What’s in the Future for Employee Benefits?

What’s in the Future for Employee Benefits?

To learn more about current and future trends in the realm of employee benefits, the WORKFORCE advertising department asked leaders at several companies about how HR can stay ahead of the benefits game.

* How has the labor shortage affected the way in which benefits are used as both a recruitment and retention tool?

Phil Fauver: Today’s “knowledge worker” processes information rather than physical products. Therefore, a company’s value is not in its tangible assets, but in its people and their ideas. Employers need the vision and tools to maximize productivity and satisfaction of their workforce. Employee satisfaction is dependent on understanding the value of benefits the employer provides. Employee self-service solutions enable the ready realization of these benefits, and the empowerment to review these at will and change them as needed.

Bruce Marks: In today’s struggle for top talent, advertising “competitive salary” alone is no longer a winning strategy; candidates seek companies that can meet their needs on a larger scale. A broad range of benefit types and coverage levels are foremost in the eye of the prospect. Of course, complex benefits offerings may meet employees’ needs, but providing the convenience of automated enrollment/life event changes is imperative to retention.

* How do you see this dynamic changing over the next year?

Marks: The ease of enrollment/life event changes will increase in value to the employee base. Automating the benefit enrollment process will be crucial for employers to gain control over complex benefits offerings. From the employee perspective, access via the Web and phone will supply an added convenience, making for a successful employee benefit program. This enhancement to a traditionally painstaking process will ultimately be a contributing factor to making the organization an employer of choice.

* When looking at where HR can see significant cost savings in implementing conventional or non-traditional employee benefits, what options do you recommend?

Fauver: Implementing, communicating and administering benefit plans is very costly. HR departments are pulled away from strategic initiatives to focus on the administrivia of paper-based administration and employees are pulled away from their jobs as they sort through confusing plan options and rules.

An Internet-solution that combines HR/benefits administration functionality and self-service functionality addresses both of these issues. HR departments become more strategic as non-value added administration is automated. Employees become more productive when empowered with information they can access from anywhere.

Koenig: Our clients often come to us because they are looking for cost savings. At EmployeeLife.com we develop a personalized return on investment (ROI) analysis with each of our clients to better understand the impact their processes and applications have on employee service and their HR team. Our ROI is proprietary and was developed by Renaissance’s Hunter Group. We provide this analysis for each of our clients that demonstrates how they will save money, streamline benefits administration and improve employee satisfaction with our Internet solution for their unique environment.

* To what extent does the Internet change the dynamic of benefits administration and solutions?

Fauver: Look at a simple employee event, such as a new enrollment, and you’ll realize that the administration process doesn’t stop at the employer’s door. Generally five to seven different service providers need to be sent information to verify eligibility and enable enrollment. Internet business services, such as the Employease Network, enable real-time connections with service providers. Therefore, without any redundant work, an employee’s information can be entered once and all the providers are communicated to electronically–no paper!

Koenig: The Internet changes the communications paradigms between employees, HR managers and plan providers while providing efficiencies to all parties. The Internet centered solutions are used as a strategic tool empowering employees and their organizations to select, procure, manage and administer group benefits. At EmployeeLife.com we have found the result powerful and compelling for our clients and their employees. Our client’s are able to reduce their administrative burden with our automated solutions while giving their employees 24-7 access to their benefits, and improved benefits programs.

Marks: This medium has and will forever change the landscape of employee benefit enrollment. The Internet dramatically simplifies the enrollment from the employee perspective, and significantly reduces paper enrollment processing by HR; once it is augmented with an interactive voice response application, it eliminates paper processing altogether. Most importantly, the Internet enables a company to enroll employees, capture the data and seamlessly transfer it to both internal HRIS systems and insurance carriers.

Mike Skiens: The Internet has created many efficiencies for our globalized world. At the same time it has also caused voracious demand for increased productivity and time. This “Internet time compression” requires that benefits administrators seek appropriate time-saving solutions to the implementation and ongoing management of employee benefit plans. Solutions include Web-savvy intermediaries for management of employee enrollment, status change, and defined-contribution plan data. In addition to selecting the right conduit for maintaining this information, it’s critical to select insurers who offer time-efficient online services, including access to employee disability claim status, reports, a resource library, and status of medical evidence of insurability information for open enrollment applications.

