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McDonald’s Project a Boost for Local Entrepreneur

Naperville Sun | August 10, 2009

By Meg Dedolph

For local entrepreneur Alice Wood, the contract with McDonald’s boosted her financial education business. For the fast-food giant, Wood’s financial literacy program met a growing demand among its employees.

To celebrate that partnership, Wood, president and founder of Naperville-based Wealth Watchers, presented the company’s 2009 Financial Literacy Advocate Award to McDonald’s Corp. for its work in promoting financial literacy among its employees.

At a short ceremony held in June, Wood said financial literacy is a critical skill for people to develop.

“Bringing financial literacy to your employees, whether minimum wage or the higher paid executives couldn’t be more important than it is right now,” she said. 

The program, launched in Dec. 2008 by McDonald’s and Visa, is available to more than a half-million restaurant-level employees at the company’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants.

The restaurant company worked with Wood and with Visa to develop a program that includes a customized Wealth Watchers budget journal, educational DVDs for employees to watch at their workplace and a customized employee Web site.

“The first couple months, we had over 25,000 page views (on the Web site) and we got multiple reorders for the journal,” said Kim Appleberg, the company’s senior director of U.S. human resources.

McDonald’s started looking for a financial education program it could introduce to its employees based on worker demand, Appleberg said.

“We started to see on our employee assistance line, more and more calls and inquiries coming in about financial education,” she said. “We actually started this before the economy turned bad, but as we were into it, that’s when the economy started to worsen and solidified the decision we made.”

The company hopes the financial education program will improve employee participation in other programs, such as their retirement savings plan. Appleberg said the company found that offering a benefit to employees doesn’t always mean they’ll take advantage of it.

“Even though we give a 7 percent match on our 401k for our crew, many of our employees choose not to participate in it because they don’t understand the value of it,” she said. “When we look at our 401k plan or our health care plan, we think we can continue to improve the participation rate in both plans by improving peoples’ understanding of financial education.”

By working with a large company such as McDonald’s, Wood said Wealth Watchers received the credibility it needed to approach the U.S. government about using the Wealth Watchers program with its employees.

“It’s just remarkable that all of that hard work ended up launching America’s biggest financial literacy program,” Wood said.

Wood, a lawyer, founded Wealth Watchers while recovering from a brain injury that hampered her own money-management skills. The program uses a journal to track daily spending and help users set savings goals.