For Chief Strategy Officer at Hodges-Mace, Eric Helman, data analytics are at the core of a revolution in employee benefits that is on the near horizon. Big data holds the promise to scan huge datasets in a near real-time environment for insights that will impact both the current and future trajectory for a given area, such as plan strategy.

With advancement of true cross-vendor analytics, prescription, engagement and measurement brought on by the democratization of big data, employers, brokers and consultants are enabled to improve the performance of their employee benefit plans like never before.

Eric Helman speaks at EBA's Workplace Benefits Summit in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sept. 19, 2017.
Eric Helman speaks at EBA's Workplace Benefits Summit in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sept. 19, 2017. Cort Olsen/EBA

During Helman’s session, “Driving down employer costs and improving the employee benefit experience,” at EBA’s 2017 Workplace Benefits Summit in Boca Raton, Fla., he explained how analytics are being employed to measurably enhance employee experience and drive down costs for the employer.

Of these analytics, Helman focused the majority of his session on the implementation of mobile, big data and cloud computing technologies as the means of driving down cost and boosting employee benefit engagement.

“We are all in the talent business, especially as we near full employment and create job paths for maintenance workers or process manufacturers that are going unfulfilled in our country,” Helman said.

Shifting priorities
Over the past 10 years, Helman said the focus for benefits revolved around cost containment and ACA compliance. Today, he said priorities have shifted to attracting and retaining talent as well as offering health and welfare benefits.

“In the ’90s, the employer determined they were going to do what was right for the business. Otherwise, there would not be any jobs for anyone to have,” Helman said. “In the 2000s, the employee decided they were going to do the right thing for themselves because the employer is not looking out for their needs.”

To ensure employee benefit needs are being met, Helman said every business must have a mobile strategy in place to inform employees about what is available to them.

“In benefits, we talk an awful lot about consumerism, and yet we do not treat our employees like consumers,” Helman said. “If you look at high adoption mobile strategies, they all follow a similar set of features and functionality.”

If brokers and employers can identify the benefits employees want, they must feed that information to the employee at a higher rate than they are used to doing. Helman referenced Facebook and their ability to inform users of the specific products that would appeal to someone in their demographic through ad placements.

“Once I have made this high frequency advertisement [through mobile communication] relevant to the employee, it becomes a message conduit that I can use as a reliable way to transmit information,” Helman said.

Through the high frequency mobile communication strategy, the broker and employer are able to gather big data based off of what benefits the employee is interacting with the most as well as what benefits and programs the employee’s spouse or dependents seek from the communication efforts.

“Depending on your industry, benefit decisions and benefit consumption decisions are made at the kitchen table, not at the cubical,” Helman said. “The mobile app must have a strategy in place that allows both members of that household to engage.”

In determining what benefits to offer, Helman said this is where the cost reduction for employers comes into play. Once the benefits that are desired by the employee are acquired, there must be shelf space made available for the employee to select that benefit. This means doing away with other benefits that are not as successful.

“Part of the challenge for benefit professionals when consulting employers is, how many shots a year we get to convince the employer to do something new?” Helman asked. “We have to make sure we are focused on the right [products].”

Once the data from the mobile strategy is acquired, Helman recommends cloud-based computing to assist in storing the large quantities of information from employee benefit choices. Over time, this data will then be able to identify trends within the benefit enrollment process, thereby determining what benefits employers should keep in their offerings and removing those that are unsuccessful and costing the business valuable dollars.

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