* How is this likely to change in the coming years?

Fauver: You are already seeing an evolution in HR departments where they are becoming more of a strategic partner to the organization and less of an administrative resource. This trend represents that employees are now companies’ most important assets.

As HR departments get more strategic they will implement more sophisticated benefit programs and they will use the Internet to automate the non-strategic aspects of their responsibility so that they can better build and manage their workforces.

Koenig: With HR professionals now empowered to engage in business-to-business e-commerce, the Internet and benefits have evolved beyond administration. Last month at Spring Internet World we unveiled our [B2Benefits.sup.TM] Exchange, the world’s first group benefits marketplace for employers. Our B2Benefits Exchange, when coupled with our employee Campus, enables organizations to select, compare, procure and administer benefits with our Internet centric solutions. With our complete end-to-end benefits solution, this is driving the evolution to a more “perfect” benefits environment.

Marks: Historically, HR has placed insufficient importance on the ease of employee access to both enroll and research benefit questions. Products such as BMG’s [Auto-Bene.sup.TM] will assist employers in enhancing these services to increase communication regarding benefits issues. In the coming years, the market in mass will migrate to automated benefit enrollment utilizing web and phone technologies. With the proliferation of the Web and telephone products, employee self-service models such as [Auto-Bene.sup.TM] will become the accepted norm amongst employers.

Skiens: The Internet will demand a higher level of expertise from benefits administrators, brokers, and consultants in identifying, understanding, and maximizing employee benefit technology applications. Because many of the applications are new and the Internet is still at a dynamic point in evolution, these benefits administration applications can quickly become a disruptive technology/liability or an enhancement to employee benefit plan administration.

* What are the next major developments that will change the way employees value their benefits plans?

Skiens: Legislation is underway in Congress to allow electronic transmission of identification that would confirm an individual’s signature. This legislation will demand an increased level of employee trust in technology for important decisions like plan enrollment. Product design will also change due to increasing price pressures of medical plan inflation. These increased costs will compel employers to adopt a broader emphasis on defined contribution benefit plan designs. With more limited and fixed employer dollars going to benefits, employees will be forced to make more discerning benefit elections to seek the greatest protection for their personal financial security.

* From an employee’s perspective, what’s the most important question HR should ask when soliciting feedback regarding benefits programs?

Koenig: Every HR manager must ask: “Do my employees have easy access to their benefits?” Many of our clients come to us after they have invested in voluntary and work-life benefits programs for their employees. They’ve discovered that the impact of their entire benefit programs is lost due to poor communication. Internet centric solutions offer a remedy, providing access to benefits in an employee-friendly environment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Skiens: I’d ask: “In the time-compressed world that the Internet has created, will benefits save employees time and reduce professional stress?” Internet metamediaries will offer one-stop online service packages of everything from financial-assistance solutions of insurance, retirement planning, and mortgages, to the basics of living efficiencies in home delivery of groceries, laundry, and much more. Time is a precious thing to waste for both employees and employers in our New World economy.

Phil Fauver

President and CEO

Employease Inc.

Responsible for operational management at Employease Inc., Fauver directed the introduction, positioning, and establishment of leading edge, technology for more than 25 years. He held senior executive positions at People-Soft, and served as president of Dyer Wells and Associates, a leading benefits software firm.

Howard D. Koenig

CEO

EmployeeLife.com

Prior to joining EmployeeLife.com, Koenig was corporate vice president of operations and client services for ADP. Koenig was also a managing partner for Anderson Consulting and director of commercial systems integration for Oracle Corp Koenig is an expert and accomplished speaker in business-to-business e-commerce.

Bruce Marks

Interactive Information Service Inc.

Senior Vice President

Marks joined Cleveland-based Interactive Information Service Inc. as senior vice president in January 1998. The organization’s overall philosophy is to work with the human resources community to develop Web-based tools enabling process automation, as well as enhanced management information.

Mike Skiens

Assistant Vice President, Employee Benefits Marketing Standard Insurance Company

Skiens has worked for Standard Insurance Company, a leading group life and disability insurer based in Portland, Oregon, since 1988. As of May 2000, Skiens accepted responsibility for Standard’s marketing and e-business departments. He and his wife Sandy live in Portland with daughters Ella and Sam.

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