How Prudential teamed up with the VA to provide service members with the tools needed to attain financial stabilityThe ambitious and far-reaching Prudential-Veterans partnership took nearly two years to develop, with dozens of people on both sides, and dogged persistence—and it was worth all the effort.
by James BeamesderferMr. Beamesderfer is the vice president of Veterans Initiatives at Prudential Financial. Visit www.prudential.com.
In March, Prudential launched its first-ever financial wellness partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This collaboration will help Veterans, transitioning Servicemembers and their families improve their economic well-being and financial stability. Even better: The tools and resources will be made available at no cost to the VA and those they serve. Considering that there are roughly 18 million Veterans in this country, and roughly half of them use the VA’s services, this partnership has the potential to serve a significant portion of the military community.
As a former captain in the U.S. Army, I find that broad reach to be one of the most exciting aspects of this venture. At Prudential, we want to help Veterans succeed in their transition from military service to civilian life. To achieve that, financial wellness education is paramount. This is especially true when meeting the financial long-term challenges created by COVID-19.
The offerings in this program are threefold:
- Veterans will have access to a digital financial wellness portal filled with bite-sized, easy-to-digest information. Even the self-assessment is designed to be as user-friendly as possible. It’s emotionally driven: Respondents select answers in the form of emojis. It’s a simple and quick way for people to get an eye-opening look at the realities of their finances.
- As of April, they can also participate in any of more than 40 hourlong financial wellness seminars—currently virtual—on topics including basic budgeting, debt management, education funding and understanding the stock market. We even have a session on talking to your kids and teens about basic budgeting, which families who’ve participated in previous seminars tell us they’re grateful for.
- We will also be offering GreenPath credit counseling debt management services.
It took nearly two years to bring this initiative with the VA to life. Our partnership was a product of timing—sometimes perfect, sometimes far from it—and shared goals and, more than anything, perseverance.
Prudential’s Relationship With Military Veterans
Prudential opened its office of Veterans Initiatives in 2010. And given that it was soon after the recession, our focus was on employment. Recently transitioned Veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan were among those Americans experiencing some of the worst unemployment of all. So, we—and several other companies—dug in to address this problem. We have a longstanding commitment to our military, including Veterans service organizations, locally and nationally, and we are proud to be recognized as an employer of choice for both Veterans and military spouses.
A natural next step was helping this community forge a path to financial security. While it’s key to have a quality job, if you don’t understand how to manage the money you’re earning, then you’re only solving part of the problem. We also wanted to help transitioning Servicemembers make the most of the benefits that came with their new jobs. We all know how it is when you’re newly hired. Making sense of all the information is overwhelming. It’s even more so when that job seems completely foreign from anything you’ve done before. So financial wellness education became our next endeavor.
Laying The Groundwork
In 2017 we presented our digital portal and financial seminar model to potential nonprofit partners, including the United Service Organizations, which provides programming that focuses on wellness and resiliency. The USO jumped right on board. The alliance was an instant success, which drove us to find more ways to have an impact.
Fast forward to 2019. While our nonprofit partnerships were taking off, I gave a presentation on Prudential’s financial wellness program to the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs. The program was so well received that we began working directly with the VA departments in Virginia and North Dakota. We’re now working with Texas, too. And this is when we got the attention of the federal VA. Unlike our previous attempts to partner with the VA over the years, it quickly went beyond the “That’s a great idea” stage—this concept felt truly unique to them.
What made this time different? For one thing, our program aligned with the VA’s priorities in a way that previous ones hadn’t. The department is putting an emphasis on mental health and recognizing the role financial stressors play. The VA also appreciated that we had expertise in an area they did not: imparting financial knowledge and wellness tools to the Veteran community.
Another factor that helped was using every opportunity I had to remind the key players of this venture. When I’d see senior members of the VA at conferences and meetings, I’d take 10 seconds to remind them of what we wanted to accomplish. And the answer was always, “Yes, we absolutely want to do this. Let me follow up.”
Persistence, on both sides, proved critical. Finally, in February 2020, we met with the VA. It was clear they wanted this partnership as much as we did. We got the green light to move forward.
The Stumbling Blocks of 2020
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the pandemic that slowed our momentum. When you’re dealing with two vast organizations—in such highly regulated worlds as financial services and the federal government—issues seem to emerge at every turn.
The first hurdle was a legal one. The fact that we were not charging for our services actually complicated matters. Put simply, it was like we were giving the government a gift and the government didn’t know how to receive it. This led to hesitation on the part of the VA. We’d often find ourselves saying, “Let us show you why we believe you can do this, and how you can do it.” The legal teams of both Prudential and the VA worked through the concerns. To their collective credit, they stuck with it, knowing this was a worthwhile program.
Soon after, while we were managing the various approvals needed, we came up against some personnel and organizational changes that slowed our progress. But we worked through the potential obstacles.
And when the process slowed, seemingly to a halt at times, senior leaders at Prudential kept the project on the radar of senior leaders at the VA. The truth is, that’s exactly what it takes to launch a partnership of this magnitude. Roughly a dozen people on each side needed to get involved. Compare that to a typical partner engagement, which usually requires two or three people on each side.
To say the extra legwork is worth it is an understatement. At Prudential we are firm believers in the power of public-private partnerships to drive substantial and lasting change. By combining the infrastructure and reach of the VA—the premier organization serving Veterans—with our deep expertise in financial wellness, we could provide Veterans, transitioning Servicemembers and their families with the tools to build financial resiliency.
As a final potential obstacle, I needed to bring our new contacts at the VA up to speed on the program. The stakes were high: If they didn’t see the value, it could take even longer to make this happen. As we made the presentation—probably the 10th since we initiated efforts to develop this partnership—I tried to read body language. What were they thinking? Over video, it was hard to tell.
It turns out, they felt the program was strong. In fact, they became one of our staunchest allies. And in November, our agreement was signed.
The most critical lesson I can impart from this experience is to persevere. If your organization has a compelling idea for a partnership, and it’s going to benefit both parties involved, keep at it. You may need to come up with creative and fresh ways of presenting it, depending on how the players and circumstances evolve. But if you’re certain the idea is a home run, figure out how to get in the batter’s box.
Access to Financial Wellness products, services, seminars and tools is not conditioned upon the purchase of insurance or retirement products or services from any Prudential company