It is no secret that an organization’s success is based on the quality of the people who work there. After all, employees are the front line to customers, which is the lifeblood of any organization. But talent acquisition is often cited as one of the biggest challenges companies face today. The pressure to attract and retain top talent has never been higher. To help meet this challenge, companies are re-evaluating their benefits offerings as part of their total compensation packages.

Healthcare reform has forever changed the landscape for designing a flexible, creative major-medical plan to suit the unique needs of an employer. The legislative impact of this change has pushed voluntary benefits to the forefront to fill the void in enhanced benefit offerings. Voluntary benefits are the arena for assisting employers in providing coverage options tailored to meet the specific needs of their employees.

Technology advancements are also impacting the market. With the advent of benefit point solutions and decision-support tools, employers are increasingly seeking voluntary benefits that complement their benefit offerings.

The combination of these two elements is pushing consultants and carriers to partner together to design products that are specific to an employer’s industry or a specific client objective. One recent example is a carrier creating a hospital indemnity product that pays higher benefits for use at their own hospital system. This new coverage option was offered to their own employees, as well as the local community of employers, to increase steerage and utilization. This approach to a voluntary benefit product takes community health to a whole different level.

Customized voluntary product offerings such as these will become more prevalent in the near future. This is where the industry must evolve to satisfy the needs of employers and their employees. By evaluating the goals and considering an expanded product portfolio, employers will more frequently be determining if a customized product is going to assist them in achieving their overall HR goals.

New products and features
The future of customization will scale beyond adjusting benefit levels within an accident, critical illness or cancer plan. Voluntary benefits will entail designing completely new features and even whole products that do not exist today to meet specific needs of an industry or employer group. As base health plans become more generic and uniform across employers and insurance carriers, having unique and tailored voluntary benefits will become a key differentiator for recruitment and retention. This differentiation is not just richer benefits, but more customized benefits, and therefore more effective in assisting the employer to attract and retain top talent.

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Employees at technology firms have very different needs than those at construction companies. So, why do they have to buy the same accident plan when their risks (and therefore their needs) are totally different? Additionally, as the hospital example showed, voluntary benefits will be used to solve problems never considered before in the voluntary space — such as increased utilization steerage for a hospital.

True partnerships and collaboration between carriers, brokers, employers and technology/enrollment firms will give birth to these innovations — not just from a product perspective, but also from an engagement perspective. In addition to understanding what needs to be built, employers must understand how to effectively communicate to their employees what the various offerings are and how to enroll. Without effective enrollment and communication, the greatest of these innovations will fail because employees will not understand, appreciate, purchase and benefit from the protection offered by the next generation of voluntary benefits. The onus is on the employer to determine what benefits employees need today and down the road. The pressures are high and so are the rewards.

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Alex Ward

Alex Ward

Ward is director of employee engagement for benefits delivery innovator Hodges-Mace. H