Originally posted December 12, 2014 by Mike Nesper on Employee Benefit Advisor

As employee benefits plans evolve, so too does the employer’s perspective, particularly when it comes to voluntary benefits. More and more, employers are viewing benefits holistically instead of taking a siloed approach. As Mercer’s U.S. innovation leader, Betsy Dill expects to see that trend continue as we head into the New Year as employers continue to personalize benefit plans to their workforce.

That includes adding non-insurance products, which are steadily becoming part of more benefits packages, says Rob Shestack, senior vice president and voluntary benefits national practice leader at AmWINS Group. “Every year, they’re gaining more popularity,” he says. “It’s all part of this wellness balance,” which includes employers ensuring the physical, financial and mental well-being of their workforce. “A stool can’t stand on two legs,” he says.

Even if a client doesn’t opt for a non-insurance plan, Shestack says, they’re always interested in what’s available. “Today, it’s really getting a lot of conversation going,” he says.

And why not? There are plenty of useful items to choose from — Shestack estimated upwards of 50 products — everything from identity theft protection to telemedicine to roadside assistance. Along with those three, some of the more popular products include legal services, pet insurance, consumer goods purchasing programs and financial helplines.

“The list goes on,” Shestack says. “Some of these things have been out for quite a while and some are new this year.” In 2014, Shestack says, a few new products hit the market — one of those being Estate Assist, a digital safety deposit box where important information such as a will and/or insurance policies can be stored. In 2015, “we’ll probably see three or four or five more,” he says.

‘High-impact, low-cost programs’

Non-insurance plans are usually inexpensive and often consist of a handful of products offered in a package, Shestack says. “A lot of these things are bundled,” he says. “Employers are looking for high-impact, low-cost programs.”

Employers of all sizes offer these plans, Shestack says, and he’s seeing more employer-sponsored programs with a buy-up option. “When an employer funds a base plan for everybody, the cost significantly decreases,” he says.

Despite the prevalence of non-insurance products, Shestack says there’s still plenty of employers unaware of their existence — that’s where advisers need to step in and educate employers about these types of voluntary programs.

Not only does an adviser have to be adept at product assessment, they must select the appropriate plan for the workforce in question, says Jim O’Connor, national practice leader for employee benefits at CBIZ. A manufacturing company made up of lower-wage employees is much different than a financial services firm. “You need to know how the product lines up with the workforce,” O’Connor says.

Education and communication are also part of an adviser’s job. “That’s not just about sending a memo out and leaving it at that,” O’Connor says. Advisers who communicate well do so via thoughtful, thorough and various channels, he says. “You have to have a diverse approach to your communicating strategy,” O’Connor says.