Benefits

What is Earned Wage Access (EWA)? A Few Considerations

By JD Farrugia

Nov. 11, 2022

Summary

  • Earned wage access (EWA) programs are an increasingly popular way for employees to access their earned wages before their next scheduled payday.
  • Implementing an EWA program helps employers attract and retain top talent and reduces employee absenteeism. 
  • Before implementing an EWA program, ensure that any direct deposit arrangements are compliant with your state laws and consider the associated charges for using an EWA service.

In a bid to improve employee retention in the current landscape, employers are turning to advancements in payment technology and alternative payroll processes. One solution that is gaining momentum is earned wage access (EWA), also known as on-demand pay. 

Earned wage access programs allow employees early access to parts of their salaries before their scheduled pay period. Unlike payday loans and advances, EWA solutions only grant employees access to money that they have already earned.  

Initially a concept that gained popularity in the gig economy, EWA programs have now drawn the attention of employers and employees across all industries. Research shows that access to EWA has become a priority for job seekers around the country. 

From small businesses to large corporations, there are a number of things to consider before adding EWA as an employee benefit to your retention strategy. Employers must understand the different EWA models out there as well as the common features across EWA providers, integrating it into their payroll system and remaining in line with any regulatory requirements. 

The two types of EWA models

Earned wage access products generally require employees to download a mobile app that they will later use to gain on-demand access to their salaries. These advances are paid directly into the employees’ account or to a dedicated pay card. EWA products function in one of two ways.

  • Employer-sponsored – In these cases, the employer contracts an EWA service provider and integrates it directly into their own payroll system using an API. In these models, the employer pays a flat rate for the use of the service.
  • Direct-to-consumer – Here, an agreement is set up directly between the employee and the EWA provider. The employee receives funds directly into their account and is charged a transaction fee each time a withdrawal is made. 

The 4 main features of an EWA service 

Although there are differences between earned wage access services, there are four core features that are common in any solution out there.

  1. The funding of EWA – The capital for granting employees access to their funds usually comes directly from the EWA provider. The service provider pays through their own available funds or through a debt facility. The service provider verifies that the funds are, in fact, available through an integration with the employer’s payroll provider.
  2. Disbursement methods There are various ways that funds are distributed to employees: Direct deposit, a pre-allocated bank account that the employee sets up through the EWA provider, or a prepaid card.
  3. Method of payment collection by EWA provider – The vendor is usually repaid directly from the upcoming pay cycle.
  4. The time it takes a payment to reach the employee – This varies depending on the method used:
    • Direct deposit – the next business day
    • Prepaid or debit cards – takes up to 48 hours
    • Bank transfers – instant but can carry a fee
    • EWA vendor-provided bank accounts – free and instant  

Benefits of earned wage access for employees

Earned wage access has gained popularity with employees over the last few years as a great way to ease the financial stress of trying to survive between paychecks. Rising inflation over the past few years continues to worsen as experts believe that we are hurtling toward a cost of living crisis. Forty-one percent of employees have received pay raises this year. Of these, only 28% claim to have received a raise higher than the current inflation rate. 

 

Webinar: How to Navigate the Inflation Crisis

 

One study found that the reasons for utilizing EWA varied between employees from different age groups. Gen Z workers tend to use it to pay for everyday expenses like groceries or make loan or rent payments. It reduces the stress of not having the cash flow available until the next payday. 

Millennials also used EWA to cover family-related expenses, bills, and unexpected expenses related to vehicle maintenance. Gen X and boomers rely on EWA for family expenses, bills, and groceries but also use it to cover any emergency medical expenses. Either way, EWA has broad appeal across all age groups. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty that followed meant that more people started to prioritize building up a financial safety net. Earned wage access makes this easier to do. Unlike payday loans and advances, employees are less likely to accumulate debt from high-interest rates and overdraft fees. 

Benefits of earned wage access for employers

Signing up for an EWA program means more work for your human resources team, but the benefits of offering your employees more flexible access to their paychecks could outweigh the effort required.

Employees continue to struggle with inflation and trying to keep up with the high costs of living. Research shows that 78% of employees are seeking alternative employment in hopes of achieving better financial well-being.

 

Webinar: How to Stop Employee Turnover

 

By offering your staff the option of EWA and contributing to their financial wellness, you are more likely to attract top talent. In fact, 76% of employees agree that it is important for employers to offer EWA. Besides attracting talent, looking out for your staff’s financial health through EWA helps you improve your employee retention. 

A lack of financial well-being is a major cause of stress for many employees. Furthermore, stress is the third-leading cause of long-term workplace absence and the fourth cause of short-term absence. Improving this situation means your employees will also be more present at work. 

What to consider before implementing an EWA program

When looking at integrating an EWA program into your company, there are two things to consider: the associated fees for you or your employees and the legal implications of doing so based on where you are based. 

It is important to understand your state’s direct deposit laws. Some states only allow employers to pay via direct deposit when the employee gives their consent through a written agreement. If the EWA program you have signed up for requires a separate bank account to be set up, this might not be applicable within that agreement. You may need to obtain additional written authorization to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

The charges associated with EWA programs vary from one provider to another. Some involve charging employers a flat fee, while others charge employees per transaction. Before contracting an EWA service provider, you need to budget for any charges you will absorb or analyze whether or not your staff are willing to pay transaction fees themselves. 

A successful EWA program begins with accurate timekeeping 

If you are going to offer EWA, you need to ensure that the wages employees have access to are accurate as soon as they are recorded. After all, fixing pay errors is much harder when employees have already spent their money. With automated time and attendance software, you can record accurate timesheets in real-time before they even reach your payroll or EWA system. This way, you can give your employees immediate access to their funds with peace of mind.

Workforce.com’s time and attendance is also synced with an employee scheduling system, meaning you can see wage and hour variances in real-time and on timesheets. With this visibility, you’ll be able to immediately catch where and when an employee’s pay doesn’t match up to their scheduled hours.

To find out more about how to lock in accurate wages BEFORE employees get access to them, check out our whitepaper on timekeeping below, or get in touch with us today.

The Practical Guide to Time and Attendance

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