Is benefits technology the be-all, end-all?
Years ago, I never knew I wanted nor needed an iPhone. I liked my flip phone. I never sent text messages. I had a separate device to listen to music. I’d rather use a computer with a large screen to look at the Internet. And apps… what are they?
Spending extra money for an iPhone just didn’t make sense to me. Then one day I decided I wanted to see for myself what the fuss what about. So I visited the Apple store and left with the iPhone 5s. Yes, my first iPhone was the seventh iteration of the device. I must admit, I was a late adopter.
I don’t know why I took that fateful plunge, but for the first few weeks, I used my iPhone like my old phone. I made calls, only rarely sent text messages and never looked at the app store. During lunch with a good friend, we discussed my new iPhone. I told him I thought it was a waste. It seemed to be all hype and the success of the product was nothing more than everyone wanting the latest and greatest toy. My friend executed the appropriate eye-roll and then spent the next 15 minutes explaining why I was wrong. He showed me apps that stream music, find deals at local restaurants and function as a GPS. From that moment on, a new world of convenience and fun opened up. I was hooked.
At first blush, the new trend of benefits technology as a complete solution to enrollment and day-to-day administration is not dissimilar to my early experience with the iPhone. The idea of technology being a “cure all” is an attractive idea for harried HR professionals. With just a modest investment in a system, enrollments will process faster, employees will have information to make great decisions and manual administration will be a thing of the past. Technology solves everything!
Not so fast.
Sure, technology can be enormously helpful and yes, it will make enrollment and benefits administration a lot easier than doing everything by hand. But technology without benefits experts to back it up is only half a solution — sort of like using an iPhone without taking advantage of the apps. In a way, the benefits consultant serves as the “app” that powers the benefits administration technology and the end user.
Let’s start with Steve Jobs’ assumption that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The same sentiment can apply to choosing the right health insurance plan. Employees often don’t know much about benefits until it is time to choose them and use them. Education and engagement are critical when it comes to helping them understand plan details during enrollment and putting the plan to use later on. If employees don’t select the right benefits option, don’t understand the implications of their choices, or don’t see value in their benefits, is your investment worth it? You know the answer.
When I purchased my iPhone, a specialist at the Apple store helped set it up and gave me simple tips to get started. Having a partner that understands both technology and benefits is just as indispensable. Setting up benefits administration technology incorrectly can lead to disaster. Employees enrolling in the wrong plans, incorrect billing, improper workflow and missed compliance notifications waste time for an administrator, potentially costing the company significantly and putting everyone at enormous risk.
When set up properly, technology can enhance benefits communications and educate employees at the point of enrollment, which is an optimal time to communicate with them because you have their attention anyway. But one-and-done communications that are provided only at enrollment don’t fully educate employees or help them make good choices. Messages typically need repeating before they are internalized, and for that, you need a full-blown communications campaign with touch points throughout the year. Repeating information in small segments over a period of time means that employees are more likely to hear and absorb it.
It’s a given that the health and wellness program you choose must be the right fit for employees. Understanding company culture, what the workforce values and what is needed to attract talent are key considerations. There isn’t a technology platform in existence that can do that for a company. Technology can guide and streamline tactical processes but there needs to be something of value behind those transactions. Benefits consultants, in specific areas of expertise, are that valuable piece.
An example of expert consultants are employee advocacy and support representatives who help plan participants navigate benefits — much like the adviser role that my friend played after I bought my iPhone. Employees need experts to help them when they get stuck in the enrollment segment of the technology. Employee benefits offer tremendous value but they’re very complicated and confusing. It’s not unusual for employees to make decisions that will cost them and their employers too much money. Other employees, typically younger workers, might not use them at all. Without the proper advocacy support, benefits can turn into an underutilized tool, like an iPhone without the apps.
Today I can’t imagine my life without my iPhone. I no longer get in trouble with my wife for refusing to ask for directions when I’m lost. I get great incentives to try new restaurants. I use it for boarding passes at the train station and airport. An iPhone is life changing, and so are health benefits. With expert guidance from the Apple store sales associate and a little nudge from my friend, I found the true value of my phone.
Benefits administration technology can do the same for your company. If supported and implemented by the right team of experts, you will have tools to ensure your benefits are valuable, deployed efficiently, used wisely and won’t trip you up with compliance issues.
When it comes to technology and benefits consultants, people often don't know what they need until they don’t have it. But now you do.