Why advisers need to vet client technology

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Employers are increasingly looking for personalization from digital wellness programs for their employees, according to Optum’s 8th Annual Wellness in the Workplace study. However, choosing the right platform to suit the needs of the users could prove difficult for an employer to decide alone — making the adviser’s input critical to overall success.

“Users expect a personalized set of recommendations, modalities, resources and feedback based on the data [digital wellness programs] provide,” says Seth Serxner, chief health officer at Optum. “We’re also seeing increased personalization in the digital wellness tools employers offer their employees.”

Behavioral, financial and social health programs have all seen an increase in use by at least 4%, according to Optum’s study, and because of the rise in demand, Serxner says the best way advisers can assist their clients is to vet the vendors and software employers show interest in using.

“Most employers don’t have the time or resources to address one of the biggest challenges in wellness technology, which is vetting of vendors and software,” Serxner says. “Advisers can help by carefully reviewing data security, privacy, clinical and behavioral content to ensure it will fit an employer’s needs.”

Scott Robb, AVP at Guardian Life, agrees with Serxner that advisers should aid in the vetting process, not just in the category of wellness, but in all aspects of benefits technology saying digital platforms, whether for enrollment, benefit communication or wellness, can differ significantly based on employer demographic and size.

“Certainly as you go up market, employers are very concerned about wellness strategies to help contain health costs or improve financial wellbeing,” Robb says. “As you go down market, I don’t see as much of that, and that is driven primarily because of cost for the technology.”

Also see: The risk and rewards of ‘Uberizing’ benefits.”

Robb adds that smaller clients with less than 100 employees may not have the same level of concern with digital wellness because cost might appear outside their budget, and because small employers lack the funds to bring digital wellness into their businesses, advisers could be stuck with the bill.

“I do believe as technology continues to evolve that more employers down market will find ways to leverage to improve wellness,” Robb says. “Many times brokers are bringing technology to the table as part of their value-add or provide solutions that the employer is not willing to fund.”

Informed decisions
While small employers may not have the budget for some wellness tech, a new report from Assurex Global, a commercial insurance, risk management and employee benefits brokerage group out of Columbus, Ohio, reveals key capabilities and limitations of benefits administration systems outlining steps for making informed purchased decisions.

“There’s no question new benefits administration systems can dramatically improve the performance of human resource departments,” says John Clark, senior vice president at Assurex Global. “Yet, technology is evolving; there’s uncertainty over the future of healthcare and related benefits and cost of making a mistake in a tech investment can be a career breaker.”

Clark adds that even though cloud technology and competition are generally helping drive down digital costs, full implementation of larger systems can take up to a year. “And when you factor in the related time involved in staff training, you can see how these systems require substantial investments for any firm,” Clark says.

This is where advisers have a chance to step in to direct the client to technology that can directly benefit employee wellness. Many HR professionals are unfamiliar with the tech available today and may not be in a position to make the best choices for their needs.

Regardless of whether the client is leaning toward a holistic human capital management system or a standalone benefits administration platform, defining benefit system requirements is the No. 1 choice employers should make, according to Assurex Global’s, “How the wrong benefits administration system can hinder efficiency and put your organization at risk.”

By enlisting the help of a benefit adviser to document what the client needs their system to accomplish, paying special attention to manual processes that would rather be automated.

“There’s clearly no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Liz Patton, vice president of employee benefits for Cobbs Allen, an Assurex Global broker. “Nonetheless, if they haven’t done so already, human resources executives need to explore their options carefully and begin the process of selecting a system.”

Fiona Gathright, president and CEO of Wellness Corporate Solutions, LLC in Bethesda, Md., says there are systems that cater specifically to a particular part of wellness, such as physical or financial wellness. However, there are platforms that aggregate apps for all parts of wellness, allowing the employer to pick and choose which programs suit them best.

“It’s a one-stop shop for [employers] to get their financial wellness, mental health, stress reduction, activity, nutrition and even health coaches off one platform,” says Gathright. “A vast majority of the Fortune 5,000 companies have a wellness program, and most have a digital component to them.”

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