Do you remember reading this column’s headline in this magazine just over two years ago?  I do. Credit the headline to Denis Storey’s interview of Tracy Dieterich in the March 2009 issue. It’s available on the BenefitsPro.com in case you missed it. 

It’s a classic. For years I have kept a “think about…” list, and many times it has helped think through to winning solutions This month, we’ll consider the opportunity to think about the future of the benefits business. There are no answers here, but plenty to think about. Those of you with the best answers will have a competitive edge.

1)  Working seniors.  It seems pretty clear that many people will continue working past age 65, and the benefit world is not very friendly to that age group (life and long term disability plans reduce benefits, have higher premiums, or both; medical plans shunt them into Medicare and Supplements thereto; AD&D and critical illness plans might terminate or reduce in value; prices for nearly every benefit plan are higher; and so on).  Employers are likely to be seeking voluntary product packages that respond to the needs of this expanding market, and will need innovative advice on design of benefits.

2)  Generational and diverse employee groups. In addition to the baby boom generation moving into working senior status, there is plenty going on with all the other “Gens.”  Gen-X members are in their prime buying years. Gen Y is forecast to be the dominant economic engine for the economy over the coming years. The Millennial generation is pushing us all.  Meanwhile, one of the big messages emerging from the 2010 census is the growing diversity of our nation. The needs, interests and benefit buying patterns of these employee subgroups differ. The way they communicate is different. 

Employers will want advice on the best ways to communicate and design benefits that will appeal to each group.  Connectivity with these employees and the enrollment techniques that support the benefits is a major area of planning for change.  One of these days this column will cover “new ways to manage smart phone enrollment.”  Most of the planning today for enrollment success is access planning – deciding how to best gain access to employees.  In the future, this might be described as interest planning – deciding how to best get employees interested in benefit-related messages.

3)  Legislation and regulation. Health care reform is a great example of legislation changing the core of the benefits business – and it’s not the only example. We can expect government at every level to continue to create laws, rules and regulations that affect us. And like health care reform, the effects of these rule changes will have ramifications for years to come.

4)  The economy and “competing with the price of gas.”*  The economy has by no means recovered from the great recession. Uncertain employment growth, uncertain wage levels and shifts in the power of various sectors seem to continue.  Meanwhile, the price of corn, a major staple, is increasing. And the price of gas, which has been lower than it was in 2008 during most of the recession, is edging back toward record levels for the United States.

The core reason for thinking about the drivers of change in our business is clear.  We can either decide to ignore them, and risk obsolescence, or we can join in saying “all I see is opportunity.”

* January 2008 Benefits Selling column.

Marty Traynor is vice president of voluntary benefits at Mutual of Omaha. He can be reached at marty.traynor@mutualofomaha.com.