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Benefits snapshot: Seamless online enrollment

Employee benefit enrollment materials used to be carried home by employees in briefcases and discussed over kitchen tables. Completed paper forms were collected by human resources staff and sent in batches to carriers for processing.

The papers got lost, the batches were delayed, and the people who were supposed to actually benefit from the offerings often didn’t make the most of what they thought they had.

Today, brokers look to app-based enrollment and communications systems that ensure benefits information and access can travel with employees in the shape of a smartphone. In fact, the B2B apps market is expected to hit $140 billion by 2023,1 and the number of apps each organization uses rises each year.2

The result? A seamless communication loop that is no longer a disconnect for enrollees and carriers – and is now a growth in perceived value among policyholders, clients, brokers and carriers.

Covid-19 precipitated a pivot to online enrollment

If employers stopped in their tracks in mid-2020, simply perpetuating ongoing benefits and modes of enrollment, they are now eager to adopt new modes of communication and enrollment. As employers analyze how employees actually used benefits in the chaos of 2020, they’re also taking the opportunity to re-engineer how they help employees select benefits that best fit their individual needs.

The past year has also highlighted for brokers the need to better support their clients, as relationships have never been more important than they are in the wake of Covid-19.3 That sentiment extends to experimentation with enrollment and tech tools – digital tools that ultimately support a seamless relationship between the employee and the carrier. Businesses report they’re more open now to experimenting with digital strategies.4 And that experimentation is leading to results: Business leaders report that their companies have moved 20 to 25 times faster than expected in digital strategies put into place as a direct response to Covid-19.5

This tech move applies directly to enrollment technologies. In 2020, 62% of employers reported using self-service online enrollment, compared with the 29% who used self-service paper enrollment.6 Not only did more business leaders rely on tech-enabled enrollment, but those who did were likelier to be satisfied: 84% of those who used online enrollment reported it was highly effective, compared with 66% of those who enrolled using paper.

All of this is good news for employees, who are relying on open enrollment in the era of Covid-19 – not only because of the distance necessitated by remote work, but because their level of interest in their benefits is ticking upward. Half of employees surveyed said the pandemic has been a wake-up call to invest more time researching and selecting the best coverage options for their situation.6

How brokers can support their clients in digital enrollment

Some experts predict that the pivot to digital will eventually eliminate lengthy benefits booklets that confuse users.7 User-friendly tools like virtual benefit fairs, podcasts and videoconferencing exchanges could replace things like booklets and static open enrollment meetings.

That doesn’t mean enrollment will be entirely self-serve. Brokers will need to develop a strong understanding of their clients’ tech savviness, as well as the tech experience of each client’s workforce. Part of the broker’s job is to help clients see that improved enrollment systems can help businesses work smarter8 – potentially to the point of redirecting administrative effort toward maintaining robust benefits programs.

Working smarter in the information age also means selectively curating what users need to know. Given that 73% of the workforce suffers from digital overload,9 simply throwing information into a digital portal and hoping for the best isn’t a viable strategy. Brokers can help their clients understand what information to send, how often to send it, and how to bundle and streamline information so that employees get the communication they need, where they need it, and not just a landslide of information.

Brokers aren’t alone in their endeavor, of course. Working with carriers that have robust knowledge centers and technology support teams can help ensure that brokers are able to focus their efforts where they’re needed most: their clients.