BY SARAH OLIVER
One year later and there is no question that the pandemic has not only changed how we work remotely, but how we can do so seamlessly and smarter as a result of the technology that’s available to us. In the insurance industry, COVID-19 disrupted many aspects of our business, while at the same time, fast-tracking the adoption of technology to help create exceptional customer experiences and service. For brokers and employers, the pandemic put front and center the need to further expand the use of technology to help improve operational efficiencies, as well as create workflows and processes to support a remote workforce.
Over the last several years, we have seen employers increasingly turning to technology for their benefits administration as an efficient and compliant solution to manage the ever-changing world of employee benefits. According to our Guardian Workplace Benefits Study Digital Overdrive (pre-COVID), a majority of employers had increased their spending on benefits-related technology in the past five years. More than 50% expect further increases in the next three years to address their top benefits challenges, including controlling costs, increasing efficiency, ensuring legal compliance, and improving workforce engagement. We anticipate that this trend will stay on track given that the pandemic identified technological gaps for many employers.
For example, last year’s open enrollment season was unlike any other. Employers who may have relied on in-person benefit fairs or printed handouts to educate employees about their benefit offerings were forced to change their approach and pivot toward virtual options. On our end, we moved quickly to meet the needs of employers who were seeking alternatives like webinars, virtual benefit fairs, and email communications.
Our research continues to validate what we are seeing in the marketplace—digital improves the overall administrative and benefits experience. Employers that are more digital than paper-based in managing their benefits programs report higher levels of employee satisfaction with their benefits. In addition, workers who have a more digital experience when learning about, enrolling in, and using their benefits, tend to have more favorable attitudes toward the value of their employee benefits package.
With the latest discussions around the future of work and the likelihood that employers will lean toward hybrid working models, having access to benefit information via an online portal is imperative. Providing employees with a repository to not only view and understand benefits, but to complete election changes can be a very important aspect of supporting remote work.
Great news is that API (Application Programming Interface) and AI machine-learning technology is driving the innovation with benefits technology platforms. Take for example Nayya, which leverages AI and data science, to simplify the benefits enrollment experience by arming employees with a decision-making tool that gives them the confidence to select the appropriate benefits. Other benefits solutions allow employers to experience improved data communications, including increased utilization of real-time API data exchange, streamlined operating experiences such as benefits invoicing and payments, enhanced evidence of insurability support, and other services. This is a win-win for any employer seeking cost-savings solutions and increased efficiencies, especially when our research showed that managing nonmedical benefits plans can consume more than one week per month.
The shift to digitizing employee benefits increasingly seems to be much less of an “if” and more of a “when.” So, what should brokers be thinking about to best prepare their clients who are making the transition to an online benefits administration platform or enhancing their current one?
Here are some useful tips:
- ESTABLISH EMPLOYER’S OBJECTIVES
Before getting started, work with your client to clearly identify their organization’s primary motivation for re- assessing its benefitsstrategy. Is it to move away from paper and convert all administration to digital platforms? Are they dissatisfied with their current benefit technology platform, capabilities, service, or cost structure? Or perhaps you are scanning the market for new technology to help ensure theircurrent platform is still the best fit for the organization.
While doing your due diligence and researching which solution would be most appropriate for the business, it is important to know that not all platforms are equal. A platform’s ability to support different types of benefits and eligibility rules will widelyvary. Clearly defining their objectives will help to narrow down options and parse out any solutions that will not be the right match.
2. DECIDE WHAT SERVICES YOUR CLIENT NEEDS
Once the objectives are established, deciding what services your client needs is the next step in the transition. In addition to providing enrollment software, employee benefits technology platforms often offer wraparound services like spending accounts, COBRA administration, ACA reporting, and call center support. Adding these types of services can be both cost-efficient and an administrative win for your client’s organization, depending on their needs. Thanks to new cloud- based applications, employers of all sizes have more access to platforms that handle many aspects of human capital management (HCM), including benefits administration.
3. DETERMINE THEIR IN-HOUSE BENEFITS TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT
Employers say that managing benefits is becoming increasingly complicated, with 59% in 2019 claiming that they are challenged by complexity, up from 47% in 2012. When considering benefit technology platforms, make sure to understand the levels of service the provider offers. This will help you and your client prepare for the commitment required of them to manage a new employee benefits technology solution.
Employers that are most challenged with the complexity of managing benefits are twice as likely to digitize their benefits processes. Avoiding platforms that seem to require more internal bandwidth than your team can handle will help to prevent administrative bottlenecks. The right human capital management solution for your organization will serve to streamline benefits administration, help to establish greater efficiencies, and lighten the workload for employees.
4. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT COST STRUCTURE
Investments in workplace benefits technology continue to grow, with nearly half of employers allocating financial commitments to the digitalization process since 2017. In addition, 52% expect to increase their benefit technology budget over the next three years. Although your clients’ organization may be prepared to make an investment or increase its current commitment, business models, ecosystems, and pricing structures will vary across providers.
Here are five questions that will help in understanding cost structure while making the necessary evaluations.
- What is the per employee per month (PEPM) fee? Are there minimums, and what services are included in the fee?
- Are there fees to build out or update electronic data interchange (EDI) feeds?
- Are fees charged at renewals?
- How much experience do they have exchanging data with their current payroll provider, insurance carriers, and/or third-partyadministrator vendors?
- How are they embracing new and emerging technologies like APIs and artificial intelligence to improve their platform?
Familiarizing yourself with the workplace benefit technology trends and becoming a subject matter expert will also be a big help in understanding what emerging technologies to look for in a provider. Additionally, it will be important for you to partner withthe right carrier who can help you navigate the process.
Once the necessary research is complete, implementing the new employee benefits technology platform can help to improve your client’s employee’s experience, ease administrative strain, and streamline processes in the ever-increasing digitized workplace.
SARAH OLIVER is head of Enrollment, leading the Group & Worksite Enrollment organization at The Guardian Life Insurance Company. She is responsible for accelerating Guardian’s enrollment capabilities through comprehensive, competitive, and effective enrollment and re-enrollment solutions focused on simplifying the customer experience.