Here’s an in depth perspective on voluntary benefits from experts in the field. We asked thought leaders to answer a series of questions to help inform you about this important realm of benefit offerings.
CalBroker (CB): What are the current trends in voluntary benefits? Are you seeing an increase in interest and offerings by employers since the pandemic?
DENNIS HEALY, CHIEF SALES OFFICER FOR ARAG:
Overall, the workforce is really fluid right now — the dynamics have changed so much for employees dealing with the seismic shift in how they’ve approached their work and balanced their personal lives. I think this has had an impact on the types of voluntary benefits they’re interested in — and how they’re using them. Here are some high-level topics we’ve heard more about recently. One of those topics is how benefits can be used for parents. Employees are asking, “Who else can use my benefits, such as extended family members?” Employees are looking to get the most value out of their benefits, so I think that need will continue to grow. There’s also a lot of discussion regarding the availability and cost of long-term care. Currently, five states are actively considering legislation to address the high cost of long-term care potentially through a long-term care state payroll tax. There are a lot of variables here, but simply put, employers are going to have to tax employees if the employees are not offered a long-term care solution. Finally, there’s been growing concern regarding access to resources based on social determinants of health (SDOH). SDOH are the conditions in which people live, work, play and access care. Much like we’ve addressed the inequities of access to justice and the barriers people face when in need of legal help, SDOH can be a major cause of health inequities, particularly when populations do not have access to the same resources. ARAG continues to see increased interest and growth in group legal insurance. Key trends include:
- Increased interest in coverages and services related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) — ranging from ADA certified websites to everyday legal matters (e.g., domestic partnership agreement, gender identifier change, postnuptial agreements, veterans’ disputes, and surrogacy agreements.)
- Continued demand and need for estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, living will, and powers of attorney.
- Increased interest related to coverage for parents and/or grandparents, which is a result of the continued pressure and stress being placed on middle-aged employees, who are now providing legal and financial support to their extended family. Keep in mind: more than 1 in 4 Americans now live in a multigenerational
- Greater demand for services to be delivered in a manner that best meets the member where they are when they want them, which has resulted in increased use of digital tools, such as emails, video calls, mobile apps and online do-it-yourself (DIY) docs.
DAWN SANDT, HEAD OF SUPPLEMENTAL HEALTH & LIFE PRODUCTS AT GUARDIAN INSURANCE:
Guardian has seen an increase in interest by employers and employees since the pandemic for voluntary benefits. In fact, according to Guardian’s 11th annual Workplace Benefits Study, nearly half of workers say that having access to benefits through their employer is more important since the pandemic. And 6 in ten employers agree that supplemental health benefits help them meet employees’ need for greater financial health. Our research also revealed that the percentage of workers who have critical illness and hospital indemnity insurance increased 36% between 2019 and 2021, likely due to the pandemic.
ROB QUELL, VP, BROKER AND SPECIAL MARKET DEVELOPMENT, COLONIAL LIFE:
More than ever, employees want and need voluntary benefits that offer them the flexibility to personalize their benefit options for their unique needs, and we are seeing that play out in the rate at which employers are offering voluntary benefits and employees are participating in them. We’ve all been reminded that life is full of unexpected moments, and employees want to feel confident they are prepared for those unforeseen challenges. As organizations continue to adjust to hybrid work environments, the need for flexible enrollment methods that ensure employees have access to benefits and education – wherever they are – has never been greater. Colonial Life leverages our expertise to provide financial protection and personalized benefits through an engaging and flexible enrollment experience.
CB: Have you made sure your marketing materials are easy to understand, and your enrollment process is simple? How many languages are available for your information?
When partnering with clients, our goal is to help them educate employees about legal insurance so that 100% of their workforce is able to make an informed, confident decision when it’s time to enroll. To do this, we help them:
- Communicate with eligible employees — both early and often.
- Engage and educate employees in the ways that work for them, whether it’s online, through social media, in print or in person.
- Use an array of ARAG-designed materials to help spread the word and boost familiarity with our product.
In whatever mediums the client chooses to convey our plan information, we strive to create the greatest clarity — in as few words as possible – about the value that legal insurance offers. ARAG has a limited selection of marketing communications in a language other than English. ARAG provides Spanish language versions of our Open Enrollment Flyer and enrollment form (if applicable) to the HR team. We recommend eligible employees and members who are not native English speakers call our Customer Care Center where we can use our in-house staff or an interpreter to answer questions or fulfill member needs. Additional Spanish language materials can be created upon agreement with the client and ARAG. The client may incur an additional cost for these materials.
