This year is unlike any other. Amid great uncertainty, it’s more challenging than ever for advisers and employers to make decisions for improved benefit planning. Public health and economic responses to the pandemic have thrown the traditional benefit planning cycle off course this year.

Flexible gap-coverage solutions have never been more important in delivering improved benefit planning. As clients look to you for guidance, here are six ways you can enhance relationships and add value when planning is forced off-cycle.

#1: Analyze and assess for improved benefit planning

Benefit planning is certainly crunch time for employers and brokers alike. Be sure to assess whether clients experienced issues that arose with renewal in the past, as well as what they may be hearing from employees this year. If there were problems and they weren’t addressed, now is the time to fix them.

Analysis often focuses on what didn’t go right. However, it’s just as important to understand what did go right during last year’s benefit planning. Was it your responsiveness to client needs? Your willingness to offer new solutions and innovative ideas?

Asking what went right ensures you can continue to offer what your clients need while reminding them of the value of the relationship they have built with you.

#2: Prepare for plan changes

Many employers are making changes to their benefit plans that they could not have anticipated before the events of this spring and summer. A growing number of employers are dropping or decreasing coverage in response to the pandemic and economic crises.[i] In addition, many experts predict that this trend will continue, even extending to voluntary and/or employer-sponsored healthcare benefits.[ii] This can certainly prove frustrating to employees already stressed by the financial effects of the past several months.

Will your clients be making changes to their primary plans or sticking with what they have? Are they considering plan consolidation or the elimination of richer plan options?

As a trusted adviser, you can help your clients understand the consequences of  plan changes that could potentially increase the burden on employees. Moreover, you can be prepared with solutions in the form of innovative benefits. Supplemental plans that close or reduce healthcare coverage gaps and decrease out-of-pocket burdens can be very effective in boosting employee loyalty and retention rates. Even better, such plans can be put in place before, with or even months after primary plan renewals.

#3: Ask about business changes

What business changes are on the horizon for your clients in the upcoming year? The shift to remote-first work, for instance, has convinced some companies that it is time to divest office space. For others, social distancing may warrant facility changes. In yet others, plans for growth may include recruitment goals and incentives.

Asking about the future gives you an opportunity to position improved benefit planning as a powerful problem solver for business challenges. It also lets you come back with specific and flexible gap-coverage solutions for their employee population needs.

#4: Ask about workforce needs

The way we work has changed significantly in 2020. What did your clients learn about their employee needs in these recent months? Recent research shows that nearly eight in ten employers are offering or expanding access to virtual mental health care.[iii] They are also giving employees additional easy-to-access virtual benefits that can boost well-being.[iv]

You can help your clients support their employees during this time with innovative supplemental insurance solutions. These flexible plans can address new and emerging priorities like mental health and well-being for employees at all levels of the workforce.

#5: Focus on protecting at-risk talent

The strain of 2020 is real. Two-thirds of employees are experiencing higher rates of stress and burnout than before the pandemic, according to a recent MetLife survey.[v] This stress isn’t limited to the executive suite; it can affect strategic leaders, skilled labor and employees at all levels of an organization. Ultimately, it can also affect productivity and the bottom line: poor worker health costs US companies more than $530 billion annually.[vi]

Employers must prioritize the protection of their talent, especially when these key employees are at risk. In fact, employers that make investments in benefits right now, including flexible gap-coverage solutions, are not only helping employees and securing their bottom lines, they are also distinguishing themselves as employers of choice.[vii] Be sure to ask clients which roles and positions are essential to their businesses and explain how improved benefit planning can go a long way toward protecting them.

#6: Consider compensation alternatives

During this uncertain time, freezing raises and incentives or reducing bonuses may make business sense. Yet, clearly it can create dissatisfaction among employees, which can affect productivity and loyalty. Flexible gap-coverage solutions and other supplemental insurance plans can give employers compensation alternatives that are also financially efficient.* By reducing out-of-pocket healthcare spending for employees, these solutions can help employers spend less to give more.* This is why finding out what employers are planning when it comes to next year’s compensation can help you be proactive in providing tailored guidance.

Eventually, a “new normal” will emerge. Will the traditional approach to benefit planning resume at that time? It’s important to consider that flexibility and agility in planning comes with lasting benefits. This new approach offers advisers and employers a chance to recalibrate the traditional way they engage in benefit planning.

Learn more about our wide range of innovative supplemental health insurance plans, which can help employers and employees in improved benefit planning.

*This is not local, state or federal tax advice as each person and company is unique. It is recommended that you seek the independent counsel of a professional tax adviser.

[i] Pearl Meyer, 2020

[ii] Pearl Meyer

[iii] Willis Towers Watson, 2020

[iv] Willis Towers Watson

[v] MetLife US Employee Benefits Trend Study 2020

[vi] Forbes, 2018

[vii] Willis Towers Watson, 2020