She says, with conviction in her voice, that hers is a rewarding and compelling business. After a half-hour’s conversation, you’re convinced.
Mainly, she talks about disability, the side of the business that most fires her passion, and where her company all but rules, ranking second in new sales and third in in-force premiums. But as executive vice president in charge of all insurance-related group sales at Hartford Life, Lizabeth Zlatkus has a few other passions as well.
Take absence management and lost time issues. Not new concerns, but the ones she goes to straight away when you ask about the top challenges in her group benefits division.
It’s tough, she says, to get employers to understand the true cost of people out of work. Not just disability and workers’ comp costs, but the cost of hiring and training replacements, lost productivity as a new person gets up to speed, duplicated benefits, and the stress of not having trained people in place.
Yet, she says, 64% of U.S. companies don’t consistently track unscheduled absences and an equal number don’t know what their absence rate is or how their experience compares with competitors’.
“It’s been proven a hundred times over,” she says, “that if you bring a person back to work who is trained, it’s far less costly, even if you have to make some accommodation.”
Then there are new regulatory challenges, notably the Family Leave Medical Act, voted by 55% of 237 participants in a recent HRnext Web poll as most likely to propel HR types to the closest aspirin bottle–but also to their disability carriers to do their FLMA administration.
Also on Zlatkus’s radar are continued low interest rates. “In the old days, as interest rates rose it helped cover the increased costs of disability and carriers could keep their premiums flat,” she says. “Now, declining rates put pressure on margins, causing increased insurance rates, even if the underlying experience isn’t getting worse.”
She also has an eye trained on a low unemployment rate, which has companies “dying for trained, talented people, which motivates them more to bring people back to work” and “to keep their benefits program rich.” This benefits many Hartford product lines, she adds, but how it plays out as we head into recession is anyone’s guess.
Her top challenge, she says, is having employers understand what they’re buying. They may examine cost, she says, but it’s hard for employers to evaluate carriers to see how well they return people to work, how comprehensive are their programs and how sophisticated their claims management.