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Fit Financial Education To Smaller Employers' Needs

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The challenges facing small to medium-sized businesses continue to grow. Two issues remain a constant focus for employers–controlling benefit costs and attracting and retaining high-quality employees.

While these two challenges continue to rise to the top, employers face another problem: Many employees have a lot more on their mind than work.

Employees have more than work on their mind because they face a mounting list of concerns: saving enough money to retire, balancing work and life, and being asked to share more in the decision-making and cost of their benefits. While employers would like to think employees deal with these concerns outside the job, in reality, it just doesn’t happen that way. Employees use valuable work hours on these issues, often causing a drain on productivity.

Not surprisingly, as employers place more of the benefit selection decision in employees’ hands–whether through consumer-driven products such as health savings accounts or voluntary products–employees become overwhelmed with too much information.

Retirement planning is another good example. Employees are faced with numerous decisions about their retirement plan, from how much to defer to where to invest funds. Now, as many employers restructure their pension plans, employees once again will need to rethink their retirement savings plans.

What are employers to do? For one thing, they need to take this opportunity to give employees what they want and need–enlightening information about their benefits in an easy-to-understand format as well as access to financial professionals to assist them at the worksite. Doing this will help make employees better consumers and better prepared to make decisions about their financial well-being. Ultimately, this helps employees better focus on their work responsibilities.

It sounds simple, but it can be tricky. If you consider all the information employees need to understand their benefits, you see the dilemma. Even those of us who work in the benefits industry can find benefit selection time stressful. It’s not easy digging through piles of information to make sure you’re making the best decisions to protect yourself and your family or save for the future. Yet we continue to overload employees with a mass of benefit information.

Perhaps we need to consider a different approach. Instead of throwing everything at employees at benefit selection time, a better alternative would be to educate employees throughout the year with smaller amounts of information. This would result in employees getting key information needed to make a buying decision only during the benefit selection period. Employers can use the rest of the year to prepare employees for making the necessary decisions and to reinforce the good decisions employees have made.

Opportunities abound to educate employees on the features and benefits of the products they’ve selected, whether it is an employee assistance program, beneficiary support programs or any number of value-added benefits.

Employees educated about the need for financial protection can be sold voluntary products to fill gaps in that protection. Employers don’t need to provide all the needed products in their benefit program, because employees also have access to products outside the program, such as mutual funds and individual disability insurance. Financial advisors can help employees develop a better understanding and appreciation for their employer’s benefits package while also giving them a comprehensive financial plan to meet their needs.

Consumer-driven products and voluntary benefits will continue to become more prominent components of the employee benefit package. As they do, it becomes increasingly important that employees become more involved in benefit decisions and that employers educate employees on the benefit package they provide. We in the insurance and benefits industry need to make sure we are doing everything we can to help employers face today’s many challenges. A big part of that is presenting creative opportunities that assure their employees understand their benefits.