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Consumer Expectations and Technology: The Driving Changes of Disruption in Workplace Benefits and Pensions

This article originally appeared in 
Lēad Magazine, Issue 19–Industry Disruption: You can’t afford to tune out.

 
Article By Sun Life Financial

Our expectations as a society are changing. With the growing influence of millennials – and the speed of technological innovation – the bar keeps getting higher for meeting our evolving needs faster and more effectively. While technology will undoubtedly continue to transform the modes of healthcare and financial planning, the need for benefits and pensions will remain. People will still have to save for retirement, still want their dental and drug expenses reimbursed, and still require protection in the event of a catastrophic event such as a disability, major illness, or loss of life.

Nonetheless, technologies such as tele-healthcare, wearable devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) – along with the “big data” that they bring – are expected to create powerful changes for traditional insurance models. Our elementary needs may not be changing, but we’ve come to expect much more than just getting needs met – and millennials are among those pushing these demands.

Millennial employees have grown up with the internet; they have expectations of instant access to information and gratification. It is these expectations that are inspiring Sun Life to use innovative technologies to implement preventative healthcare programs and retirement savings for both Gen X and Gen Y workers alike.

From Convenience to Prevention: Changing Expectations in Group Benefits

As a society, we’ve become increasingly impatient with repetitive administrative tasks that eat our time. This was apparent even 10 or 15 years ago. At that time, preparing and mailing benefit claims was an example of what people were trying to avoid.

That is why, in 2001, our organization launched e-claims, where routine health and dental expenses could be claimed for reimbursement online. Ten-years later – with the explosion of mobile technology – we introduced an app that lets plan members submit claims from their smartphones, get instant adjudication of their claims and check on their pension plan balances.

Once revolutionary, those innovations became adopted virtually industry-wide and spread to other verticals such as banking. Years later, simple convenience is not enough for consumers and employees.  Modern consumers are looking for more.

At Sun Life, we believe employees are looking for empowerment. They want benefits that help to prevent illness rather than just treat it. In the group benefits area, this has led to 2 trends:

  • A focus on preventive benefits, known generally as wellness programs. These include elements such as fitness, nutrition, massage, mindfulness and yoga.
  • The capability to integrate an employee’s digital health information with platforms that track, incent and reward action steps toward better health and well-being.

In 2016, we’re seeing a perfect storm of disruption: an explosion in the technologies that enable a customized health and wellness experience coupled with rapidly changing consumer expectations towards prevention and personalization, led in part – in our view – by the increasing millennial presence in the workplace.

Mobile applications and websites are being used to support employer-sponsored wellness programs, from recording health statistics, to tracking fitness goals and monitoring an individual’s weight loss progress. And wearable technologies – such as Apple Watch and Fitbit – are being adopted in greater numbers, allowing the digital transfer of activity metrics instantaneously.

As our expectations for choice and flexibility intensifies, a strong push continues for flexible health spending accounts that allow the employee to either buy the coverage they need or spend on medical and wellness-related expenses at their own discretion. It is changing the way many employers are designing and funding their benefits plans.

Gamification in Retirement Saving: a Way to Combat Instant Gratification

It is no surprise that in this age of iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon, people expect everything to be “instant” – especially millennials who have known no other way. They want simplicity and they want choice, and they want whatever they choose to be delivered as close to immediately as possible.

Plan sponsors often find themselves at a disadvantage with pensions, as they can only offer the promise of savings or retirement income to be enjoyed decades later. It’s a tough fit in an instant gratification world. But plan sponsors and providers are using technology to break through.

At Sun Life, we implemented the principles of gamification into our retirement saving program and we’ve seen it work first hand: it’s helping to popularize the benefits of saving and motivating employees to take action. Gamification uses the same elements that make games innately fun and engaging, and applies them to tools and processes that typically aren’t considered a game. In 2013, Sun Life launched a gamified online program – money UP – to increase the financial literacy of employees who have a Sun Life workplace retirement plan through their employer. Money UP challenges plan members to learn more about their retirement plan by completing a series of missions and games. It’s a fun, innovative program that can increase financial knowledge and help plan members complete important retirement and investment planning steps along the way.

Gamification can be effective among all generations, but millennials may gravitate towards it even more than others do. Gamified environments give them goals to accomplish, let them track progress towards those goals and provide a community to compete, collaborate and share with. While these elements are essential to any motivation program, they are particularly critical to millennials, who are accustomed to fast feedback and online learning.

In our world, it has been a game-changer. Millennials have not only been the most active users of money UP at 39% of players in the game, they are also most likely to take action: 39% opened a new product or increased their savings contributions in real life because of it. [1] The successes of gamification are expected to be applied to a wide range of industries and solutions looking to increase human motivation and compliance – from customer engagement, training and education, to sustainability, human resources, and health and wellness.

The Next Wave

The explosion in technology – especially mobile technology – is perhaps at its most disruptive in mature industries that haven’t traditionally relied on technology to build their businesses. Industries like print, taxis, and bricks and mortar video stores have all experienced massive change and decline.

But all industries – group benefits and retirement included – are vulnerable to disruptive change. We’re seeing it firsthand. The world is moving forward on the technology front with or without us. And expectations for simplicity, choice and personalization have long passed the tipping point. So we at Sun Life are all in – and will continue to work with the aim of meeting the changing needs and expectations of this new and growing generation of employees.


Sun Life Financial: 
The featured article is a collaboration piece between Sun Life’s Group Benefits and Group Retirement Services. Sun Life Financial is a leading international financial services organization with deep roots in Canada dating back over 150 years. They provide a diverse range of protection and wealth accumulation products and services to individuals and corporate customers, with the goal on helping Canadians achieve lifetime financial security.

[1] Results are from December 2013 through March 2016

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