The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rapid digitalization of our work — and many companies are learning that moving to an employee benefits technology-centered platform for their enrollment strategy can pay off. Companies that use digital enrollment strategies enable employee decision-making, and employers that are more digital report higher levels of employee satisfaction with their benefits than those that use a paper-based management system.1
In our webinar, Leading with technology: A digital-first approach to benefits enrollment strategy, we heard from four of Guardian’s leaders on digital employee benefits administration solutions and the changing landscape of benefits management during the pandemic. “COVID-19 just accelerated what was already happening, which was a strong launch into technology for enrollments,“ said Sarah Oliver, Second Vice President, head of Enrollment at Guardian, at our webinar.
Read more to learn about the advantages of a digital-first benefits administration solution and how your company can take steps to improve your enrollment process using the latest in employee benefits technology trends.
Guardian’s report, Digital Overdrive: The market is ready for the next milestone in benefits technology innovation, found that a more digital experience improved communication around employee benefits and enhanced benefits understanding. More than half of employees whose benefits programs were highly digital rated the enrollment communications as highly effective, compared to just over one-third of those who used mostly paper enrollments strategies (53 percent versus 34 percent).
“From an employee perspective, [the pandemic] really accelerated the need to understand their benefits. People were scared of what was going on from a pandemic perspective, so they wanted to understand what their benefits were and be educated on them,” said Nick Sabert, Core Market Sales Consultant, Los Angeles Sales Office at Guardian. “Technology has allowed them to have it right at their fingertips. It’s allowed employers to take a second look at their benefits packages and really evaluate what will be best for my employees, and how can I educate their employees.”
Pre-pandemic, employee benefits counseling, and education largely happened in person. “When we could no longer be in person for benefits counseling sessions or actually sit down with someone to help explain what the benefits are, we were forced to move into a direction of technology enablement,” says Erin Casey, Second Vice President, Digital Ecosystem & Partner Solutions at Guardian. “We have seen new opportunities for a more integrated solution to help guide employees in their decisions.”
Furthermore, offering access to information for employees that’s available when, where, and how they need it through digital technologies has led to enhanced understanding of employee benefits and more thoughtful decision making.
Digitization can improve efficiency by reducing time-consuming benefits-related tasks like employee enrollment, record-keeping, and eligibility processing. Employers reported spending 66 hours on average on platform implementation tasks and up to 30 hours per month managing tasks related to non-medical benefits plans. “HR Directors and Administrators realized how much easier technology made their lives,” said Sabert. “It took a lot of things off their plate that were on their plates for such a long time, whether that was administration questions or gathering paperwork.”
And the efficiency gains add up. Employers with highly digital employee benefits administration systems reported that their benefits enrollment, record-keeping, and eligibility processing were highly efficient at least 20 percent more than those with paper-based systems.
Knowing where to start when transitioning to a digital employee benefits administration approach can be difficult: one in three employers report that developing a benefits technology strategy is a major challenge. Working with a broker can help an employer to choose the right platforms and vendors among a wide range of products. “There are so many different platforms out there it’s amazing that you can find different systems at different price points depending on what you’re looking for,” said Sloan Sanders, Group Benefits Consultant at Guardian.
Sanders recommends “asking some simple questions upfront and consulting with a trusted broker or professional to figure out what the best decision is for you.” Some of those questions are: “What are you looking for? Do you need to manage eligibility? Do you want to embed decision support? Does it need to be a year-round platform that integrates? What kind of connectivity can you get based on the plan designs that you’re putting in there?”
The advanced digitization of employee benefits management is a change that will likely last no matter the work environment — from fully remote to a hybrid office. “We’re seeing a higher utilization of electronic data connections — EDI (electronic data interchange), API (application programming interface). We’re seeing carriers make more investments in API because everyone is seeing this trend of a need for real-time exchange of information between the benefits technology and the carrier,” says Casey. “The connectivity that exists is all to enable the employee to have quicker access to their benefits. That doesn’t really change if it’s hybrid, or if you’re in the office, or out of the office.”
The advanced digitalization ushered in by the pandemic is an enhancement that is here to stay: seven in 10 employers say their senior leadership is more focused on employee benefits technology as a result of COVID-19. Sabert notes “Technology is where the conversation truly starts now — from enrollment all the way through benefits administration.”
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