Guardian strives to remove the barriers of complexity that keep employees from choosing, trusting and using their benefits to the fullest. In our marketing and enrollment materials, we use common language that anyone can understand. In addition, we bring benefits to life for employees through stories and examples. An example of how we bring the power of simple, and storytelling together can be seen in our Simply Put video series. The series explains the value of voluntary benefits in simple terms that help empower employees to make informed decisions about the benefits offered to them.
Guardian provides a variety of resources and tools to help ensure Spanish-speaking employees get the most value from their benefits, whether it’s by using an AI-powered guided decision-making tool, or by reading product flyers and watching informative videos in their language.
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Colonial Life leverages highly trained writers, consumer research and consumer focus groups to guide layout and content for our enrollment communications that are easily understood by consumers. Our communications provide clear guidance on what a consumer will need to have available for the enrollment process and the steps they need to take to make the best benefits decisions. Colonial Life’s benefit counselors can educate multilingual employees in a variety of languages. We partner with certified translation companies for language needs for specific larger clients.
CB: Tell us about your preparation and training for enrollment reps and customer service teams. Do they have comprehensive knowledge of all the products? Do they speak different languages? Are they readily accessible if brokers or members have questions on enrollment or claims?
Our benefit fair representatives are our main connection with eligible employees at benefit fairs. These representatives can answer high-level questions about the coverage information, cost of the plan(s), how to enroll, and how to get set up with a network attorney.
Our representatives need to have a thorough understanding of our product and how it can help members; that’s why they undergo an in-depth onboarding and annual training process to ensure they learn about the company, our mission and how our benefit works.
We do have an option to have a representative who is bilingual attend events if the client has a high population of employees who speak another language other than English.
When a member, broker or eligible employee wants to share concerns, receive answers to coverage questions, ask claim questions, locate network attorneys, and get advice on the most appropriate covered service for their situation, they can speak with one of our highly trained Customer Care specialists.
All Customer Care specialists are required to participate in an initial four- to six-week training program to receive extensive knowledge of our products. They also undergo ongoing training, mentoring and feedback to ensure they maintain a high level of member satisfaction and call response.
While English is the primary language spoken by our Customer Care specialists, ARAG has specialists fluent in German and Vietnamese. And we also participate in the TransPerfect Language Line Interpreting Services program, enabling us to communicate in more than 170 languages.
To maximize accessibility for members and brokers, ARAG’s Customer Care center offers extended service hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday, through the toll-free number of 800-247-4184. Members who prefer email can contact customer care at Service@ ARAGlegal.com or submit their questions online via a web-based tool after logging into ARAGlegal.com. A Customer Care specialist will respond — using the member’s preferred method of contact within eight business hours. Members may also use our web chat functionality to interact with a Customer Care specialist.
Our benefit counselors go through extensive training to learn all aspects of our products. Our customer service reps receive additional training on eligibility and billing administration. We have bilingual benefit counselors available to support Spanish speaking plan holders and employees.
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Colonial Life offers comprehensive and customized training for all benefit counselors. All year, our benefits counselors participate in product specific trainings. They are well versed in our complete portfolio, along with regional and local medical or core product offerings. We have over 200 benefits counselors nationwide who are bilingual and are well prepared to answer any employee questions about our online portal, premium deductions, and our claims process.
CB: What performance measures are used to track customer satisfaction?
An integral part of our “Customer-First” approach to service is to ensure members have an exceptional experience, in every interaction.
So, when members contact a Customer Care specialist, access DIY Docs® or work with a network attorney, it’s imperative to understand what they like about our services — and how we can improve. That’s why ARAG emails monthly customer satisfaction surveys to members who use our plan.
Using interactive online surveys, members rate their experience in a variety of areas, including:
- ARAG Customer Care specialists’ overall service and the respect and support offered
- Network attorney’s professionalism, knowledge, and responsiveness
Our surveys use a standard 10-point scale, where 10 indicates a member is “extremely satisfied.” ARAG believes this scale provides the best vehicle for identifying change in member satisfaction and facilitates our continuous focus on improvement. Members can also share open-ended feedback about their experience. In 2021, members scored ARAG 9.1 out of 10 for support provided by ARAG’s customer care team.
Also note that we send out an annual client satisfaction that helps us gauge our ongoing working relationships with employers and how we can improve their experience, from implementation to day-to-day administration. Additionally, unlike many other legal plan providers, our members have the ability to provide online reviews and ratings regarding their experience with network attorneys, so that other members can use that information to make more informed decisions when selecting a network attorney to work with.
Guardian has a Voice of Customer survey program for its Group Benefits business to understand and track the customer experience across different touchpoints and constituents. We use three consistent KPIs across all surveys, which include Overall Satisfaction, Ease, and Net Promoter Score (likelihood to recommend).
