3 ways brokers can help employers with open enrollment during coronavirus

This year’s open enrollment season will be a challenge for brokers, employers and employees. COVID-19 has disrupted our world in ways we never would have imagined six months ago. Open enrollment will change dramatically in a number of ways — few, if any, in-person enrollments; a more vital role for benefit communications; and employees making different choices compared to the past.

Read more: 5 open enrollment communication strategies for your remote workforce

Brokers will approach this open enrollment season in new ways and likely 2021 benefit planning as well. Like their clients, brokers’ businesses have been affected by COVID-19. The new normal for brokers means consulting with their clients on benefit strategies and priorities in a new world, helping them address employees’ financial situation and making sure that benefit offerings adapt to current times. In the process of helping their clients with benefits packages, enrollment and communication in a COVID-19 environment, brokers are also helping them improve their bottom line.

Here are three of the recommended ways brokers can assist their clients.

Be there for HR

There’s no question that HR has their plate full right now. On top of the usual responsibilities that already fill up their day, HR is now dealing with pandemic ramifications such as layoffs, furloughs, working from home challenges, and supporting families as employees’ children go back to school. For those companies who have employees back in the office, they are dealing with how to keep the workplace as safe as possible with everything from workspace distancing, facemasks and PPE, to temperature checks upon arrival, hand sanitizing and wiping down workstations.

In the past decade, brokers’ roles have evolved from straight sales to focusing on helping employers achieve their HR objectives. Brokers have become consultants as well, providing guidance on benefits trends including a more holistic approach to the employee benefits package and ensuring clients stay compliant with ever-changing regulations.

HR needs your guidance and expertise — as well as your time — more than ever as open enrollment approaches. A recent Eastbridge survey on top COVID-19 concerns for voluntary benefits showed that 33% of brokers already are seeing their time diverted to answering coverage questions on existing business. A LIMRA survey in May revealed that one-fourth of employers said the coronavirus outbreak has made them more interested in making changes to their insurance benefit programs in the next 18 months.

With HR pulled in so many directions right now, it is critical that brokers’ focus and attention to detail expands beyond what is typically required. Also realizing that each client, depending on their business category, will have unique situations and challenges that will likely require more customization. On the upside, this can ultimately build stronger client relationships.

Amp up benefit communications

Benefit communications are vitally important in the COVID-19 world. Employees will likely pay more attention to open enrollment this year and spend more time reviewing their benefit choices. The recent Eastbridge survey about the effects of COVID-19 revealed that over half of employers surveyed believe more employees will enroll in voluntary products.

With many employees working remotely now, much of the communication about open enrollment will be achieved solely through technology rather than by in-person meetings. Additionally, employers will need to increase communication about voluntary benefits that already are part of their overall program. Often, employees aren’t aware some of these exist because they may not have been needed in the past. But in a COVID-19 world, employees now may be more interested in the advantages these benefits can offer.

Employers should make sure employees are aware of and informed about the voluntary benefits available to them, especially ones that can help support their financial well-being. Brokers can assist employers with these benefit explanations and suggest effective approaches to communicating them. Be available to assist HR with benefit communications in a variety of channels, including video which is a popular channel among employees. Consider formulating a structured on-demand webinar or guided tutorial on voluntary benefits.

Make sure your product portfolio helps employees with their financial situation

With so many HR distractions vying for employers’ attention right now, it can be tempting to believe that now is not the time to introduce new benefits for employees. It is arguably more important than ever. Employers have a responsibility to not only chart the course for their organization’s recovery in this unprecedented time, but also assist their employees in the recovery of their well-being – physical, mental and financial.

One critical piece of pandemic disruption that employers can’t overlook is their employees’ financial situation. Prior to the pandemic, 58% of surveyed employees admitted they were stressed about their finances1, many living paycheck-to-paycheck with little or no savings available for unexpected expenses. The impact of COVID-19 on employees’ financial well-being has been unprecedented, taking it to an even lower level.

There are several voluntary benefits that can help employees with their financial well-being. Among those are:
  • Employee purchase programs that allow workers to purchase necessary consumer products and services through payroll deduction when they are unable or prefer not to use cash or credit. The program is an alternative to high interest credit cards and other sub-prime financing options for customers desiring to pay for a purchase over time without a qualifying credit check or incurring fees.
  • Low interest installment loans and credit that help employees avoid payday loans and cash advances from credit cards when they have emergency needs such as unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Student loan repayment benefit programs in which employers are making contributions to loan balances or providing methods for employees to refinance their debt.
  • Bill payment programs that empower employees with debt paydown strategies and the ability to make recurring bill payments on-time each month through payroll deduction.