As employers increase their focus on employee wellbeing and look for a return on their investment to achieve it, the importance of support services in group risk products is arguably beginning to overtake the insurance itself. At the core of many products sit early intervention services, employee assistance programmes, second medical option services and a variety of legal and advice helplines. Yet employer usage of these services remains low, and duplication of services paid for elsewhere persists.
At a recent roundtable discussion event, hosted by Corporate Adviser, Canada Life Group Insurance marketing director Paul Avis pressed intermediaries as to whether advisers needed to do more to promote these valuable benefits.
Delegates at the event responded that group risk experts did promote these extra services, but that there was a knowledge gap amongst more generalist advisers leading to their benefits being overlooked. These services can provide valuable benefits for employers in terms of managing both physical and mental health conditions, helping absent staff back to work more quickly, and reducing problems associated with ‘presenteeism’.
And as part of a wider employee benefits package they can help recruiting and retaining staff. But despite the benefits available from these services, which are delivered at no additional premium cost to the employer, usage remains relatively low.
Avis pointed out that recent Group Risk Development (Grid) figures show that just 0.1 per cent of insured people are using early intervention services – a core part of any income protection policy.
Avis said: “Many employers may not be aware that those using Canada Life’s EIS service typically return to work within a five to seven week period. In fact 95 per cent of those using these services do not go on to become claimants.”
“Given the success of this service, and the clear benefit to employers, why are so few people using these services?”
This isn’t the only service where usage remains stubbornly low. Last year there were some 75,000 people using the full range of services, from EISs to EAPs, second medical options and so on.
“This sounds good on the surface, but when you consider there are between 12.5m and 13m people covered by group risk policies you have to ask whether the industry is doing enough to promote these products.” he said.
Towergate group risk and protection consultant Terry Fromant agreed these are important features of any group risk product, and remain an effective “calling card” to opening up a discussion with clients about the need for this insurance.
He said: “Clients are interested in the statistics showing how services help employees return to work. It is a good story to tell, and as the saying goes, you sell the sizzle not the sausage. In this case it is these additional services that can look attractive and help meet their needs, alongside the safety net of the core insurance product.”
But Fromant said that while group risk specialists provide information on the full range of services available, along with advice on how employers can engage with their workforce to fully utilise these benefits, this may not be the case with more general corporate advisers.
Vested group risk and healthcare manager Mark McLeod agreed that there is a still a lot of generic advice out there, particularly when it comes to the small business sector.
Smaller businesses focus is often on cost, as opposed to these added benefits, added delegates. But Stackhouse Poland account director, health & protection Steve Thomson pointed out that it is in the SME market where the benefits provided by EIS and EAP services can often be of most value.
Many of these services can help companies meet basic health and safety requirements, while issues of getting staff back to work as quickly — and safely — as possible can make a significant difference in smaller workforces.
Whatever the size of business, a preoccupation with price remains, said advisers. Avis questioned whether advisers could do more to change this mentality. He questioned how many advisers compare the support services offered under different group risk propositions, and include the value of these services in their recommendations, alongside the usual comparators of premium and insurance terms and conditions.
But Fromant pointed out that on many group risk products, the support services offered by different insurers was often comparable. “For the client level the end result is similar,” he says.
However, he says where there is differentiation in the market is in how well insurers demonstrate the value and return on investments (ROI) that these services provide.
LifeSearch business protection and group leader Alan Richardson said one of the challenges is ensuring the key information about benefits and services outlined by the adviser filter through the organisation, from HR director – who may see the potential of what EIS and EAP services can offer – to the finance director or CEOs who may be more concerned with budget.
Thomson added: “The challenge is to get to the decision maker. We can compile reports setting out the benefits and return on investment (ROI) for both the insurance and suite of additional services offered, but I would estimate that nine out of 10 of these reports are probably not read.”
Delegates debated whether providers are doing enough to demonstrate the ROI of these associated services. Advisers were keen to be able to include information about what it would cost to purchases equivalent services – like second medical opinion, legal or nurse-staffed helplines, or a
free-standing EAP – on the open market. However, the general view was that this was well articulated by the most insurers.
