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Expert talks tech for voluntary benefits for employees

Employees are increasingly choosing voluntary benefits, such as pet insurance, tuition assistance and identity protection. In this Q&A, an expert talks about the new benefits landscape.

Peter Marcia is CEO of YouDecide, a voluntary benefits outsourcing, technology and consulting firm that develops electronic portals for organizations to provide voluntary benefits for employees. He previously held upper management positions directing benefits practices at a large national insurance brokerage and several other insurance agencies. In this Q&A, Marcia talks about what kinds of voluntary, or supplemental, benefits employees are choosing and the role of technology in providing them.

What are some of the most popular kinds of voluntary benefits for employees that companies are offering these days?

Peter Marcia: Over the last few years, the standards have been the pet, legal, auto and home, critical illness, accident and hospitalization insurance, and also the indemnity plans that are targeted to fill the gap as companies have moved from copay-based health plans to high-deductible plans.

Peter MarciaPeter Marcia

What are some new categories of voluntary benefits for employees?

Marcia: Some of the emerging ones over the last 24 months or so reflect the financial impacts of student debt, such as loan relief and tuition assistance. That's been one recent trend. And those benefits have really gained some traction probably in the last 12 months, as companies have started to adopt those benefits. But there's more interest than there is adoption at this point. Another that has a chance to grow is identity theft insurance. I think the Experian thing and the Equifax [data breaches] and all the issues surrounding identity theft over the past year truly got everyone's attention.

What are the technology trends around voluntary benefits for employees?

The whole move around voluntary benefits is to not just simply put them out there and offer them, but to have employees engage with and enroll in them.
Peter MarciaCEO, YouDecide

Marcia: The insurance industry as a whole, and voluntary benefits in particular, tend to lag on technology. So, the main technology issues are just having the ability to provide unique benefits perspectives to different groups of employees and the ability to provide communication tools that tailor down to the individual. Those are the things that are changing the game, using tools to communicate across a wide array of benefits to a wide array of groups of people. We have built a platform and processes and communication tools that allow us to deliver benefits efficiently and effectively from cost and resource standpoints. We have built hosted solutions and portals that are designed for our clients using technologies on the communications side that have allowed us to develop dynamic content to make the user experience unique.

On the back end of portal delivery, we take, consolidate, reconcile and essentially manage the payroll deductions for all these benefits. The whole move around voluntary benefits is to not just simply put them out there and offer them, but to have employees engage with and enroll in them. Otherwise, there's no financial foundation to be able to support these programs. Just setting up a portal is not enough on the insurance side … The underwriting side of the world, on the insurance company side, has been improving their product. There's been a huge leap forward in the quality of insurance products that are being offered, the value that's being brought to the employee and the ability to deliver them at the employee level.

How can brokers take advantage of technology tools to provide voluntary benefits for employees?

Marcia: Brokers need to use tools to create efficiencies in the market at the client level. At the same time, they need to work with clients to engage employees about their benefits.

How important is it to integrate benefits technologies with human capital management and other HR tech systems?

Marcia: We want to make choosing and enrolling in benefits plans a seamless experience. Typically, those benefits are supposed to be enrolled in during the open enrollment time. We want to integrate with other systems to drive better enrollment. That's when the best decisions are being made. That's when we want to communicate and expose those voluntary benefits for employees during that purchasing decision.

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