Benefits technology isn’t just about easing the headaches of managers; it’s also about easing the stress of employees by helping them understand their options.

That’s according to industry leaders who spoke Thursday during the opening session of the Dig|Benefits conference in Austin.

“In the small benefits space, there isn’t really anywhere for the employee to turn to,” said Saravanan Chettiar, founder of Strive Benefits. “Employees have no idea what they sign up for. They struggle to find an in-network provider; they don’t know what their coverage is. They go to the one HR person in the small business, who tells them to go to the broker [for that information]. Healthcare literacy is so low that we have to create models to help with this.”

The common denominator among employees and their benefits is confusion, said Camilla Velasquez, head of product at Justworks. “You can ask someone who has been through open enrollment 15 times what [enrollment] is and they can’t tell you.”

But mobile technology should — and can — change that, speakers said.

“We need an intuitive interface that’s easy to use and mobile accessible,” said Joshua Jeffries, partner at Arkin Youngentob Associates LLC. “Digital benefits technology has been moving at such a fast pace. If it doesn’t have a mobile component, it probably won’t work well for your workforce. It ensures that quality information from the HR perspective is being shared by the entire family.”

Chettiar’s Strive Benefits, for example, is a mobile app that helps employees manage their healthcare decisions by allowing them to search for providers, store their ID and emergency contact information, look up prescription drug pricing and clinical content, and search for details about their specific benefits plan design.

Saravanan Chettiar speaking during the Dig|Benefits conference in Austin, Texas
Saravanan Chettiar speaking during the Dig|Benefits conference in Austin, Texas

“We are helping employees in a very unique way,” Chettiar said. “We are the tool employees carry from one open enrollment period to the next.” Educational emails and other tools are also important components of keeping employees in the know, he said.

The important thing, speakers agreed, is that benefits education should be ongoing and easily accessible throughout the year — as opposed to a forgotten email or pamphlet once a year at open enrollment.

“We need to catch employees at the exact time when they need help,” Chettiar said, adding that he regularly talks to his employees on how they feel the Strive Benefits app works for them and uses their feedback in the app.

Velasquez said a PEO, like her company’s Justworks, is the future. “A PEO is like Uber for employment,” she said, adding that it can provide better access to benefits while also offering employers compliance solutions.

“This allows entrepreneurs to do their business,” she said, adding that PEOs help employees become more engaged, informed and prepared.

“We see an opportunity where education is a really key component,” she said. “We need to have a place where we can show [employees] deep into [their] policy, so they know where [they] are in their deductible, what their copay is, and they have a place with their card information.”

For benefits managers, it’s vital that they stress the importance of the technology to their employees.

“[We need to] make sure employees are engaged in the process,” Jeffries said. “It cannot be top down. Ultimately the employees are the ones using the system and making it valuable.”s

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