With the unprecedented pace of change occurring in the industryand with so many workers relying on their insurance and retirementbenefits for financial security, it seems animportant and appropriate time for all stakeholders (workers,employers, brokers and insurance companies) to re-assess theirroles in helping Americans protect their financial future forthemselves and their families.

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But interestingly, Guardian's Workplace BenefitsStudy reveals a difference of opinion betweenworkers and their employers in terms of the ”responsibility” thatcompanies have in providing insurance and retirement benefits.

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While nearly two-thirds of workers surveyed last year believe itis their employers' responsibility to provide financial protectionvia insurance and retirement benefits, just 16 percent of employersagree with that.

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Of course, it is entirely possible that the word“responsibility” seemed too strong for many employers — perhapsthey don't believe it is their duty but rather a paternalisticgesture, or a necessity for hiring/retaining talent. While all arepossible reasons, clearly there is a disconnect with how workersview it.

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The value of workplace benefits

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The average score on Guardian's latest Benefits Value Index is7.1 — this is a measure of how U.S. workers perceive the value oftheir employee benefits package on a10-point scale. Given all of the changes to employee benefits plansthe past few years, from the introduction of PPACA and exchanges tothe continued cost shifting and plan design changes, 7 out of 10 isperhaps a surprisingly good score.

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Interestingly, it's actually up compared to 2012, when it was6.8, which may seem counter-intuitive. Based on the research, weare actually seeing an increased appreciation and realization ofhow valuable benefits are. For example, workers who say theiremployer provides them with a total compensation statement thatdetails the value of the various benefits they receive have a BVIscore of 7.8 and a much greater appreciation of their benefitscompared to those who don't receive a total compstatement.

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It truly makes a difference when workers understand exactly howmuch their employers are contributing and how important thesebenefits are to their financial security. Workers are becomingincreasingly more aware of how much their workplace benefitscontribute to their overall financial security:

  • 73 percent say it plays a major role in how financially securethey feel
  • 68 percent say that more than half of their financial securitydepends on their workplace benefits.

Not surprisingly, those who rely on their workplace for most oftheir household's financial products/services report higher BVIscores (7.8 versus the 7.1 average).

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DIY financial planning falls short

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Yet, many working Americans do not have access to insurance andretirement benefits or do not have the discretionary income to payfor them:

  • 1 in 3 have no disability insurance

  • 1 in 4 have no life insurance and

  • 1 in 5 have no retirement savings plan

Another reason for low participation in these benefits is thelack of professional assistance available to help workers in makingthe best benefits choices for themselves and their families.

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Many are not seeking the proper assistance while making benefitdecisions. Many may confer with friends and family or read throughtheir company's benefits materials, but less than one-third saythey relied on any professional financial support during their mostrecent benefits open enrollment

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Today, even more workers are self-professed “do-it-yourselfers”(DIY) in their approach to financialdecision making, with 4 in 10 saying that they prefer to do theirown research and make their own decisions without any help.

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Millennials are more likely than others to be DIYers, and theyare more likely than others to say they have used Google, websitesand newspapers to learn about their workplace benefits. Less than 1in 5 have consulted with a financial advisor.

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An increasingly diverse U.S. workforce means that theone-size-fits-all strategy to benefits communication — which mayhave worked in the past — is quickly becoming obsolete.

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Today, a more targeted/tailored approach is required and that iswhat consumers surveyed told us that they want — and expect — froman enrollment experience. Their expectations are based on otherpurchasing experiences, retail or otherwise.

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Tailor benefits and communications by careerstage

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We know that for many workers, benefits decisions center aroundtheir annual medical plan changes. However, for non-medicalbenefits (such as life insurance, disability, and supplementalhealth), 1 in 4 admit to simply checking the box, making the sameselections as the prior year without consideration for whethertheir needs have changed, or whether their employers are making newbenefits options available.

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But career stage and life stager changes are when consumers aremore likely to recognize that their insurance and savings needs maybe changing — and more likely to think twice about their benefitsoptions.

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For example, two segments of American workers at opposite endsof the career spectrum have markedly different needs, concerns andattitudes towards benefits, communication and enrollment.

  • Early entrants are Millennials, mostly between the agesof 22 and 28, within five years of starting their careers. They aresingle with no dependents, and if they aren't still living at homewith their parents, they rent rather than owning a home.

  • Near retirees are baby boomers between ages of 57and 62 and within five years of their planned retirement. Most areempty-nesters, they still own their own home and many aregrandparents. These two worker segments are very differentdemographically. They are aslo quite different in terms of workstage and life stage and their personal and financial concerns andpriorities.

Early entrants are most concerned about making ends meet —paying their monthly bills, including rent and college loans. Notsurprisingly, they are also concerned about job security (they haveexperienced a very difficult job market since the 2008 recession)but they also place a high priority on work/life balance. And mostdon't want to follow the same path as their parents, devoting 20-30years of their careers to a single employer only to be downsized oroutsourced out of a job.

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Conversely, near retirees have different priorities. They aremost concerned about life in retirement — having sufficient healthinsurance and having enough savings to live comfortably inretirement.

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Early entrants find the workplace a convenient and reliablesource of information about insurance and financial products. Theyalso like obtaining these products at the workplace. They view theconvenience of payroll deduction as a big advantage, so they wouldprefer to have even more benefits options at the workplace. Andbecause most don't have a relationship with insurance companies orfinancial advisors, they rely mainly on Google or friends andfamily for information and advice on benefits options.

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Near retirees place greater value on their benefits. They havetraditionally been more engaged in the benefits enrollment process and aremore likely to use their benefits compared to early entrants. Theiraverage BVI score is 7.5 compared to 6.8 for early entrants. Nearretirees have seen their benefits reduced significantly in the pastfive to 10 years and they are concerned about losing even more, sothey are much less optimistic about the value of their benefits inthe next few years compared to early entrants

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Regardless of age and circumstance, all respondents saidthey need more help with benefits decisions. Clearly, benefits arehighly valued by today's workforce and they desire that theirbenefits be tailored for their work and life stages.

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The industry will continue to manage unprecedented change. Evennow, many employers are outsourcing production of enrollmentmaterials, conducting enrollment meetings and hosting onlineplatforms; but employers are less likely to involve theiroutsourcing partners in helping them with their enrollment strategyand planning activities. This may be a missed opportunity forenhancing the employee experience and boosting participation.

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