MORE BEN­E­FITS ED­U­CA­TION NEEDED

The next step: Mak­ing sure em­ploy­ees know what’s on tap and are tak­ing ad­van­tage of it.

Credit Union Journal - - Contents - BY PALASH GHOSH

Credit unions are widen­ing the ar­ray of ben­e­fits they pro­vide to em­ploy­ees, but fre­quent ed­u­ca­tion — and of­ten reed­u­ca­tion — is needed if staff are go­ing to make the most of those of­fer­ings.

CREDIT UNIONS TAKE GREAT PAINS TO en­sure their tech­nol­ogy, prod­ucts and ser­vices are as up to date as pos­si­ble, but there’s a grow­ing con­sen­sus that a mod­ern­ized ben­e­fits pack­age could be just as im­por­tant when it comes to at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing top tal­ent.

A new re­port from Con­nec­ty­our­care, a Bal­ti­more-based con­sumer-driven health care so­lu­tions provider, found CUS and other fi­nan­cial in­stu­tions need to im­prove how they in­form em­ploy­ees about the ben­e­fits avail­able to them, in part be­cause health care costs con­tinue to rise and ben­e­fits pack­ages are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­plex.

The re­port, ti­tled the “Con­sumer-driven Health Plan En­roll­ment & Us­age Trends Sur­vey,” asked ap­prox­i­mately 250 em­ploy­ers how their work­ers feel about their ben­e­fits and how well they can ac­cess in­for­ma­tion about such ben­e­fits. The re­sult? The sur­vey re­vealed em­ployee ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions will “con­tinue to re­quire sig­nif­i­cant re­sources.”

Con­nec­ty­our­care also noted that, de­spite all ef­forts by third-party ad­vi­sors, em­ploy­ers and oth­ers within the in­dus­try, one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers to en­roll­ment in such pro­grams as Health Sav­ings Ac­counts is em­ploy­ees’ lack of aware­ness of their re­lated fi­nan­cial tax ben­e­fits. In­deed, about half of em­ploy­ers (47 per­cent) said their staff did not en­roll in HSAS, Flex­i­ble Spend­ing Ac­counts or other tax-ad­van­taged ac­counts be­cause they don’t know about the ac­com­pa­ny­ing tax ben­e­fits.

While the ma­jor­ity of credit unions are be­lieved to of­fer em­ployee ben­e­fits, not all U.S. work­ers re­ceive them. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics, re­tire­ment and med­i­cal care ben­e­fits were avail­able to 70 per­cent of civil­ian work­ers as of March 2017, while 94 per­cent of union­ized work­ers had ac­cess to em­ployer-spon­sored re­tire­ment and med­i­cal care ben­e­fits. For non-union work­ers, 66 per­cent had ac­cess to re­tire­ment ben­e­fits and 67 per­cent to med­i­cal care ben­e­fits.

IN­CREAS­ING OP­TIONS

Ac­cord­ing to Heather Barnes, SVP of U.S. sales at Con­nec­ty­our­care, credit unions have been in­creas­ing ben­e­fits op­tions for em­ploy­ees in re­cent years. About 40 per­cent of Con­nec­ty­our­care’s 20,000 clients are in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try, noted Barnes.

“We are see­ing three trends in this in­dus­try: the move­ment to full re­place­ment HSA plan de­signs;

ac­cel­er­ated HSA fund­ing; and a move to max­i­miz­ing tax-ad­van­taged ac­count sav­ings of­fer­ings across the board,” she said.

Barnes added that credit unions have also been at the fore­front of de­vel­op­ing some rather novel ben­e­fit pro­grams for their em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing “life­style ac­counts,” such as com­muter pro­grams, gym mem­ber­ships, adop­tion re­im­burse­ment and ed­u­ca­tion re­im­burse­ment, among many oth­ers.

But credit unions shouldn’t start pat­ting them­selves on the back just yet. Barnes cau­tioned that credit unions — along with vir­tu­ally all other in­dus­tries — need to do bet­ter when it comes to in­form­ing and ed­u­cat­ing staff about the ben­e­fits avail­able to them.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is key to driv­ing en­roll­ment and en­gage­ment, and we part­ner with our clients to de­liver in­no­va­tive ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams,” she added. “For credit unions specif­i­cally, in­ter­ac­tive tools like sav­ings cal­cu­la­tors are par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive to mo­ti­vate be­hav­ior.”

Even within the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try, she in­di­cated there is “al­ways more room” to ed­u­cate em­ploy­ees about the tax-sav­ings op­tions avail­able.

“Ed­u­cat­ing em­ploy­ees year­round and mak­ing the sav­ings real with tan­gi­ble ex­am­ples are two ways the best com­mu­ni­ca­tors are ed­u­cat­ing their work­force,” she said.

Barnes fur­ther ob­served that her firm’s re­search found fi­nan­cial ser­vices em­ploy­ees are “more will­ing” to in­vest in their health care spend­ing. “For ex­am­ple, we’re see­ing that the aver­age amount em­ploy­ees con­trib­ute to their own HSAS is nearly $1,000 more per em­ployee for the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try ver­sus our en­tire book of busi­ness,” she elab­o­rated. “Ad­di­tion­ally, th­ese em­ploy­ees are more fis­cally re­spon­si­ble: 99 per­cent pay back ac­cel­er­ated HSA funds ver­sus 97 per­cent for our [whole] book of busi­ness.”