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Colonial Life provides superior customer service to brokers, employers, and policyholders. We set internal annual customer service goals and results are measured quarterly. Colonial Life also works with independent research firms to conduct ongoing surveys of plan administrators and policyholders and reports those results externally through news releases. In addition, all employees who have an interaction with a Colonial Life benefits counselor are asked to rate their one-to-one benefit counseling experience following their enrollment. Every account participating in the post-enrollment survey receives a report card with the survey results.
CB: Are part-time employees eligible for your voluntary offerings?
Yes, ARAG works with organizations to match the eligibility standards they use for other core benefits.
As supplemental health insurance benefits provide the extra support employees need, we do offer them to part-time employees. However, each employer decides who among its workforce it will offer voluntary benefits to.
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Yes, Colonial Life offers flexible benefit solutions for full and part-time employees who work at least 20 hours per week. In some cases, depending on the product and state, we’re able to offer benefit solutions for part-time employees working 17.5 hours per week.
CB: Is online enrollment required, or do you offer alternatives? How do you serve employees who either lack access or computer literacy?
We recommend clients enroll at the same time and via the same method as core benefits — and yes, we can support non-online enrollment. If a member has trouble accessing our website, navigating the different pages or understanding the content, we encourage them to contact a Customer Care specialist who will take the time to walk them through the issue and work to provide a resolution for them.
This is dependent on how the employer enrolls in their benefits. We have the option to create an enrollment form that the eligible employees can fill out and send to ARAG directly, or return to their employer to process the enrollment.
Also, we have options to create an enrollment form that handles payroll deductions, or where they would pay ARAG directly. Usually, the direct payments to ARAG are done for our conversion or if the member has a leave of absence at work.
Guardian offers flexible enrollment solutions to meet a company’s needs: online (which is preferred by a majority of our customers), printable enrollment kits, and in some cases one-on-one enroller led enrollment. We also offer face-to-face and virtual one-on-one meetings to support customers and their employees.
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Colonial Life offers a wide range of opportunities for employees to enroll in financial protection products. In addition to a variety of modern online enrollment technology solutions, we give employees the opportunity to engage with benefits experts that can help guide them through the decision making process at their convenience:
• Group Meetings: Our team of benefit experts can conduct group meeting presentations inperson or virtually, either prior to 1-to-1 benefit counseling sessions or as an alternative enrollment option.
• Custom Communications: Colonial Life can develop a personalized benefits communication and education strategy based on each group’s unique needs. We leverage email, digital postcards, custom websites, mobile apps, digital benefits booklets and more to engage employees.
• One-to-one benefit counseling sessions: They are a powerful tool to engage employees and help them understand the best protections available to them and their families.
CB: What resources and assistance with professional sales support and onsite enrollment do you provide for brokers?
When it comes to supporting brokers during open enrollment, our client managers take the lead on sending the open enrollment communication kit and supporting materials to the client. This supports the broker because it means less work for them — and ultimately benefits them because it is their client.
The biggest aspect of our support for brokers ultimately lies in the relationships our sales directors have built with them over time. It’s the backbone of our ongoing support. For example, ARAG schedules a stewardship meeting with each broker or firm in the first quarter of each year to review the status of their client’s plan, provide company updates, share our value propositions and discuss trends and issues that may impact their client.
As part of that interaction, we invite insightful discussions and can provide sales support materials.
This can include our tool kit exclusively designed for brokers working with ARAG, a great resource packed with pro tips, legal plan information and sales differentiators to help them present the strongest case possible for employers to add ARAG legal insurance to their existing benefit lineup.
Another element to our professional support is the experiences and exposure brokers get when they work with us to implement groups and the ongoing administration of the client — which helps them sell to other clients. And our support continues throughout, as we often lead the
implementation calls with new clients, which takes the burden off of brokers’ busy plates.
Our benefit counselors can meet with employees in several ways, such one-on- one, group meetings, webinars, pre-recorded presentations and benefit fairs. We can also provide posters, flyers, and payroll stuffers if needed.
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Colonial Life’s national team of benefit experts has specialized roles they perform to support our broker partners. Sales professionals work with brokers and their clients to help develop voluntary benefit strategies that will help clients solve their benefit challenges. Account coordinators help manage enrollment logistics, benefits
administration system setup/management and reporting needs. This team includes more than 5,000 highly trained benefit counselors, who can provide on-site support across the country
and meet individually with all employees to educate them on their benefits (including core insurance products not offered by Colonial Life), help uncover any unmet needs and select insurance plans to meet those needs.
CB: What changes do you see in the future for how voluntary benefits are sold and serviced?
