In The Worksite

Tackling Trends in Benefits Enrollment Technology

The fast pace of change is creating new best practices — and opportunities

by Gavin B. Dean

Mr. Dean is assistant vice president for enrollment at Colonial Life and Unum, where he leads strategy and development of company enrollment and benefit counseling assets. Dean has a broad background in the benefits industry with roles in direct-to-consumer sales, client management and health care reform. For more information, contact Dean at 803-678-6210 or e-mail him at

Today’s consumers are hard to please. They have high expectations based on their experiences with top retailers.

They want to be able to talk, type, text and tweet their questions, concerns, answers and reviews. And they demand not only high-quality products, but also accessible information and support at the click of a button.

Meanwhile, the benefits landscape is rapidly changing: health plan consolidation, foreign entrants into the U.S. marketplace and a shift in the benefits spend between employers and employees are creating even more uncertainty in the benefits industry.

But change is also creating new opportunities. Brokers and benefits providers willing to take advantage of technological advancements can expand the traditional benefits enrollment in ways no one even imagined just a decade ago.
From decision-support tools to active enrollment capabilities to integrated HR, benefits, compliance and payroll systems, your benefits partner should be taking the opportunity to stay relevant in this fast-changing market and make enrollment more simple, modern and personal than ever before.

Whether the provider you choose to partner with is working with high-tech startups to improve the enrollment and benefits communication process or remains committed to one-to-one counseling that many employees need to help them make the right decisions — or both — it’s crucial you understand key changes in employee demands and demographics to ensure you’re bringing your clients the best enrollment practices.

Changing employee demands

America’s workers are demanding benefits that are customized — nearly individualized — for their age and circumstances. They want a greater variety of benefits. They want to be engaged how, when and where they choose. And they’re not easily satisfied. But studies show they’re willing to help pay for their benefits — as long as they get the choice they demand.1

Nearly universally, America’s workers say understanding their benefits is important. But many benefits providers are missing the mark: Fewer than 60 percent of employees say they understand their benefits well, and 7 percent say they don’t understand them at all.2

By partnering with a strong benefits company, you can help improve employee understanding by ensuring a variety of communications tools — and enough time to review them. The number of employers providing an enrollment period of at least three weeks declined from 55 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2012.2 That’s a misstep, because the extra time can make a huge difference, according to the 2014 Colonial Life Employee Education and Enrollment survey. It found employees were more satisfied with their benefits education and overall benefits package with more time.

America’s workers are demanding benefits that are customized — nearly individualized — for their age and circumstances

Changing employee demographics

Adding to the complexity of benefits education are the changing demographics of the workplace. America’s businesses now include as many as four generations, with Millennials comprising the largest group. That requires your clients to use a variety of tools to communicate and educate their employees about benefits.

Employees can find most forms of enrollment support helpful, including personalized pre-enrollment information, one-to-one sessions, group meetings, online decision-making tools, and ongoing education after enrollment. Your clients need to be able to communicate effectively about benefits with multiple generations over a variety of high-tech and high-touch platforms. The key is finding a benefits partner that can offer a range of options. Make sure your benefits partner can speak old-school and new-school.

While we’re at it, the demand for high-tech and high-touch doesn’t end after enrollment season. Employees will also demand to be able to connect with expert customer service representatives — by phone or electronically through email, websites or texts — if they have any questions or problems. And they’ll expect to be able to send documents and payments online or through mobile devices.

Developing new best practices

The myriad changes in employee demographics and employee demands continue to impact the way you and your benefits partners will work now and in the future. And it forces the development of new best practices as we go. Here are four suggestions to keep in mind:

  1. Enrollment is not a once-and-done event. Present a holistic approach that includes options for life event changes and new hires.
  2. Employees want access to digital tools that provide information and help with decision making. The days of standard print and email with one message for all are over. There’s an increasing focus on text messages, social media direct messaging and crowd culture “people like you” group forums.
  3. Any communication or enrollment platforms an employee interacts with should be built with responsive web design. The amount of time America’s workers spend on a smart phone each day is overwhelming and a desktop experience is outdated.
  4. Offer solutions for the significant new work the Affordable Care Act has created for plan administrators in terms of calculations and required reporting. It’s important to assist in the daily human resource work and make the new work more manageable.

Tackling today’s fast-changing technology isn’t about a particular platform, service or hot “app.” Instead, it’s about providing the best value and service to your clients to meet their —and their employees — unique needs.




1 MetLife 12th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Survey, 2014.
2 Beyond the Usual Benefits, Unum, 2014
Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 85,000 businesses and organizations, representing 3.5 million of America’s workers and their families. For more information visit or connect with the company at, and