Employee portals, long an afterthought in the employee experience and full of confusing multi-screen platforms, are moving in a rapid pace to give the workforce what it what it wants: Mobile optimization and data analytics.

“Overall, the direction of employee portals, which has historically been employer-based through technology firms or vendor-based through benefit administration firms and carriers, is becoming mobility based,” explains Mike Smith, director of exchange solutions at Lockton Companies in Boston. There is a “ton of investment” into the digital health and mobile space, he adds.

Bloomberg/file photo

Mobility is the next big thing, explains Tom Avery, president of Folsom, Calif.-based brokerage The Innovative Broker. “The trend we are seeing from the portal is mobility … being able to access it from any device,” he says.

Portals are also expanding into new forms of technology. Previously, brokers would deliver packets of information 20-40 pages thick and tell employees to understand it. Now, brokers can deliver that same information through technology features, such as short video through a portal and provide online help, Avery says.

“As [employees] make benefit decisions [in the portal], they can instant message with a licensed person on their benefits question,” he adds. “These are the kinds of things that are now possible. [They] weren’t possible [previously] because employee portals were a much more manual process.”

The changes are happening because the millennial workforce is demanding them. “Gen X and the millennials are tech savvy and they want online tools,” explains Mike de Waal, president of Global IQX in Ottawa.

Also see: "Employers passing rising healthcare costs onto employees."

The drive is also being forced by Zenefits. “Before Zenefits, the benefit administration world was a standalone world. Zenefits brought the requirement to expand into HR,” says George Reese, CEO of Bethesda, Md.-based Employee Navigator. “Whatever [portals] are, it is expanding into compliance information, in addition to enrolling benefits.”

“Zenefits hasn’t done anything special,” Reese adds. “It only modernized the broker promise to deliver improved support.”

Data

Behind all the investment in new technologies and mobile is the ability to run analytics behind employee portals, Lockton’s Smith explains. “The phone and the apps and location sensors/data are … smashing together and creating this opportunity,” he says. “Pretty soon, analytics will start talking to each other, the Internet of Things.”

“Who knows what kind of doors that will open in benefits,” he adds.

Advisers would be well served to mine the data, de Waal adds, to understand what they should place an emphasis on within portals. “Data analytics is becoming a big thing as is Artificial Intelligence,” he says. “[AI] is a little early for advisers, but something they should know about.”

But to get to this next place, it falls on an adviser to be aware of the trends and educate their clients. “In essence, it is [knowing] what is going on in the marketplace and future developments and sitting with a client and saying, ‘This is where the market is going. This is the workforce demographic. This is what healthcare is doing now," Smith adds.

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