It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in the HR and benefits space. New regulatory requirements have added layers of complexity to an already complex field, new technologies continue to spring up and we are facing fundamental shifts in what consumers expect from a benefits and HR experience.
At Eclipse 2016, I was lucky enough to sit down with a panel of health care experts, technology gurus, and HR and benefits leaders to talk about these and other trends that are shaping our industry and impacting the way benefits and human capital management tools are bought, sold, and managed.
I was joined on the panel by Jamie Hawkins, president and CEO of Benefit Technology Resources; Brad Mandacina, assistant vice president at Lockton; Steve Smith, partner and chief of intelligence unit at The Starr Conspiracy; and Mark Stelzner, founder and managing principal at IA HR. Here are some of the takeaways from the discussion:
Consumerism is accelerated in a 140-character society
The panel jumped right in with a rapid exchange of ideas about consumerism.
The consensus was that we are quickly moving to an “Amazonification” of benefits and HR products, meaning that the shopping and enrollment experience has to mirror other online shopping platforms people are used to. It has to be intuitive, easy and it has to be quick, much like the Amazon online shopping experience.
We are living in a society where people increasingly communicate using just 140 characters at a time. Access to information has never been greater, yet our collective attention span has never been smaller.
So, when carriers, brokers and HR teams are putting together benefits packages, they need to think like marketers. They must adapt their messages to a mobile, impatient audience, while still supplying enough information so that people know what they are getting into. This is not an easy balancing act.
Compliance tools need to be baked-in
Another interesting point that come up in our discussion was that HR teams have never really recovered from the Great Recession of the late 2000s. These teams were the first to be cut as budgets were slashed and are the last to be staffed up as the economy recovered. At the same time, the Affordable Care Act has become firmly cemented in workplaces across the country and other regulations such as OSHA still need attention. It is clear that HR teams are being stretched thin by compliance. No one can keep up.
To counter this, compliance tools have to be an integral part of benefits and payroll technology. While it may be impossible for a technology provider to solve every problem facing HR, employers are going to demand that compliance, at a minimum, is an integrated, cohesive part of their tech experience.
Benefits yoga: the future is flexible
And speaking of stretching, the next topic the panel tackled also required some flexibility. As the war for talent intensifies and the needs of the workforce evolve, so has the ever-expanding array of benefits being offered by carriers and employers. Once relegated to the fringes, benefits such as pet insurance and wellness programs are now commonplace. Financial service products — including mortgage assistance and student loan repayment services are also becoming part of the benefits package as well.
As “benefits” grow way beyond just traditional medical and dental coverage to complete health and financial wellbeing, the ability to integrate with third parties and flex to the needs of different employee populations will become table stakes.
But what to do with analytics?
We are swimming in data. It is available from many sources that were previously inaccessible. Yet it is difficult to know how data analytics can (and should) be used in the benefits arena. Our panel agreed that there is limitless potential.
And while it is uncertain if data analytics will be a revenue-generating area for carriers or brokers, it can certainly be used to help employees make better decisions around their benefits.
It would be especially helpful if it was possible to pull a wide swath of data about an individual that included census data and demographics, plus wellness information, physical and financial health, and compared it with organizational statistics on work performance and engagement. However, there are issues with privacy and access to data that spring up when information of this sort is in play, so HR teams need to tread carefully.