More than half of U.S. employers say they are expanding the use of technology to manage costs associated with employee benefits programs. This is according to new research from Prudential Financial.

“Employers are looking for their insurers to do more than pay claims,” says Joseph M. Hayes, chief information officer of Prudential. “They want a streamlined benefits process using technology that allows their employees and benefits administrators to connect directly with their insurers.”

Half of those polled (51%) say it is important that their benefits systems interface with their insurance carrier’s systems and more than half (59%) are looking for insurance carriers to offer flexibility to adapt and connect to other carriers or a third-party administrator. The study also found that employers who had a positive experience using benefits technology to manage/track employee absences also reported improved worker productivity.

“One of the most valuable features of benefits technology is the ability to monitor and track absence,” says Hayes. “Since worker productivity heavily impacts the cost of doing business this can be a vital tool in managing the bottom line.”

While respondents varied in their utilization of online tools, all agreed that both usage and user experience could be improved. More than half of employers noted they would increase their use of online tools if their websites were easier to navigate, functionality was more useful and tools/sites were less cluttered and easier to read. Even though employers were generally satisfied with the functionality of their employee benefits online activities, they cited a need for improvement in submitting claims, integrating payroll processing, managing/tracking employee absences and recording evidence of insurability.

The survey also showed a low to average use of online benefits tools among employees, with less than half conducting any online activity this year. The most commonly used tools are online enrollment (50%) and 401(k) management (47%). Additionally, employees are generally satisfied with the quality of online tools rating most features as “good.” Functions cited as having relatively high usage but less than good satisfaction ratings are obtaining educational information about insurance and retirement plans (27% fair or poor) and downloading/obtaining forms (19% fair or poor.)

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