Most companies are conducting business differently than they did pre-pandemic. Many employees are still working remotely, budgets have been cut, travel has been restricted and work teams are continually being asked to do more with less, just to name a few.

The employee benefits landscape has changed as well. Employees have different priorities as a result of the pandemic, many of which are focused around financial well-being. Employees are dealing with new economic realities at home after experiencing significant challenges such as a spouse being laid off, an unexpected expense derailing their budget or any number of other unexpected challenges encountered during an unprecedented year. Employees are, therefore, looking at benefit choices differently. For employers, this means that benefits previously thought of as “nice to have” are now a “must have” in the benefits package.

Flexibility has been key for all of us in the employee benefits industry as we address how COVID-19 has transformed the workplace and the people in it. More people will be vaccinated in coming months which will likely mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic but unfortunately, the economic effects – especially employees’ financial situations – won’t be improving as quickly.

Benefits brokers certainly saw their business altered in the past year and they will continue to work in new ways with their clients this year. An important role for benefits brokers is helping their clients navigate this new world. For many brokers this will mean expanding their product portfolio, as employers will be adding more voluntary benefits, such as financial well-being options, to their offerings.

Here are four trends that benefits brokers will encounter this year:

  1. Finding new ways to connect and partner with clients and prospective clients.
  2. Over time the benefits broker role has expanded beyond procuring core benefits to include the role of consultant/adviser. This past year benefits brokers heard the HR challenges their clients are facing and have collaborated more closely in improving the well-being of the employees. 2021 is going to see benefits brokers continuing to demonstrate this value to their clients.

  3. Advising clients on benefits that work in our new normal.
  4. Benefits that work today are different from those of a year ago. This year benefits brokers are not only helping their clients ensure that telemedicine and expanded mental health services are included in healthcare offerings, but also are focusing on holistic employee well-being that includes financial health, along with the physical and mental health considerations.

  5. Recommending the addition of more voluntary benefits.
  6. Adding voluntary benefits which have no budget impact for employers and allow employees to choose what is important to them, is an easy way to expand workplace benefits offerings. Policies that benefit brokers will be recommending likely will include hospital indemnity and critical illness that can be beneficial if the employee is hospitalized or diagnosed with certain critical illnesses, such as the novel coronavirus. Due to the huge spike in identity theft and fraudulent unemployment insurance claims during the pandemic, identity theft protection is another voluntary benefit likely to be highlighted this year.

    A September 2020 survey of benefits brokers1 revealed that over 85% of the benefits brokers responding were likely to recommend additional voluntary benefits to their clients to help address specific needs employees have as they continue to struggle with and overcome pandemic challenges. Critical illness insurance (81.1%), accident insurance (75.5%), employee purchase program (59.4%) and identity theft protection (57.1%) were at the top of the list for benefits brokers planning to recommend more voluntary benefits.

  7. Making sure that a variety of benefits addressing employees’ financial well-being are available.
  8. Financial wellness benefits have become more important in the last few years, especially as employees have said they look to their employers for help with their financial situation. Now more than ever, employees have varying financial needs. Benefits brokers should encourage clients to offer benefits that address different aspects of financial wellness. These can include financial counseling, bill payment programs, medical deductible financing, employee purchase programs, student loan repayment benefit programs and automatic savings programs.

    Benefits brokers also have an increased role to play in assisting their clients with communicating those financial well-being benefits to their employees. A February 2021 Arizton report revealed that 35% of workers at large companies have “no clue” their employer offers benefits that include financial wellness.

Communication has played an important part in all of our lives this past year. We’ve had to learn how to navigate virtual meetings and build or keep our rapport with clients even when we can’t meet face to face. Much of this year will see benefits brokers honing those skills while continuing our invaluable adviser role to guide employers to the benefits their employees need most.

Written by: Mike Wilbert, Purchasing Power Chief Revenue Officer
Mike Wilbert is chief revenue officer at Purchasing Power, a voluntary benefit provider. He has 30 years of experience in the insurance and voluntary benefits industry.

1Purchasing Power online survey of 93 benefit brokers (60 brokers who sell Purchasing Power and 33 who don’t sell Purchasing Power), September 2020.