What can we expect in 2019 in the voluntary benefits arena? Voluntary benefits industry expert Elizabeth Halkos, Purchasing Power’s Chief Operating Officer, shares her predictions annually on trends for new year. Here are her predictions on what we’ll see the voluntary benefits industry focusing on next year, as covered in a recent BenefitsPRO.com article. These are trends you’ll want to be discussing with your clients.
- Addressing student loans
More than one-third of employees overall (and 55 percent of millennials) said student loan repayment is a must-have benefit, according to an Unum study. A few employers – Sotheby’s, Estee Lauder, and others – have started offering a monthly contribution toward employees’ repayment of the principal amount of the student loan debt, up to a maximum dollar amount per year. That’s one way to address the issue. And it resonates with employees who are burdened with student loan debt. According to the American Student Assistance, 86 percent of employees would commit to a company for five years if the employer helped pay back their student loans.
With only 4 percent of employers currently offering employees some form of assistance to repay student loans, 2019 is going to see more employers and the industry itself finding ways to offer student loan refinancing and repayment benefits.
- Taking care of the caregivers
Caregivers make up a significant portion of today’s workforce. Today’s multi-generational workforce includes employees who care for parents, adult children and even grandchildren. Then there’s the “sandwich generation” that has aging parents as well as dependent children that need their help. These caregivers provide support on a variety of levels — emotionally, financially and with general caregiving assistance.
Nearly one in four employees is providing financial support for parents or in-laws; and among employees with adult children, 42 percent are providing financial support to them, according to the PwC study. The National Business Group on Health says that 75 percent of caregivers report having trouble meeting their financial needs.
Elder care support, childcare, adoption assistance, financial wellness benefits — all are increasingly important to the caregivers. Next year will see employers being more comprehensive with benefits that address the comprehensive needs of employees who serve as caregivers.
- Facilitating savings
The statistics are staggering — employees are still struggling paycheck-to-paycheck. GoBankingRates.com reports that 69 percent of Americans don’t have $1,000 or more in savings to use for emergencies. Nearly 50 percent of Americans owe $25,000 or more in non-mortgage debt (marketwatch.com); and the typical worker has saved $0 for retirement.
It’s time for the industry to help employees start to take control of their financial future by encouraging savings. Look for more financial services benefits in 2019 that offer automated savings plans as a voluntary benefit.
- Encouraging utilization of financial wellness benefits
Financial wellness has been the buzz for a couple of years now and employers have added a variety of financial wellness and education voluntary benefits. But only one-third of employees utilize the financial wellness benefits their employer offers, according to the 2018 Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The report also showed that employees want more personalized and direct guidance than macro-level programs.
It’s a simple fact that when financial wellness benefits aren’t used, they don’t work. Adoption and engagement should be our focus now. In 2019, employers and the industry alike will be searching for ways to make these benefits more engaging, personalized and effective in order to help their employees improve their financial wellness.
- Communicating year-round
With so many benefit offerings available today, it can be mind-boggling to employees to be aware of them all and to understand them. In addition, a recent Unum study showed that 49% of workers say they spend 30 minutes or less reviewing their benefits prior to enrollment.
Year-round benefits communications in a multitude of communication methods targeted to each generation and on platforms and devices they pay attention to should be mandatory. Even gamification has become a popular method of communicating. 2019 will see employers and the industry re-dedicate itself to benefits communications, understanding and engagement.
2019 is going to see even more growth and refinement of voluntary benefits that provide so many options that resonate with employees.