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5 TRENDS TO EXPECT IN VOLUNTARY BENEFITS IN 2019: Here are five predictions on what we'll see the voluntary benefits industry focusing on this year.

THERE'S NO QUESTION that voluntary benefits have come of age. Gone are the days where voluntary benefits are simply a "nice extra" for employee benefits. Today's diverse, multi-generational workforce has such varying characteristics, lifestyles and preferences that employers can no longer provide one-size-fits-all benefits, even in the voluntary arena.

The current tight job market has employers vying to recruit and retain top talent. So it's no surprise that voluntary benefits are now a "must-have." A broad benefits package sends a good message to employees and potential recruits. It positions a business as a company that listens, cares and is worth working for.

Voluntary benefits offer employees a variety of specialized benefits so they can choose the ones they want. And the range of options is impressive--from those that supplement "core" benefits such as health, life and disability insurance, to those spanning identity theft protection to pet insurance to employee purchase programs and even student loan refinancing arrangements and egg harvesting.

So what can we expect in 2019 in the voluntary benefits arena? Here are my predictions on what we'll see this year.

1 ADDRESSING STUDENT LOANS

Student loan debt continues to reach record highs and even exceeds credit card debt and auto loan debt. 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 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.

2 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 care-giving assistance.

Nearly 1 in 4 employees provides financial support for parents or inlaws; 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. In 2019, we will see employers being more comprehensive with benefits that address the comprehensive needs of employees who serve as caregivers.

3 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 in savings to use for emergencies; other studies find nearly 50 percent of Americans owe $25,000 or more in non-mortgage debt; and the typical worker has saved nothing 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.

4 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.

5 COMMUNICATING YEAR-ROUND

With so many benefit offerings available today, it can be mind-boggling for employees trying to keep track of them all and understand them. In addition, a recent Unum study showed that 49 percent 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. This year will see employers and the industry re-dedicated to benefits communications, understanding and engagement.

Five years ago, our voluntary benefits trends included proclaiming that voluntary benefits "had arrived;" that "non-traditional" benefits were coming on the scene; and that employees' financial stress would lead to more attention to financial wellness benefits. Much has happened in the voluntary benefits arena since then. 2019 is going to see even more growth and refinement of these benefits that provide so many options that resonate with employees.

By Elizabeth Halkos

Elizabeth Halkos is chief operating officer at Purchasing Power.
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Author:Halkos, Elizabeth
Publication:Benefits PRO
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Words:891
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