Pandemic milestone: A fresh perspective on group benefits


March marks one year since the start of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic — a time of enormous disruption altering how we live, work and interact that has brought health and financial wellness to the forefront of Americans’ minds. Amid these difficulties, the insurance industry has experienced two prominent trends: an accelerated adaptation to a digital-first approach and clients’ growing awareness of the value of a strong benefits portfolio. Brokers can learn from these to help clients better navigate the ever-changing group benefits landscape in 2021.

In light of the pandemic, 63% of employees expect at least one expanded benefit, and more employers are considering benefits like supplemental insurance, which helps with expenses health insurance does not cover.



Whether ordering groceries online, chatting virtually with customer support or seeing a doctor through telehealth, many areas of life have swiftly shifted to a virtual interface when possible. In fact, consumers’ migration to digital channels grew 20% globally in 2020 — nearly quadrupling the compound annual growth rate of the prior four years, according to a Bain & Company survey. Brokers are looking to align with carriers providing digital solutions delivering on the promise to be there for customers during their time of need. This includes customer experience capabilities such as online policy management, claims filing and tracking, and live chat with customer service. It also may mean counseling clients on an appropriate benefits administration platform that best suits their needs for virtual enrollment, accurate payroll deductions, year-round communication and education, and more. However, though technology is in high demand, maintaining high-touch human interaction is imperative to helping ensure a satisfactory customer experience.


Coming off the events of last year, a comprehensive benefits offering not only helps employees during a health event, but it also supports employee productivity, recruitment and retention. According to the 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report, 35% of workers say improving their benefits package is the one thing their employer could do to keep them in their jobs — second only to increasing their pay. (Learn more about the survey at In light of the pandemic, 63% of employees expect at least one expanded benefit, and more employers are considering benefits like supplemental insurance, which helps with expenses health insurance does not cover. A mixed-benefit product like Aflac’s BenExtend® could be a cost-efficient option, as it combines popular benefits from hospital indemnity, critical illness, accident and life insurance plans into one offering. Work absences persist due to illnesses like COVID-19 as well as injuries, making disability insurance
a prominent benefit and heightening the value of an absence management solution. With laws and regulations related to paid time off changing often, these solutions help organizations easily manage employees’ time off related to bereavement leave, unpaid leave, family and medical leave, and more.


Insurers today have evolved to meet the challenges clients are facing. Look for partners that have adapted to the ever-evolving digital and benefits landscapes to offer a broad range of technology and product solutions. Partnering with a carrier devoted to enhancing the customer experience and offering more of a one-stop shop for benefits packages helps simplify the enrollment and administration process — something both HR managers and chief financial officers can appreciate. Brokers can look at the one-year milestone of COVID-19 as an opportunity to help clients see that while things have been changing in response to the pandemic, benefits solutions are available to help keep clients’ workforces financially protected and satisfied.

RICH WILLIAMS serves as the president of Aflac group benefits division and EVP of Aflac U.S. In his current role, he is responsible for leading the growth strategy and profit and loss of Aflac’s group benefits division. Key areas of his organization include broker distribution, service and administration of Aflac’s group business, which includes two newly acquired companies of dental and vision and group life, absence and disability.