Benefit Portals Build Direct Relationships
Not only is self-service technology helping employer-clients control benefit administration costs, it might also be insurance carriers’ missing link to employee consumers once they leave the workplace.
This potential is not lost on MetLife, a large New York-based provider of non-medical group benefits with accounts at more than 3,500 organizations. To better service the needs of close to 17 million employees working at its client companies, MetLife embarked on an effort five years ago to build an online employee benefits portal called MyBenefits.
By all measures, the online self-service portal has been a hit. Recently, MetLife announced that the one-millionth employee had registered to access accounts online through MyBenefits.
The portal enables employees to log in-either from work or from home-and get answers to frequently asked questions, learn about plans and coverage specifics, obtain price quotes for certain products, and enroll in dental benefits, critical illness insurance, long-term care, life insurance, auto and home insurance, disability insurance, and banking services.
Users can also check their claim status for certain products, locate a dentist who participates in a MetLife preferred dentist program, or learn about retirement savings options. A popular feature is service e-mail, such as e-alerts that notify employees of claim updates.
The first iteration of the MyBenefits portal was launched in June of 2000, according to Sachin Shah, vice president of MetLife Workplace Solutions. MetLife has upgraded the portal several times since that initial launch, with the most recent upgrade taking place in 2003. Shah estimates the site is being accessed an average 800,000 to a million times a month, and transaction activity has been almost doubling each year.
There were three primary considerations in launching the portal, says Shah. First, customer companies were anxious to reduce processing burdens incurred by benefits administration.
“Our employer customers-plan sponsors, or HR offices-needed to promote more self service, and reduce the related costs of the administrivia with benefit programs,” he says.
The ability to lower administration costs has been a key selling point to employers, he adds. “In our business, things that we can do to provide employees a better way to manage their benefits, without having to call the HR office, are real winners. It takes work from employers, who would otherwise be getting phone calls and inquiries.”
Second, organizations are gradually reducing their financial stake in benefits plans. “Employers are beginning to cost-shift to employees, and that cost shifting continues to grow, certainly on a dollar basis, because costs in aggregate for medical programs in particular have gone up,” he explains.
“That cost shifting has required us to work with employers to begin to provide much more information to employees, and get them to become more aware of, and educated in, benefits offerings.”
Third, Shah says, there’s a strategic shift occurring in the benefits administration marketplace. “Employers are getting out of the benefits administration business,” he notes.
“Strategically, the marketplace is moving toward a world in which we have two customers – the employer, and more importantly, the employee. Making a sale to the employer is no longer a guarantee of revenue, as it was in the past. It’s just a point of entry. Ultimately, making the sale to the employee, and keeping the employee as a customer, has become our driver of revenues and earnings.”