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Jennifer Benz December 13, 2016 6 min read

Industry leaders look back to see what’s ahead for benefits

As you’ve read in previous blog posts, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary this year. This milestone was a good reminder for us to take a step back and think about where we’ve been and where we’re going.

We have the honor of being a voice in the ever-important and always-changing employee benefits industry. Our anniversary gave us the opportunity to reach out to many of our friends, clients, and partners, and ask them to reflect on the past 10 years and share what they want to see happen in the next 10. The interviews are inspiring, motivating, and very grounding. There’s so much to be optimistic about and there are so many possibilities. But, boy oh boy, do we have a lot of work to do!

You can read the whole series on LinkedIn. As we round out the year and think about what’s ahead in 2017—particularly with a new administration coming into office—three areas really stand out.

1. There’s too much to keep up with.

The regulations coming out of Washington continue to challenge employers, and with a new administration coming into office, we may be looking at the very quick unraveling of the Affordable Care Act. The law has driven so much change in the past six years that the possibility of its removal leaves a lot of open questions for employers, as we heard in our interviews with several industry leaders.

“The political climate, federal legislation, and the introduction of local legislation is concerning, as it is moving at a speed faster than the country’s infrastructure is set up to handle.”

Matthew Harmon, AutoZone

“I am concerned about the abundance of compliance obligations overshadowing the value that benefits professionals create when focusing on benefits strategies and the employee experience.”

Lenny Sanicola, WorldatWork

But, as we—and many benefits leaders—also recognize, with change comes opportunity.

“I think we have the opportunity to expand the conversation about health during the next round of health care reform (which is coming, regardless of who is elected president in the fall). We MUST expand the conversation beyond health coverage and financing, to health and outcomes relevant to employees and the businesses for which they work.”

Thomas Parry, Integrated Benefits Institute

“There are so many important decisions for companies to make in terms of their role as employee benefit sponsors. The intersection of corporate benefits strategy and health and retirement public policy has never been more compelling. What an exciting time to be a benefits professional!”

James Klein, American Benefits Council

2. The workforce continues to change and become more diverse—not only demographically, but also in worker types. 

How will benefits meet the needs of employees who range from college-age through well into their 70s? How will new types of workers—part-timers, contractors, and “gig” employees, for example—change the overall employee experience? And, how will we provide for everyone’s health and financial security?

The benefits industry will evolve and shift around this redefined workforce as well, with new companies coming into the market and older ones changing to keep up. As we talked about in our predictions for 2016, the benefits industry is transforming around this idea that one size doesn’t fit all.

New providers and new types of benefits are emerging all the time. This innovation—and opportunity—was captured in several of our interviews.

“I am very excited about the investments—both within the health care system and financially through venture start-ups—that are being made to improve the way that people utilize their benefits. The conversations and partnerships that are occurring with the insurers and providers are exciting, as is the amount of new technology that improves the information available to consumers and the new and exciting care programs like virtual office visits, etc. All benefits, including financial health support for retirement savings, are improving. Consumers are looking for these tools and are much more satisfied with their benefits than they have been in the past.” 

Andy Rosa, AmeriGas    

“Smart phones and the internet have changed almost everything in our lives, and health care is no exception. We have telemedicine, digital medical records, and transparency tools with doctor ratings on pricing and outcomes; we self-diagnose with the help of the internet—which I’m definitely not advocating—but this is a time when we have so much information at the tips of our fingers, and it puts power in the hands of the consumer.”

Sarah Lecuna, Intuit

3. Employees still need so much help.

Americans haven’t gotten a whole lot healthier in the last 10 years, and they haven’t become remarkably more financially secure. But there are great success stories in the employers who have invested seriously in wellness and well-being. And as programs evolve to offer more niche benefits, there’s a tremendous opportunity to make a meaningful impact, as benefits leaders have come to realize.

“We’re focused on creating strategies to meet employees where they are, helping them with what they need. Our goal might be to reduce key health risks, like BMI, but if the employee is focused on school debt or paying off credit cards, the last thing they’re thinking about is switching out their fried chicken for carrot sticks. So let’s provide the life resources they need, and when those stresses have lessened, packing broccoli for lunch might look a little more appealing.”

Jennifer Weinstein, McKesson

We are also very encouraged to see employers embracing the hands-on role they can take in solving these problems. There’s no one better suited to help Americans get on the path to better health and finances than their employers.

“We’re really excited about a new trend we’ve observed in the benefits space, which we’re calling benefits stewardship. In the past few years, we’ve seen a big shift in how employers are thinking about helping their employees. The pendulum in benefits management has swung from one extreme of paternalism to the other extreme of self-service, back to a more middle-of-the-road approach of sharing responsibility. I’m very encouraged to see employers becoming more proactive and making it easier to help employees make smart decisions.”

Megan Yost, State Street Global Advisors

That philosophy, combined with the tremendous power of behavioral economics, has the potential to create tremendous positive results.

“One of the most exciting areas in benefits at the moment is the intersection of benefit communications and behavioral economics. Using human nature to drive participants toward better decisions—exercising what’s sometimes called “libertarian paternalism”—can completely transform the employee experience. I’ll go a bit further: if better decisions result in better health and better financial security, it can change the workplace, the community, and ultimately our society.”

Jim Bracchitta, Screen Actors Guild

We look forward to digging deeper into these topics next year. In the meantime, if you have some free moments over the holidays, check out the whole interview series. It makes for some great reading.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of our journey during the past 10 years. It has been an absolute honor for us to work alongside you in this industry. We look forward to helping you navigate through the next 10 years. 

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.