is encouraged to save the money that had been going for the payback. Tesco, the largest grocery store chain in the UK was one of their first customers. Comcast and many others followed from there.
“Our goal is to change the ‘right now’ situation of the employee,” says Jamie. “We make loans from $750 up to 20% of income, at rates of 5.9% to 19.9% for 12 to 36 months. 52% of our applicants take out our loans to consolidate payday or online loans with interest rates over 100 or 200% in some cases. We help get them out of the trap. For someone with a lower credit score of maybe 600, having access to affordable credit is a paramount first step to enabling a much-improved life situation, and learning about Financial wellness is symptomatic of a much-improved life. If you add in the fact that we are reporting regular payments to the credit agencies, we are then really starting to give back a little financial dignity and support people to move from surviving, to thriving.”
Jamie is especially proud of the model that Salary Finance uses to engage with large employers It Is at zero cost to employers and delivers a high-impact benefit to their employees. “The employer also has zero liability, even if the employee leaves the organization,” he says. “We only take four weeks to implement and the ongoing administration is roughly 5-10 minutes per payroll cycle.”
Since launching in the US, Tesla and Comcast have become partners of Salary Finance, along with a number of school districts and other companies.
With the Coronavirus, Jamie feels that the work of Salary Finance is more important than ever. “Household income has dropped by 50% in some cases. The ‘still working’ spouse can make use of Salary Finance to avoid burdensome debt traps,” he says. “To be clear, this not about pushing loans at all. This is about a about providing a safety net that is affordable, responsible and accessible. It’s a social good. Right now, the people who need financial wellness the most are the front line people who are keeping all of us going.”
These are all the reasons that Jamie feels that Salary Finance is the best for profit company that he could ever work for. “I’ve always been about people,” he says. “It bothers me that a great number of people don’t have access to the full benefits of life, but could, with a little financial help and a little coaching. Our aim is to remove the stigma, the taboo, of not being able to discuss – much less address – financial literacy and financial wellness.”
Like the other 14 recommendations endorsed by the Task Force, lifting the ban on Pell grants for people in prison is an actionable, politically viable step that the federal government can take now to improve public safety and make the administration of justice more equitable.
Needless to say, Jamie is proud of the work his company does and definitely believes that it is needed now more than ever. “If we can reduce stress and anxiety, the improvement for mental health and worker productivity is undeniable,” he says.