From the April 2012 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine •Subscribe!

Tracking different trends

We love to see what’s trending. We follow everyone from politicians, watching how the GOP candidates are doing against President Obama, to movie stars, musicians and reality TV personalities. In our attempts to save and accumulate money, we watch trends in bonds, stocks and other investments. And in our own way, we watch if we ourselves are trending up today.

I was checking to see how my favorites are trending when it occurred to me to make a list of what’s trending in the employee benefit area.

Voluntary benefits, especially critical illness. Everywhere you turn it seems there’s discussion about voluntary business opportunities. For example, assuming PPACA will result in broker revenue cuts, where is the new opportunity? Voluntary sales surely are one of the most significant answers. Critical illness has especially trended up in recent sales studies.

Use of HRIS systems. Employers and brokers are constantly looking for ways to make processes more efficient, and using a human resources information system can result in big efficiencies. A January 2011 PWC study found employers using multiple disconnected systems spent an average of 18 percent more than employers using a single HRIS solution. 

Online voluntary enrollment. Employees have used online systems to enroll in core benefits for years. But more recently, there’s a trend to enroll voluntary plans online, with growing success as online techniques of educating employees on the need for voluntary products have evolved. The secret to success is the degree of communication and employee assistance tools that accompany the enrollment.

Broker consolidation. Three factors are driving this trend: A desire by large organizations to become larger, especially in growing areas such as voluntary; the desire for business continuity on the part of regional brokers, whose ownership is largely in the baby boomer generation; and the effect of PPACA and the tough economy on smaller brokers.

Wellness initiatives. There are many drivers behind the interest in wellness, including employee productivity and wellbeing. Ultimately, effective wellness programs will reduce employer costs. 

Delayed retirement for boomers. This trend is sure to drive changes in benefit plans for the Medicare generation. An AARP survey finds 25 percent of the 78 million U.S. baby boomers expect to never retire. In February, Merrill Lynch released their newest Affluent Insights Survey, finding that boomers reaching 65 will face continued difficult choices regarding medical services, investments, and work-life balance compared to previous generations.

Social networks and benefits marketing. LinkedIn is the most expansive business-to-business network (one with virtually no non-business content) with more than 150 million users. The customer connection aspect of LinkedIn and similar sites is largely untapped—and the opportunity grows every day. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter also have the potential to reach millions of people. The old economy problem of “how do I find prospects?” has been replaced by “how do I gain attention from all the prospects I can connect with?”

ID theft protection. In preparing this article I searched “ID theft” in Google news. While I found several stories, what said it all to me was that in their list of trending stories, ID theft ranked a bit behind Whitney Houston but ahead of Tim Tebow. 

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