Corporate cash plan take- up is soaring, as employers and advisers wake up to the benefits these low-cost products can deliver. And, with providers keen to keep their propositions cutting- edge, they’re set to remain relevant for today’s workforces.
One of the key changes is the focus of today’s plans. “Over the last 12-18 months there’s been a gradual shift away from the traditional cash plan to products and benefits that are more focused on health and wellbeing,” says Premier Choice Group managing director Claire Ginnelly. “Although the traditional benefits of dental, optical and therapies remain the key areas for claims, it’s very positive that the providers are expanding into new areas.”
In particular, wellbeing is now standard on most plans, with common benefits including virtual GP services; employee assistance programmes (EAPs); health information and support; and discounts on gym membership and other healthy lifestyle products. Advisers must be careful to ensure they do not overpromise on the extent to which wellbeing add-ons will turn around the daily lives of an employer’s workforce. Consultants that sp e ci ali se i n w e llbe ing implementation for blue chips will do a deeper dive and seek to evidence the ROI on the strategy that is implemented. But for many employers cash plans offer a quick and affordable way to bring in wellbeing-friendly features to an overall benefits package.
Towergate Health & Protection head of proposition development David Prosser believes the cash plan is the ideal vehicle for these benefits. “These types of service are low-cost when you’ve got the volume the cash plan providers have,” he explains. “It would be very expensive for an SME to replicate this range of benefits itself.”
Willis Towers Watson director, health and benefits GB Mike Blake agrees. He also appreciates the fact that the cash plan providers have brought all of these services under one roof. “These services are often bundled up with other products such as group risk and medical insurance so an employer might have them from a number of sources,” he says. “Bringing them all together is convenient and will help to increase usage.”
With the cash plan providers hoovering up health and wellbeing initiatives as quickly as they’re launched, it’s tricky to predict what will be next. Blake expects to see more benefits being introduced to help employees lead healthier lives. “A health risk assessment with coaching support could enable an employee to work on the areas that would benefit most from improvement,” he explains. “Supporting someone to make changes in behaviour can make a big difference to their health.”
No more cash-back
The cash plan providers are also looking to extend their reach, breaking away from the cash-back concept to create products that provide access to a range of health and wellbeing tools. Examples include BHSF’s Rise, which provides on-demand advice and support for employees’ mental, physical, financial and legal health, Westfield Health’s Wellbeing Journey and Health Shield’s health and wellbeing digital solution, Breeze.
“We conducted market research which found that although cash plan take-up continues to grow, some companies don’t want the cash-back elements such as dental and optical,” explains Health Shield head of marketing Jennie Doyle. “Instead they want to offer their employees support with their health and wellbeing.”
Although they’re separate products, the wellbeing label means there’s plenty of crossover between Health Shield’s cash plan and its Breeze proposition. Both offer access to benefits including a virtual GP, online health assessments and 24/7 counselling and support.
However, thanks to its digital platform, Breeze allows greater functionality, including direct online booking for services such as the virtual GP and physiotherapy, as well as more personalisation around health content. It also enables Health Shield to provide employers with anonymised management information to give them insight into the health issues facing their workforces.
Breeze’s price point – £5.50 per employee per month – makes it cheaper than its level one classic cash plan, at £6.93 a month. “We might look to add optional benefits such as dental and optical to Breeze in the future but its primary focus is wellbeing,” adds Doyle.
It’s not just the benefits that are evolving. Whether on the traditional or more modern wellbeing-focused plans, the providers are beginning to embrace digital delivery.
As well as the provision of online claims functions, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing director of commercial Richard Gould says that app-based propositions such as Health Shield’s Breeze are increasingly ubiquitous. By putting the benefits on an employee’s smartphone, it reduces the need for tailoring. “With employees able to pick exactly what they want to use, employers are much more likely to opt for an off-the-peg solution,” he adds.
The other key advantage of rolling benefits out through an app is the employee engagement. Blake explains: “Everyone’s got a smartphone these days so providing services through an app makes them much more accessible and personal. It will help to drive up employee engagement while also enabling them to improve their health.”
What’s more, by going for this approach, every employee is likely to find at least one benefit that they use. This can put a large tick in the diversity and inclusion box.
Picking the right proposition
Selling the concept may be relatively easy but selecting the most appropriate plan for an organisation is much less straightforward. “It would be wrong to say they’re all the same, but they are very similar,” says Ginnelly. “Sometimes a decision can come down to the selection of added- value benefits that’s on offer.”
Service does influence choice. Selections can be based around whether, or not, a provider offers online claims or an app, and the support provided to the employer. For instance, Gould says that a lot of employers are looking for help with communications. “Many of the providers can give them support with marketing their cash plans,” he adds. “This can really help employees to engage with them.” The provision of management information can also be a deal breaker. Details of claims and usage trends can provide valuable insight to advisers and their clients. “I’d like to see more insightful management information,” says Prosser. “Some do it well but it can show us how the plan is used and help an employer shape its wellbeing strategy.”
Finally, in the world where the £1 a week price tag still prevails, cost can also be a consideration. However, following a spate of experience-related price hikes, advisers are underlining the importance of sustainable pricing to avoid potential shocks at renewal.
But, with the providers keen to help businesses look after the health and wellbeing of their employees by giving them access to the latest initiatives in this space, it’s set to be another strong year for cash plans and their more streamlined wellbeing-focused offspring.
Plan for the future with wellbeing benefits