We’ve found that in general, employers’ timelines for making benefit decisions and the implementation process overall, are getting shorter and shorter. So the ability to get a plan up and running quickly, and the ability for an employer to say “yes” to installing a legal plan — and two weeks later go into open enrollment is a real thing. I feel like all benefit
providers are facing that same time crunch and benefit demand and as a result, need to be ready to respond even quicker, and with less information from the employer — it’s a challenge but also an opportunity to show them you are ready to partner with them at the speed of their decisions.
And when it comes to benefits, let’s face it, employees have been through a whiplash of work arrangements and economic conditions in the last few years. And with the financial impact of inflation lingering and a possible recession looming, I think voluntary benefits need to be presented to employers as much more than just an ancillary offering; they need to be positioned as a tactical, timely resource they can turn to in order to handle things in their daily lives that affect them.
For example, when it comes to wellness, an employee can’t wait a month to see a counselor regarding their mental health. A tele-health option through their company’s EAP could help them address their issue much sooner. Or offering a college student loan debt payment program can help reduce their financial worries, they can even use a legal plan to help them get ahead of issues such as debt collection or home foreclosure.
Regarding employee demographics, Gen Z employees
who have recently entered the job market will make up 30% of the workforce — and have decidedly different needs and approaches to benefits. For example, with a legal plan, they may not use a legal plan to create a will necessarily, but may need it for consumer protection issues like a tenant dispute — or want to use it to help their parent work through an estate planning issue.
Additionally, Millennials are finding themselves under increasing pressure as part of the sandwich generation, as the pandemic illustrated, taking care of both of their kids and parents or grandparents. They are going to need continued
support and resources to help them balance all that’s going on in their lives. For example, it might be easier to get coverage through a legal benefit than trying to search on their own for all of these legal services their parents may need.
Wallet share will always be a decision point for the vast majority of people when they enroll in benefits. I think that’s why there’s no better time than the present to demonstrate the value of voluntary benefits and their ability to provide people with the resources and resolution they need to handle day-to- day life.
Many organizations want to better support workforce well-being through enhanced policies and expanded resources. One of the approaches employers are taking is in the form of voluntary or employee-paid benefits. Given the valuable protection voluntary benefits provide, we don’t see demand for the products waning.
In the future, companies can narrow the gap between how employees prefer to enroll and how they actually enroll in benefits. With 68% of employees indicating they prefer to enroll in benefits via a digital method, companies will need to deliver enrollment experiences that optimize their benefit communications and offer enrollment processes that feel as simple and intuitive as their everyday online shopping experiences.
QUELL, COLONIAL LIFE:
Colonial Life is closely watching a few key trends in the insurance industry that we anticipate will continue to influence the future of Voluntary Benefits. There has been a rapid expansion in the number of insurance carriers, brokers, and other intermediaries offering VB products, which we expect will continue to rise over the next 18-24 months. We’re also starting to see some shifts away from typical loss protection and toward total employee wellbeing. Some carriers have introduced (and we’ve even deployed some of our own) solutions where medical insurance claims activity can be monitored with employee permissions to proactively alert the employee of additional voluntary benefits for which they may be eligible.
Thank you to Dennis, Dawn and Rob for offering their insights.
TIPS FOR EVALUATING VOLUNTARY BENEFITS PROGRAMS
Krystie Dascoli, Boston-based practice leader, voluntary benefits, at professional services firm Marsh McLennan Agency and executive board president at the Voluntary Benefits Association, shared six tips to help employers evaluate their voluntary benefits program.
- Understand workforce demographics. Breaking down your workforce by age, gender, salary and location can help ensure benefits offerings are meeting employees’ needs so that employees find value for the premiums they’re paying.
- Find the gaps. Employers may offer a high-deductible health plan with a partially funded health savings account (HSA) and think that they’ve filled a benefits gap, but many employees deplete their HSA funds each year.
Supplemental accident, critical illness or hospital indemnity coverage provides financial protection so HSA dollars can continue to grow. Other employee savings opportunities include offering employer discounts on auto and home insurance, as well as purchasing programs that let employees pay over time.
- Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark. Benchmark voluntary plans against industry peers and review them periodically to identify whether they include best-in-class offerings. Carriers are continually introducing new benefits that aren’t always added to existing plans.
- Communicate information. The more employees understand their benefits, the more they’ll use them and find them valuable. Use and evaluate a multifaceted communication strategy that explains how voluntary benefits can meet employee needs during every life stage.
- Ensure integration. Is enrollment aligned with the core benefits or do employees need to link to another platform? Is the same true of filing claims? Integrating voluntary benefits with core benefits enrollment and claims filing emphasizes that these benefits work together.
6. Conduct a compliance review. Review all plans annually for compliance with federal and state laws and regulations.
chief sales officer for ARAG
head of Supplemental Health & Life Products, Guardian Insurance
VP, Broker and Special Market Development, Colonial Life