I know I’m not the only one amazed (and sometimes frustrated) at how fast technology is moving and changing these days. More than once, my brand new phone has felt outdated even before I got the screen guard on it. Still, you have to admit it’s a pretty incredible time in which we live — and work. Even the employee benefits industry now looks to technology to improve every aspect of how the industry operates.
In today’s rapidly evolving digital and mobile benefits environment, we see groundbreaking advances in service delivery models, data analytics, data security, mobile applications, personalization, engagement, wellness (both physical and financial) … the list goes on and on.
I am very much still a student of benefits technology, so I try to consume as much as I possibly can each and every day through social media, industry updates, emails, alerts, webcasts, conferences (props to EBA’s Dig|Benefits 2016 conference I attended this spring) and my two mobile phones that rarely leave my side. Lately, some of the topics receiving a lot of buzz include:
1) New affordable benefits administration and private exchange technology solutions for smaller and mid-sized companies tend to help reduce stress on HR teams and provide them with much-needed support — clearly driving a lot of interest in that space right now. Time will tell what the long-term impacts will actually be.
2) Not surprisingly, there continues to be a mass migration from paper to the cloud — and the recognition that cloud-based systems are gaining acceptance more broadly in the industry.
3) “Caveat emptor.” Watch out for solutions that are not “broker friendly;” more and more employers are being stung by the lack of expertise and consulting that they are receiving (or not) from some technology vendors and even some overwhelmed or ill-prepared advisers.
4) Data, big data and what do I do with all of this data are often consuming conversations between advisers and clients. Using data analytics as a differentiator is a trend that will continue to drive innovation. Do you have any idea of what happens behind the scenes when you like something on Facebook? You might be surprised who does know and what they are doing with that data.
5) Cloud-based, mobile and digital need to be standard components of new technology solutions. Those technology solutions that don’t offer these components will become obsolete more quickly than ever — remember the smart phone dilemma?
6) Financial wellness products and strategies (moving beyond just the focus on retirement) are now addressing the immediate financial needs of employees (like student loan debt) and long-term (like 401(k)). Just like physical health and wellness drives engagement, look to financial wellness to do the same. Interesting factoid: according to the Urban Institute, 35% of all student loans are held by people over the age of 39. Clearly, student loan debt isn’t just a millennial problem and can also be a challenge for parents of college grads who have taken on additional loans for their kids. More employers are starting to connect the dots and are recognizing the impact that financial wellness can have on their employees and the correlation to their own business strategy.
7) And the question asked of anyone and everyone who is involved in private exchanges: Why aren’t more employers adopting private exchanges? Outside of the standard responses we all have heard, the most rational response I am hearing is simply, “Change is hard.” Also, the promise of potential cost savings isn’t as compelling as everyone might think, as there is (or should be) far more behind the decision for an employer to move to a private exchange. Of course the C-suite is often looking for cost savings and predictability (and who can blame them), but employers are also very concerned with recruitment, retention, meeting the needs of their multi-generational workforce and, ultimately, doing the right thing for their employees.
When I was a little, I watched a cartoon called The Jetsons. You remember, “Meet George Jetson, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, Jane, his wife?” I remember being so excited that when I grew up I would have my own flying car and a robot to do all of my chores for me. Well, that hasn’t exactly panned out like I hoped, but in a few years I might actually be able to catch a quick nap while my car drives me to work or, better yet, takes me on that cross-country road trip I have always wanted to take.
Also see: “Aflac, CBIZ, others announce leadership changes.”
It’s no secret that technology is evolving at an exponential rate, and in the benefits world, I think the key is not to look back at what you could have done, but instead look ahead at all of the potential opportunities and solutions we can bring to employers.
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