Whether or not you believe in setting New Year's resolutions, here are 8 things to consider from retirement and benefits industry experts.
1. Put 2020 into perspective. Matthew Eickman, national retirement practice leader at Qualified Plan Advisors, said the starting point for 2021 should be to correct misconceptions about 2020.
While the year did create challenges for many people, the perception that everyone lost money when the stock market fell and that all plan participants stopped saving are inaccurate.
“Across the nation retirement plan savers largely remained committed to their saving strategy,” he said. “In fact, many increased their savings rates, particularly when the market had fallen and stocks appeared ‘cheap.’” (Photo: Shutterstock)
2. Recognize the importance of mental health. According to MetLife’s August 2020 mental health report, two in three employers say a mental health crisis in the U.S. will be here within three years and 9 in 10 employers say their organization is not ready for this crisis.
With this in mind, employers should focus on programs aimed at improving employee resiliency, including addressing mental health concerns.
“Employers must provide benefits to both directly address employee mental health – such as through Employee Assistance Programs, coverage for therapy or counseling, and fostering an open culture that destigmatizes mental health challenges – but also indirectly addresses key areas of concern, such as financial wellbeing,” said Bradd Chignoli, senior vice president, Group Benefits, MetLife. (Photo: Shutterstock)
3. Consider expanding voluntary benefits. Demand for voluntary benefits is expected to grow rapidly in 2021, said Lydia Jilek, senior director, voluntary benefit solutions, Willis Towers Watson.
Two benefits she sees gaining traction next year are group legal and hospital indemnity.
Group legal is being driven by a heightened focus on mortality due to the pandemic, and a desire to ensure wills and trusts are prepared, while hospital indemnity can help control hospitalization costs, she said. (Photo: Shutterstock)
4. Be flexible. The pandemic has accelerated the challenges of supporting employees in times of transition, said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO, Business Group on Health, a non-profit association of 420 large U.S. employers.
The pandemic has affected the nature, conditions and place of work for many and people are struggling with work-life balance, caregiving and workplace safety issues.
“In 2021, we expect that employers will continue to demonstrate the flexibility they have shown throughout the pandemic to support employees’ well-being and mental health needs and bolster their resiliency, including through leave, remote work, and other benefits,” she said. (Photo: Shutterstock)
5. Don’t lose sight of financial wellness. According to Principal Financial Group’s Q3 Retirement Security Pulse Survey, nearly two-thirds of workers believe the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their path to retirement and many are thinking of spending less and trying to save more.
“While income protection may have previously fallen lower on the priority list, COVID-19 has brought new meaning to the potential benefit as part of a benefits program,” said Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of Specialty Benefits at Principal.
"COVID-19 has fundamentally reshaped the way employers and employees view benefits. People are more aware of the coverage needed to protect their own health and wellbeing and that of their families.” (Photo: Shutterstock)
6. Look toward lifetime income options. Tim Walsh, senior managing director, Product & Distribution at TIAA, said 2021 will create more innovation in the benefits space, particularity in the area of lifetime income options.
“With the passage of the SECURE Act about one year ago and the lasting financial considerations of the pandemic, plan sponsors and plan advisers will be looking at how they can help solve for participants’ full retirement income picture with inclusion of annuities in retirement plan defaults,” said Walsh.
“As this evolution takes hold over time, I expect we’ll see that embedded guaranteed lifetime income solutions will become more central to plan design and we’ll see more simplification, cost will come down, and products will be easier to utilize – which will ultimately enhance retirement security for more Americans.” (Photo: Shutterstock)
7. Embrace new technology. Digital technology took on increasing importance this year as much of the workforce shifted to remote. That included conducting open enrollment processes digitally in many cases, a trend that is likely to continue next year and beyond.
"The main challenge—and opportunity—for plan sponsors and advisors is going to involve providing the same level of education and open dialogue that these meetings have allowed in the past, but in a digital format,” said Jay Jumper, CEO of ProNvest.
“Whatever the application may be, making sure your participants have access to quality educational tools in a digital format is going to be key in 2021.” (Photo: Shutterstock)
8. Keep an eye on the regulatory landscape. New administrations usher in new regulations, such as FASB 106, non-discrimination testing rules in Cafeteria Section 125 plans or the Affordable Care Act.
“We should expect this trend to continue with a new incoming administration,” said Perry Braun, executive director of the Benefit Advisors Network. “The rules continue to change at both the federal and state level. These laws are oftentimes complex and may lack clarity that advising the client requires thoughtful research and study.” (Photo: Shutterstock)
The past year has brought adversity and change to everyone, including those in the employee benefits space.
Related: Diary of a bad year
While many people are looking forward to 2021 with hope for a return to normal life, the reality is that COVID-19 will likely continue to reverberate throughout the sector in terms of health considerations financial impacts and processes for employees and employers.
Related: 10 tax changes in new COVID relief bill
With that in mind, benefits professionals have several potential resolutions they can adopt as the calendar turns to 2021 on January 1.
Kristen Beckman is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She previously was a writer and editor for ALM’s Retirement Advisor magazine and LifeHealthPro online channel. She also was a reporter for Business Insurance magazine covering workers compensation topics.