But Barnes be­lieves credit unions should be striv­ing for per­fect 100 per­cent par­tic­i­pa­tion rates in their HSAS. “They should be mov­ing to­ward a full re­place­ment HSA plan de­sign,” she stated. “This type of plan de­sign of­fers sig­nif­i­cant cost sav­ings.”

BEN­E­FITS EX­PAN­SION UN­DER­WAY

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, across the en­tire U.S. cor­po­rate land­scape, said Barnes, em­ploy­ers are ex­pand­ing their ben­e­fits, but in a “strate­gic and mea­sured” way. “Com­pa­nies are ex­pand­ing in the ar­eas that give them the best re­turns: well­ness pro­grams that de­liver health re­sults, tax-ad­van­taged ac­counts that pro­vide FICA sav­ings back to the em­ployer, and life­style pro­grams that boost em­ployee morale and pro­duc­tiv­ity,” she said.

One ex­am­ple of that is $568 mil­lion as­set Vi­brant CU in Mo­line, Ill., which re­cently added a 24-hour gym at its cor­po­rate cen­ter. “Healthy em­ploy­ees tend to be hap­pier and more pro­duc­tive em­ploy­ees,” said Vi­brant Pres­i­dent and CEO Matt Mccombs. “All em­ploy­ees have ac­cess and are wel­come to work out be­fore work, after work or dur­ing their lunch”

The ben­e­fits avail­able to credit union em­ploy­ees across the coun­try vary widely ac­cord­ing to the in­sti­tu­tion’s size and the needs of the staff. Still, most ad­vo­cates agree that ed­u­cat­ing their work­ers about their ben­e­fits is of para­mount im­por­tance.

Pamela O’con­ner, vice pres­i­dent of to­tal re­wards-hu­man re­sources at the $17.2 bil­lion BECU of Tuk­wila, Wash., said her credit union has fo­cused on im­ple­ment­ing a ben­e­fits strat­egy and “road map” over the past five years. This strat­egy has fo­cused on: im­prov­ing the ef­fi­ciency of its plans; in­creas­ing administrative op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency; adding dif­fer­en­ti­ated ben­e­fits; driv­ing “mean­ing­ful” well­ness pro­grams that sup­port em­ploy­ees; and im­prov­ing ben­e­fits that need a re­view and up­date.

Across the coun­try at $2.9 bil­lion-as­set Coastal CU of Raleigh, N.C., VP of Hu­man Cap­i­tal Amy Gravitte said her in­sti­tu­tion re­cently changed its paid time off pol­icy, which re­sulted in in­creased PTO for all new hires and many pay grades, de­pend­ing on years of ser­vice. “We also in­tro­duced a Guar­an­teed Life In­sur­ance of­fer, a 401(k) loan pro­gram and be­gan of­fer­ing paid time off for vol­un­teer time,” she added.

MET­RICS

How do credit unions gauge the pop­u­lar­ity of their ben­e­fits pack­ages?

Over­all, Barnes of Con­nec­ty­our­care said credit unions need to make their ben­e­fits pack­ages easier to un­der­stand and less con­fus­ing for their work­ers, and in­clude var­i­ous me­dia to do so, in­clud­ing videos, pam­phlets, brochures and in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

For its part, BECU col­lects em­ployee feed­back on a “reg­u­lar ba­sis,” O’con­ner said. “With health ben­e­fits, there are lots of met­rics to in­di­cate how well the plans are run­ning, It’s very im­por­tant to mon­i­tor them, and we look for ways to im­prove the health and ef­fi­ciency of the plan. Our goal is to be bet­ter than trend with our plans and we have im­ple­mented a multi-faceted ap­proach to achieve that.”

MORE ED­U­CA­TION NEEDED

But how are work­ers ap­prised of th­ese myr­iad ben­e­fits?

O’con­ner said BECU in­forms and ed­u­cates its work­ers about the ben­e­fits the credit union of­fers through a “Ben­e­fits Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Por­tal” and a “To­tal Re­ward State­ments” page where work­ers can find the to­tal value of their com­pen­sa­tion and ben­e­fits pack­age. They also do this by cre­at­ing “en­gag­ing and fun” videos, as well as by post­ing in­for­ma­tion on its In­fo­point site and via emails, health fairs and other post­ings.

When em­ploy­ees be­gin the ap­pli­ca­tion process at Vi­brant Credit Union, said Mccombs, they are in­formed of some of the ben­e­fits. “Dur­ing the ori­en­ta­tion process … em­ploy­ees are made aware of the full ar­ray of ben­e­fits,” he said. “Ed­u­ca­tional videos around ben­e­fits have also been cre­ated.”

Coastal Credit Union con­ducts an­nual ben­e­fits en­roll­ment train­ing ses­sions, Gravitte said. The CU de­liv­ers an ex­ten­sive ben­e­fits re­view dur­ing New Hire Ori­en­ta­tion.

HEATHER BARNES SVP of U.S. Sales Con­nec­ty­our­care

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