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Wall Street Wellness Programs Are Being Used to Drive Sales

Most companies want healthier employees to cut insurance costs. ING wants them to increase profit.

When Lance Hulack calls his first client on Monday morning, they spend 15 minutes talking about their fitness trackers. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, I saw you crushed it on Saturday! 25k steps,’” Hulack, the director of corporate sales at ING Group, says. “Then we talk about what we need to do workwise: ‘What are you looking to hedge? What levels are you looking at?’ It’s a really good ice-breaker rather than talking business all the time.”

Hulack is an enthusiastic participant in ING’s new corporate wellness program. For the last few weeks, he has diligently worn a company-issued TomTom that logs his exercise, body composition, and sleep. Each morning, he signs into the Dacadoo app connected to the tracker, punching in what he had for breakfast and answering a few questions about his feelings.

This kind of health awareness is clearly good for Hulack and certainly not new to the corporate landscape. What’s new is that he’s also persuading his clients to do the same. 

Most companies use wellness programs to lower health insurance costs; ING wants employees to get healthy in a bid to drive sales. Not only do 350 members of the sales team obsessively track their fitness, the financial company has signed up 35 clients to participate, too. The idea isn’t just that healthier employees will perform better, but that wellness can build customer loyalty, too.

“This is embedded in our business strategy,” said Mark Pieter de Boer, global head of financial market sales at ING. “Our program is focused on one thing, which is achieving growth. I’m not interested in cost savings.”

The sales people at ING no longer have individual revenue targets. Instead, each person wearing a tracker gets a “wellness quotient,” a number between zero and 1,000 that claims to measure the participant’s current state of well-being. The healthier a person gets, the higher the number climbs, and in theory, the better a worker he or she becomes. Hulack’s WQ has gone from 560 to 588 in just a few weeks, but he still trails his boss: De Boer is up to 655. (The program isn’t mandatory, ING says, adding that it doesn’t collect individual data.)

Many wellness programs, an umbrella term for a variety of workplace health initiatives, don’t have a good return on investment, studies have found. Nevertheless, health and productivity are linked, which can result in cost savings. Sick employees don’t come to work, and when they do, they don’t perform well—phenomena known as absenteeism and presenteeism, respectively. One 2009 study of 50,000 workers at 10 companies found that lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism cost 2.3 times more than medical and pharmacy costs for sick workers. Dow Chemical, in 2002, found that more than $7,000 of health costs for employees were attributable to absenteeism and presenteeism, compared with $2,278 for health-care costs.

ING subscribes to the philosophy that healthy workers not only get sick less, but produce better results. De Boer likens it to an athlete training for his sport. “If you look at a professional athlete, they spend 90 percent of their time training for 10 percent performance,” he said. People who work in financial sales, meanwhile, log long hours, get little sleep, and eat junk food. “When you look at our people, most of them are spending 90 percent of the time performing. If you’re lucky they spend 10 percent of the time training.”

In the past three years, de Boer has put the sales team through two other well-being programs, one focusing on intellect and the other on emotional intelligence, each with the same goals as the wellness program. Employees were cynical about the potential benefits at first. But in the years since, the  group’s income has risen 18 percent—80 percent of which came from existing clients. 

And that’s the key to this program: customer loyalty. De Boer wants the sales team to “embed WQ in our day-to-day interactions with colleagues and clients.” That means that instead of going out for lunch or dinner, the company organizes CPR courses or gym sessions. 

Hulack has "friended" clients on the Dacadoo platform, so he can see their activity and have something to talk about on Monday morning. “As a sales person, you need that common bond to cement the relationship,” he said. “How do I want to differentiate myself from a Morgan or a Goldman or Deutsche? This is a great way to do it.”

And so far, he sees results. Clients are asking for more business and, on top of that, he feels great. “If you’re working out and getting in shape, and you’re feeling good—it affects your mind,” he said. “You walk in every day with a little more confidence.”

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