I’m a huge science fiction fan, and one of my favorite genres can be categorized as “future history,” in which writers extrapolate a vision of the future from present events. Books like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” and Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash,” which predict many aspects of today’s “cyberworld,” are good examples. Philip K Dick foresaw self-driving, talking taxis and AI-driven psychiatrists. The list continues.
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My goal in this column is a bit more modest: Consider the future history of the benefits world based on the market trends we can see today. As we examine the crystal ball, we are sure to see innovations in our business, fueled by many factors:
- Government and politics: Mandatory benefits, particularly those related to paid family leave and paid medical leave for employees, are emphasized in many states, as well as at the federal level. A long-term care benefit mandate is a fact of life in Washington state and is on the radar of many other states as well. As this trend accelerates, benefits advisors need to consider compliance as an important service for employers. This is especially true because there is little uniformity among state regulations that have been passed to date, the implications for multi-state employers are unclear, and even if federal regulations are passed, it is likely that some states will retain unique mandates.
- The economy: While employment is growing, even exploding, in some sectors, it is falling in others. The trend of allowing employees to work from home has created national competition for skilled workers, creating an opportunity for employers to use their benefits program as an even more powerful retention tool than it has. been in the past.
- Social and cultural change: Employers increasingly need to create and maintain meaningful programs that benefit society. Green initiatives and diversity, equity and inclusion programs are encouraged, both within employer communities and among their employees. Employers are looking for suppliers who promote the common good, as well as their own products and services. Employer work culture can be particularly important in helping to unify positive perceptions from remote workers.
- The pandemic: The effects of the pandemic and ongoing variants are driving changes to benefit product pricing, design, listing and service. As a life event shared across the country, the effects are more similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s or a world war than to more isolated watershed events like 9/11.
Additionally, four areas of exponential growth, all driven by technology, are already affecting our business and are sure to drive change in the future:
- Computing power and artificial intelligence are revolutionizing what we know about customers, what they know about us and how we communicate with them. The resources made available to consumers, particularly in the form of personal digital assistants, will provide services well beyond the current versions of Siri or Alexa.
- Multifactor Communications, enabled by mobile technology and advances in computing power, allow us to reach employer and employee customers when they prefer, through the medium they prefer, with relevant solutions to questions or problems.
- information and data, combined with AI-based analytics, can allow us to anticipate needs and deliver products and services that employees may not even realize they need. However, it should be noted that the algorithms used to analyze data in our business must be unbiased and used transparently, as the perception that data is in a “mysterious black box” can lead to customer distrust and, possibly, onerous regulations. .
- Genomics made significant advances in disease management, disease prevention, and increasing human longevity. It is likely that the risks we insure will change significantly as these advances enter the market. What new products will we need as employees lead healthier lives and have access to personalized wellness programs based on their genetic makeup?
The last and best part of writing a future benefits story is to combine our own experience and knowledge of how the market works with these drivers of change.