Two types of stories dominated the attention of the Employee Benefit Adviser audience in 2016: the details hidden inside benefit plans and how to implement them, and the saga of disruptive IT firm Zenefits. Of the Top 10 stories of 2016 that appeared on employeebenefitadviser.com, three focused on the benefit technology upstart and its rocky year, while others focused on the nuts and bolts of benefit policy.

Bloomberg/file photo

The top EBA story of the year looked at the top retirement plans of large-scale U.S. firms. September’s “Boeing’s retirement plan soars to new heights thanks to asset size, plan design” revealed that the aerospace giant was among the top three 401(k) plans based on asset size with more than 1,000 actively enrolled employees, according to research from data analytics firm miEdge. IBM Corp. led the list, with Wells Fargo in third place. The Boeing Company Voluntary Investment Plan boasts around $47 billion in assets under management for its 165,000 workers worldwide. “We are hovering at about 93% or 94% 401(k) plan participation, up from 87% in 2010, so we’ve made progress,” said Dimitra Hannon, Boeing’s director of well-being and retirement strategy.

Zenefits makes news
As with any IT company that disrupts the traditional way of a relatively staid arm of the U.S. economy does business, Zenefits had a hard time staying out of the news. Headlines such as “Zenefits announces product launch: ‘Small business has been left behind’” also shared attention with stories centering on the resignation of its CEO and news that its workforce was being reduced by 250 staffers in February. (To add insult to injury, Bloomberg reported a further 106 job cuts to the benefits IT upstart in June.)

Zenefits had high hopes for its latest offering this fall. “Everything in the company’s past has been a prelude to Z2, as the new product offerings are called, said David Sacks, Zenefits’ CEO in an Oct. 18 media call. “Small business has been left behind in terms of HR tools available to them, until quite recently,” he said. “We want to fix that.”

Along with headlines of $7 million fines for selling insurance without a license, Zenefits also refreshed its top roster. Sacks replaced former CEO Parker Conrad who stepped down in early February amid allegations of regulatory compliance infractions.

Beyond benefit basics
A number of popular stories include deep dives into technical matters, such as “How the fiduciary rule is affecting 401(k) rollovers” and “IRS clarifies integrated HRA rules.” Both ends of the generational spectrum and their benefit needs were dressed in a pair of popular stories: “Average retiree will see Social Security benefit decrease” and “Millennials disrupt traditional benefits for modern priorities.” As the latter story highlighted: “Seventy-three percent of … those born in 1982 or later are concerned about meeting their monthly living expenses and financial obligations, compared to 67% of Gen X and 63% of baby boomers, according to MetLife’s Employee Benefit Trends Study. This has led many employers to seek out alternative benefit programs that will assist with the modern day problems millennials are facing, which in turn will attract and retain young employees.”

Trump triumphs
Despite the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, only one story about the candidate’s win cracked the EBA Top 10. “Benefit pros predict Trump’s healthcare, retirement moves” clocked in at sixth place with a roundup of reaction from benefit industry leaders who weighed in on what the new administration means for the Affordable Care Act and health insurance in general. As Shan Fowler, senior director of product strategy at Benefitfocus, said after election day, “Strategically, a Trump win may put Paul Ryan and House Republicans in the driver’s seat of healthcare reform. Trump, like Nixon, doesn’t seem overly interested in healthcare reform except as retribution against Obama and Democrats.”

The ongoing impact of the complex issues presented by these top stories of the year — EBA's most-read articles — is likely to be felt well into the new year.

Top EBA stories of 2016
1) Boeing’s retirement plan soars to new heights thanks to asset size, plan design
2) Zenefits reduces workforce by 250 employees
3) Average retiree will see Social Security benefit decrease
4) IRS clarifies integrated HRA rules
5) Benefit pros predict Trump’s healthcare, retirement moves
6) Zenefits CEO resigns amid regulatory compliance issues
7) Zenefits announces product launch: ‘Small business has been left behind’
8) Millennials disrupt traditional benefits for modern priorities
9) Mercer launches ‘HR on demand’ consulting service for small business
10) The common workplace practice that’s costing employers billions

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