Saving employees

Building wealth is nothing new to business, especially a bank.

But Ohio Savings has found that teaching wealth-building skills to its employees is a valuable perk. The bank sponsors Cleveland Saves, a program designed to teach its employees wealth-building skills.

“This is really a grass-roots effort,” says Bob Gillespie, executive vice president at Ohio Savings. “We encourage employee-led meetings. It has become a retention tool as well as a developmental tool.”

The bank’s Wealth Builders Club that has regular meetings featuring speakers and topics from the Cleveland Saves program and other sources. One recent topic, for example, focused on how to establish credit.

“We like the exposure it gives to our employees for money topics,” says Gillespie. “Being a bank, we know about wealth, but no one can ever know enough. This is not just for them as employees, but as a whole person. We’ve found it is a win-win all around.”

Gillespie sees the Cleveland Saves program as a valuable addition to the company’s retention program.

“We aim to be an employer of choice,” says Gillespie. “It takes a lot of different aspects to do that: good wages, working conditions, and opportunities to learn and grow — any opportunity we can offer that expands and develops the person, gives them a reason to look back at the company and see that we are giving them something in return for their efforts.”

About 15 percent of the employees participate in the program, including senior level management.

“Everyone is looking to reduce debt and accumulate wealth,” says Gillespie. “Wealth is relative. We don’t define it by X number of dollars. It’s about reducing or eliminating debt to a manageable level.”

The program has had positive effects. For example, the employee assistance program has seen a decrease in the number of calls relating to financial matters, at least part of which Gillespie attributes to better-educated employees.

“I think all businesses should offer the program,” says Gillespie. “The main reason is it’s a very inexpensive benefit that produces great results and is run by employees. One of employees’ biggest stress areas is financial stress, and to reduce that is a great benefit.” How to reach: Ohio Savings Bank, (216) 696-2222; Cleveland Saves,

What is Cleveland Saves?

Cleveland Saves is a local campaign in which a broad coalition of nonprofit, corporate and government groups help area residents save and build wealth. Through free information, advice and encouragement, the program assists those who wish to pay down debt, build an emergency fund, save for a home, save for an education or save for retirement.

“This has been designed in response to the very low national savings rate and the high amount of consumer debt,” says George Barany, co-manager of Cleveland Saves. “It was initially funded by the Ford Foundation to develop a model in Cleveland, and now is in 40 locations in the United States in less than two years.”

In Cleveland, more than 200 organizations are involved in the program.

Since March 6, 2001, almost 4,000 savers have accumulated $3 million in savings.

The program has three simple steps:

* Once someone signs up, a wealth-building coach makes contact to talk about the person’s plan. The plan has to have a goal, such as saving for a car, house or retirement.

* A dollar amount is picked to save each month, along with a method, such as payroll deduction.

* An account needs to be opened or converted to a Cleveland Saves account. There are 18 financial institutions that offer no fee/no balance accounts to get people started.

There are also meetings to discuss financial matters — such as buying a house, leasing a car or paying off credit cards — with experts.