“Benepass rolls right into how we think about inclusion and equity for employees, and that’s across the board from pay to opportunities for growth at Forward Financing. Having this flexible account where you can use it on what works best for you and your family is key.” - Shannon Braley, Chief People Officer
Forward Financing is a fintech company providing capital to small businesses underserved by traditional financing options. Forward Financing delivers approvals within minutes and funding within hours, giving more businesses the financial opportunity they need to thrive. With a fully remote and hybrid workforce of over 200 U.S.-based employees residing in about 25 states, Forward Financing prioritizes inclusive benefits that offer flexibility and personalization.
For many companies, work in 2023 looks different than it did just a few short years ago. Although they may have initially thought of remote work as a short-term solution to the COVID-19 shutdowns, most companies have continued with some version of remote or hybrid work as employees enjoy the flexibility of these modern working arrangements.
This is the case for Forward Financing, with 80% of employees now working remotely across 25 states. The team has also grown rapidly over the past few years, revealing gaps in the company’s benefits strategy. Forward Financing offered reimbursements for gym memberships and home office equipment, but these benefits weren’t equally useful for all employees. For example, they heard from some employees that they worked out in their basements or already had their home offices fully furnished. Forward Financing also offered employees a Headspace membership, but it only received a 40% utilization rate.
“Our employee population was growing and maturing, so things that were important to people before weren’t as important, or their needs had changed,” said Chief People Officer Shannon Braley. “People were having children, or relocating because of COVID. We had a gym reimbursement. We had a new hire remote office setup reimbursement. We had so many of these things, but we still weren’t pleasing the masses.”
As Forward Financing began searching for alternative benefit solutions, flexibility and inclusivity were top priorities. The team decided to implement a lifestyle spending account (LSA) to give employees more freedom to tailor their benefits to their individual lifestyles and unique preferences. Leadership recognized the shortcomings of traditional one-size-fits-all solutions and felt the LSA did a better job of meeting the diverse needs of Forward Financing’s employee population.
With their Forward Financing Flex Pass, employees receive $120 monthly on their Benepass Visa card to spend in the following categories:
Companies control every aspect of their LSA program, from eligible expenses to contribution amounts to expiration schedules. Flex Pass funds expire quarterly, giving employees the chance to save their funds for larger purchases. Employees enjoy the flexibility of the LSA, consistently ranking their satisfaction above 90% on employee pulse surveys.
“There’s something for everyone to use the card on, whether they’re further along in their career or they’re very junior,” Shannon said. “I think it works across the board.”
“One of the big things we looked for was the actual employee experience of using it. It has to be really easy to use.” - Shannon Braley, Chief People Officer
The HR team wasn’t the only team impacted by the decision to implement an LSA. With their previous approach, the accounting department took on the administrative burden of approving and administering hundreds of reimbursements.
“My People team partnered with the Controller because he was doing 200 to 300 one-off reimbursements,” Shannon said. “It got tricky because one person wanted to use the Mindbody app and another asked if they could do yoga. It was definitely a lot to manage.”
With Benepass’s card-first approach, Forward Financing’s benefits policy is encoded into the platform and Visa card, so purchases are approved or denied at the point of sale. Employees may also want to submit receipts for reimbursement—for example, if their purchase exceeds their benefit amount or they want to collect points on their credit card. In those cases, Benepass takes on the admin of approving or denying expenses and sending payments directly to employees.
“As soon as they found out that once it was implemented, it was going to be really easy to administer and track, they were quite happy to say, ‘Let’s go to the CFO and get approval.’ I had no pushback on it,” Shannon said.
The team felt Benepass was an ideal option because it gives employees more autonomy while simplifying administration. The user experience is streamlined for both employees and administrative teams, making it easy for employees to spend their funds without adding more work for internal teams.
“When you have to submit a receipt, it makes it very easy and seamless to be able to do that,” Shannon said. “If you want to make a $100 charge but only have $62 in your Benepass account, that’s okay because you can just do a reimbursement—but it’s between you and Benepass. It’s not a burden on our accounting team.”
“Trying to fit everybody into one category isn’t going to work, but this really is a benefit that is so flexible it feels one-size-fits-all. That’s what’s key for us.” - Shannon Braley, Chief People Officer
During the evaluation process, stakeholders asked why the company couldn’t simply pay employees an extra $1,400 annually instead of providing $120 monthly in a lifestyle spending account. But the team knew the LSA would feel more impactful and create a meaningful connection between the company and its employees.
“People won’t see that in their paycheck or feel it even if you increased it to $2,000 a year,” Shannon said. “But when they have this special thing and every time they go to use it, they know it’s from Forward Financing—that’s different, that connection’s there.”
As employee needs change in response to current events or life circumstances, benefits need to adapt. With Benepass, it’s easy to tweak benefits programs or add new ones as Forward Financing grows and scales over time.
“The option to make quick changes if we wanted to make changes or if we wanted to add a grocery benefit—there’s so much there,” Shannon said. “Being able to partner with someone that can scale up or scale down with us was definitely important.”
“It’s a nice value add for retention. If we get asked questions about benefits, Benepass is always at the top of the list. It’s a differentiator.” - Shannon Braley, Chief People Officer