In The Worksite

No Standing Still

Advisors: Take note of non-traditional voluntary benefits

by Elizabeth Halkos

Ms. Halkos is chief Operating Officer for Purchasing Power, a voluntary benefit provider of an employee purchase program. She has over 15 years of experience in client relationship development, sales, marketing and product strategy. Visit

Advisors and producers have seen a tremendous change in the industry in recent years. From the introduction of healthcare reform, to the increasing importance of voluntary benefits, to heightened sales competition and more – there’s been a number of challenges.

What does that mean for advisors and producers? Get better or get left behind. Gil Lowerre and Bonnie Brazzell from Eastbridge Consulting Group actually used those words in talking about competition for business in today’s marketplace, and I can’t phrase it any better. In essence they are saying that you can’t stand still or your share of the pie will shrink. Selling isn’t what it was 10 years or five years ago or even two years ago.

A large factor in succeeding is to differentiate yourself with your clients. In today’s diverse workforce, several generations of employees are working side by side, each with a different expectation of benefits important to them. As the workforce continues to diversify, it’s challenging to build benefit packages that appeal to employees at every stage of life.

This is where voluntary benefits become a true differentiator. Voluntary benefits are literally exploding in their importance in the benefits package. Whether core or non-traditional, voluntary benefits certainly provide the means for customization of the employee benefits package.

Traditional voluntary products can fill the gaps in core benefits left by scaled-back benefits, higher deductibles and more consumer-driven health plans. The non-traditional voluntary products in the marketplace provide a wide array of benefits that employees can choose from to enhance their lifestyle, protect their well-being and improve their financial wellness.

Non-traditional voluntary benefits are becoming increasingly popular. It’s no wonder – they provide the ultimate in personal choice of benefits. What should advisors and producers expect in the non-traditional voluntary benefit arena this year?

Even more choice

A selection of non-traditional voluntary options is a must-have for companies who want a competitive benefits package. Since employees pay the entire cost of non-traditional voluntary benefits, there’s no reason for employers not to offer a variety.

There are many varying kinds of non-traditional voluntary benefits available and several new ones appearing every year. And we should look for more options to emerge, including the more innovative ones like egg harvesting that showed up a few years ago, as well as some new ones that are appearing, like student loan debt management.

A recent benefit trends study from MetLife showed that the more voluntary benefit options employees have, the happier with and more loyal they are to their employer. This certainly demonstrates to employers that they would be wise to offer a variety of voluntary benefits. In fact, the MetLife study reported that employee satisfaction is found at companies that offer 11 or more benefits.

Customizing beyond the generations

Looking closer at personas within the generations based on lifestyle and buying preferences provides a method for employers to further customize benefits that are important to their workforce

There’s more to customizing benefits than employee age alone. While looking at the characteristics of the generations is valuable, over-generalizing the generations doesn’t foster customization because it fails to take into consideration differences in lifestyles, financial habits and more. Looking closer at personas within the generations based on lifestyle and buying preferences provides a method for employers to further customize benefits that are important to their workforce.

Organizations that take customization of benefits to heart and embrace this further segmentation of the generations will be able to structure their benefits in a way that will attract, retain and engage the talent they need for the future. 2017 will see employers taking customization to a higher level by segmenting the generations.

More use of digital

Now that millennials dominate the workforce, they are driving the digitalization of benefits education and benefits communication. In 2017, look for even more use of mobile, video, social media, benefit portals and interactive tools for benefits education and communication. Optimizing benefits information and mobility to multiple screens will generate higher engagement and satisfaction with today’s employee base.

Being fiscally fit will become as important as being physically fit

In the past few years, employers have come to realize that financial health is just as important as physical health. Study after study confirms that employees who are financially stressed are distracted by their finances at work and are less productive. Therefore, companies are looking for ways to treat their employees’ financial flu.

Companies are increasing their financial wellness offerings, adding non-traditional benefits that help employees address their financial questions and overall understanding. 2017 will see more companies adopt these types of benefits, such as financial education, budgeting tools and advice and counseling services; employee purchase programs; employee discount programs; and short-term loans.

Wellness technology continues to prove its value. Wearables and other wellness technology items are re-invigorating the popularity of wellness programs. With data emerging in 2016 revealing improved wellness ROI from fitness tracking devices, even more employers will promote their use. In the last few years companies began either subsidizing or allowing wearables to be obtained through payroll deduction and this surely will escalate with costs savings and positive health impact being shown.

Online educational benefit options take off

Online education benefits will come to the forefront in 2017 both as a method to reduce student debt and to bolster career development. Empowering employees with educational benefits can be a valuable addition to the benefits package, especially when it is offered as a voluntary benefit at no cost to the company. Non-traditional voluntary benefits that provide options for employees or their children to access online college courses are an alternative to mounting student debt.

Likewise, career development opportunities available to workers including professional certifications and career diplomas can be secured through a non-traditional voluntary benefit. Look for more use of this type of benefit in 2017.
This year we will see non-traditional voluntary benefits embraced even more than in the past. In addition to providing an innovative way for employers to differentiate themselves to prospective employees, non-traditional voluntary benefits also are a way to empower current employees. ◊