Barnett Waddingham workplace wellbeing consultant Laura Matthews said: “The ROI tools, provided by the likes of Canada Life, are useful and help us tell a strong story. While a lot of insurers are providing similar support services not all
of them are communicating the value of this as effectively.”
Matthews added that it is this kind of information – using tools and infographics
– can help persuade financial directors of the benefits of implementing these support services and making sure they are fully utilised by employees.
“It can cost around £30,000 to recruit and replace a member of staff. If there is a service available that helps get people back to work and avoid this cost then there is real value for the employer.”
Delegates also agreed that low usage of these services wasn’t solely the result of how these propositions were sold. Both advisers and insurers could do more to help employers raise awareness of these services among the workforce, to encourage more significant levels of engagement.
Punter Southall Aspire managing director for health and risk Jon Webster said once an FD, MD or HR director has placed this group risk cover they inevitably “go back to the day job”. Often there is only initial information sent the available legal or clinical helplines and accompanying EIS or EAP services.
“For advisers, once the risk is placed this is where the key work starts on engagement, with regular reminders about these services, and providing appropriate management information on usage and take-up.”
Technology clearly has a part to pay in boosting these engagement levels. Providers, and increasingly consultants, are now offering their own branded apps, allowing staff to access full details of all employee benefits.
Many expect to see this trend continue. Aon recently launched its own wellbeing app. Specialist engagement providers – like Earthmiles – are also using technology to help increase employee engagement through rewards and benefit programmes.
Webster said: “Tools like MyAspire are already at employee engagement, on issues like pensions. I can see that information on income protection policies, EAPs will be hosted on products like this in due course.
In some cases consultants may provide API links to providers rather than build their own platforms.”
Fromant pointed out that when it comes to employee engagement, providers – and advisers – should be looking at different strategies for different segments of the workforce.
“It may be that apps like this and new technology may gain more traction with millennials. With this group of employees they are often not just looking at a basic salary but a work package, so a group risk proposition that includes and promotes a whole range of support services may help with both recruitment and retention of staff.”
Webster pointed out that technology isn’t the only way to boost employee engagement and wider use of these support services. “There are intergenerational issues here. There is a younger digital generation and an older analogue one.”
Often employee engagement can be increased by simple measures — such as posters, flyers and videos – giving information on what these services offer and how employees can access them.
Avis says that insurers like Canada Life provide a wealth of tools and information to help advisers with this engagement process. He says: “It is not rocket science in many cases.” It is ensuring information is to hand when employees need it, and ensuring employers understand the benefits to them of employees utilising these services, so they are more likely to actively promote these benefits internally.
The advisers attending the round table agreed that they had a key role to play in this process. Fromant said: “There is a role for advisers in helping manage this process. We say to clients that when an employee is absent to call us and we can kickstart the process when it comes to early intervention services.”
When it comes to setting up smaller schemes, advisers round the table welcomed the option of the insurer stepping in to help manage this process.
However Avis said that he had seen “some reluctance” from the adviser community about insurers dealing directly with clients. This could include fears about insurers poaching clients, and reducing the role they had to play.
Webster said: “This can present challenges. If an insurer is too embedded, then there may be more resistance to switch clients at a later stage. If premiums rise are clients still getting value for money on this proposition?”
McLeod said he thought this should not be too much of a problem. “Insurers are not simply providers. We see part of the adviser’s role is to build a long-term relationship with insurance partners.
“Advisers will periodically do market reviews and may look to switch providers if circumstances change. Provided this is done transparently and for the right commercial reasons I don’t see this will be a problem.”
The role of the corporate adviser isn’t just to recommend or ‘sell’ a particular proposition. “Looking at these various insurance products and support services, our role is to help ensure clients are getting the most out of the services,” he said.
This may include boosting engagement levels, ensuring providers aren’t ‘doubling up’ on any of these add-on services, and using services like EISs and EAPs as effective risk management tools, that can not only reduce claims but help employers potentially reduce premium costs too.
Clients don’t buy group risks product purely to benefit their staff – they want a return on investment and to use these tools as a recruitment and retention tool.
Advisers who enable employers who make the most of the range of services available are in a much better position to deliver on these objectives, agreed delegates.