Major disruptions in the benefits world are about to shape the future of the industry, according to a panel of experts at the 2017 EBN Benefits Forum & Expo in (mostly) sunny Boca Raton, Florida.
John Young, the Senior Vice President of Consumerism and Strategy at Alegeus, moderated a session called “7 Major Disruptions About to Shape the Future of Benefits,” and led the group of industry leaders in discussing what he jokingly said was actually “somewhere around 27 disruptions currently affecting the benefits industry.”
The panel of experts included Timothy Mutrie, Vice President of Marketing and Technology at ACI Specialty Benefits; Jeff Ruby, Founder and CEO of Newtopia; and Ed Walker, CEO of ArmadaGlobal. The panel discussed how it’s an exciting time in the benefits industry and reviewed some key innovations on the horizon.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (or AI) is already here, and it’s not just about robots, according to Mutrie. He noted that although most people think of robots when they hear the term AI, we already use the technology in our day-to-day lives without thinking about it in those terms. For example, our iPhones have Siri, many people have home assistants (e.g. Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home), and when we call many companies for customer assistance, we end up speaking to a chatbot.
So how does that translate to HR and the benefits industry? According to Mutrie, AI will create an environment where HR doesn’t have to take mundane calls that could be solved in a more convenient manner. For example, a chatbot could answer questions like:
- Do we have President’s Day off?
- Do my dental benefits cover braces for my children?
- How do I contact my employee assistance program (EAP)?
Mutrie warned that HR shouldn’t be afraid of such technology and should instead try to embrace it. AI may help an employer by making it easier to find out the needs of its employees and by giving HR the ability to provide employees with 24-hour access to benefits. He predicted it will enhance workplace flexibility and be good for benefits such as EAPs, telehealth and concierge services.
2. Changing Workforce Demographics
The panel also discussed how the workforce is changing because of all the generations that are currently in the workforce and how employee engagement and benefits will continue to evolve accordingly. Walker explained that various generations have different beliefs and views on technology. For example, some employees may not know what a fax machine is because they’ve never used one, while others may be creeped out by how much data analytics can reveal about an individual.
Walker noted that it’s important for an employer to determine what they want their benefits to accomplish and how they want them to improve employee engagement across all the generations in its organization. He stressed that to achieve this goal, an employer should cater to the unique aspects of the demographics in its workforce.
3. Health and Wellness
Ruby discussed the growing wellness craze that has been sweeping the employee benefits industry in the last several years. He noted that so far most employer health and wellness programs have been fixated on employees who have already been diagnosed with various ailments, while people who are teetering on the edge of being unhealthy may avoid going over that cliff if they have some guidance.
Most employers have taken a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness, according to Ruby. He noted that typically all employees will go through the same disease prevention program when a more personalized approach might lead to better outcomes. He sees wellness programs moving toward a one-size-fits-one strategy that is more tailored to individual employees.
The panel seemed to agree that the use of telehealth as an employee benefit will continue to grow. Mutrie said that many telehealth programs use Skype to give employees a personalized experience. Ruby echoed this sentiment by noting that he had observed a higher rate of client satisfaction with individual health coaches via telecommunications technology than through in-person coaching mainly because of the convenience factor.
5. Concierge Services
The panel also discussed how concierge services may become more important in the benefits world because of their timesaving capabilities. Concierge services may provide a wide array of different amenities, including, for example:
- Pet care;
- Travel services;
- Arrangements for child care; and
- Automobile servicing.
Many large companies already offer such services onsite with campuses that provide dentists, shopping and dry cleaning. However, the panel stressed that even small companies can contract with outside concierge service providers to give their employees these benefits.
Personalization is Key
When Young asked the panel for a summary of their views on the future of benefits, the three panelists agreed that one of the keys for an employer is going to be making benefits more personal to its employees. Whether this trend involves AI, telehealth or other benefits disruptions, employers should start preparing for a personalized benefits environment.