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5 Tips to Introducing a Marketplace Exchange Approach to Benefits

Monday, August 21, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Offering Your Employees More Choice and Personalization: 5 Tips to Introducing a Marketplace Exchange Approach to Benefits

By Bob Kristofak and Beth Phares, Virginia middle market practice leader Virginia - EVP & Senior Consultant - SVP, Willis Towers Watson

Bob Kristofak Beth Phares

In recent years, many businesses have turned to marketplace exchanges to accelerate their ability to implement a modernized benefits strategy and to offer their employees more choice and personalization in their benefits portfolios. A marketplace exchange is an online store where employees can compare and shop for benefits using funds contributed by their employer.

This model provides employees with a wider range of choices across the types of benefits that they actually want and need. A marketplace exchange not only offers more medical plan options than those traditionally available to employees, but it also allows your employees to purchase additional voluntary benefits such as disability and life insurance, pet insurance, legal plans, identity protection, and more – based on what you determine are the right set of offerings that fit the needs of your workforce.

Allowing your employees to select their benefits through a marketplace exchange also helps you to control costs, streamline administrative tasks, and most importantly, reflects the desire of today’s workforce to be able to customize their benefits to meet their changing needs and the needs of their families.

As with any change, transitioning to a marketplace exchange requires planning and preparation to help everything run smoothly. Here are five tips to help you succeed as you introduce a marketplace exchange into your company.

  1. Dedicate a full time resource to oversee the transition

    Transitioning to a marketplace exchange affects your whole company, and requires the coordination of a number of logistical and communication tasks. It’s important to budget for the time and resources required to get the job done.

    Employers who have gone through the transition recommend that you dedicate at least one member of the team—typically in human resources—to spearhead the effort. The entirety of his or her efforts should focus on implementing the exchange. While many teams may be involved in this process, including IT and senior leadership, having a dedicated leader will help to ensure that everyone is coordinated each step of the way.

  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
    As with any major change, especially one that impacts people’s benefits, consistent communication from HR to all levels of the company is crucial in order to ensure a smooth transition.

    Once the decision has been made to use a marketplace exchange, HR should develop clear messages on why the transition makes sense for the company and how it will benefit employees. These messages, along with informational materials on how the exchange will work, can be disseminated to employees in a variety of ways, including direct email, a short video announcement from the HR team and senior company leaders, and setting up an information section about the exchange on an existing company intranet.

    Whether you get more creative with the announcement by developing videos and holding focus groups or simply send out a round of informative emails, it is critical that you develop a well-thought-out internal communications strategy to help explain the process and changes for all employees. It’s likely that your company will have very specific reasons for choosing to make this change, which means you’ll need to think through how best to talk about the exchange to your management and your employees. You should also look to your exchange vendor to help articulate your messaging and build your communications and change management plan.

    The team at Genworth, an insurance company, had a successful roll out of communications announcing their move to a marketplace exchange. The team developed a series of presentations for the executive suite, with human resource managers walking them through the change. After refining the presentations, they presented to managers and encouraged each of them to prepare their direct reports by discussing the transition in staff meetings. When the exchange officially launched, they held all-staff meetings to ensure that everyone was informed about the exchange and understood how it would impact them.

  3. Provide support and resources
    As part of a successful transition to a marketplace exchange, it is important to consider how to help employees feel supported and empowered. In addition to clearly communicating that employees should reach out to HR if they have any questions or concerns, it is equally important to ensure that your marketplace exchange provider offers a quality service center where employees can go with questions about using the exchange. Be sure to ask questions about response times, how many calls it takes for an issue to be resolved (a good answer here is a high percentage of first-call resolution), the training that service personnel go through, and so on. If you can arrange a visit to the service center and see in-person the quality of support provided, it will be time well spent.

    Creating a support system for employees that combines the in-house resources of your HR team with the outside expertise of the exchange provider will help employees to more quickly become comfortable and confident when using the exchange.

  4. Reach employees where they are
    Reaching employees where they are means giving them the education they need and also making the exchange accessible to them, no matter where they are located.

    One of the things employers worry about when considering an exchange is that more choice will be overwhelming to their employees, who might not have enough knowledge to make good choices. A good exchange environment should provide educational resources such as an online library with fact sheets, FAQs, and educational videos, and decision-support tools that help employees assess their financial priorities, health status, risk tolerance, and more, leading to the recommendation of a benefits portfolio that suits their needs.

    Moreover, in today’s mobile world, it is unlikely that your employees are all sitting in the same office working a traditional nine-to-five schedule. To get them up to speed, consider holding in-person meetings at times that work for your employees’ busy schedules. When Brinks, an armored truck company, needed to reach its truck drivers working irregular hours, HR scheduled a series of meetings from 5am to 8am and 6pm to 9pm—even going so far as to bring donuts to the early morning meetings in order to encourage participation. Through this strategy, the company was able to reach 95% of its locations and inform employees about the transition to the marketplace exchange. The benefit of in-person meetings is that they supplement the educational information that you’ve already supplied during the initial communication announcing the switch to a marketplace exchange.

  5. Have a personal touch
    Finally, use a personal touch when communicating with employees. Benefits have a significant impact on your employees and their families, so it is important to take the extra step to ensure that they are informed and comfortable about what they need to do.

    For example, employees are often busy and may view enrolling in insurance as a tiresome task—one that may get deferred as work-related priorities intervene. In addition to making sure your vendor offers a well-designed exchange interface that simplifies the enrollment process, you can send your employees personalized follow-up reminders about enrolling. These reminders can make all the difference in getting employees on board. They will be more likely to meet an enrollment deadline when they feel that their manager cares about them and is invested in the process.

These five tips can help you make the transition easier to manage. Implementing a marketplace exchange is a big task for any company, but the benefits are well worth it. Survey data from consulting firm Willis Towers Watson shows that 77 percent of employees say they appreciate their benefits more after enrolling in a marketplace exchange and 85 percent say they are more engaged in their health care decisions. As a result of switching to a benefits marketplace, 75 percent of employees are more likely to stay with their employer. In the end, a marketplace exchange will better serve your people and help them find benefits that meet their unique individual needs, paying dividends in happy, healthy, and engaged employees.

Robert M. Kristofak
T +1 804 527 2343

CEBS Beth Phares

T +1 804 527 2346


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