As providers offer a growing range of employee benefits, Dominic Howard and Steve Haynes urge advisers to raise awareness of the options available to help employers attract and retain staff
In life we have choices. In the UK, the choice of employee benefits can be overwhelming with healthy lifestyle incentives, online wellbeing assessments, to extensive ranges of voluntary benefit options. Equally, employees are becoming smarter consumers and are asking which benefits carry the most value. So what should employers offer, what do employees want and what impact can these benefits have?
The objective of any employee benefit is to attract and retain staff. So as employees seek to maintain consistency in their benefit package, they also look for solutions to meet their individual requirements. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see a range of familiar benefits common to most packages. These can include pension benefits, life assurance and medical insurance.
Chris McCracken, director at Excellent Health, suggests in large City firms and main professions such as law, accountancy, and banking, benefits are scrutinised as part of the salary package and prospective employees will ensure their progress up the career ladder is accompanied by no worse terms under any benefits changeover. In such firms, stakeholder pensions, life cover, death-in-service and private medical insurance are the norm. It is also common to see a range of new and innovative products offered by employers seeking to enhance their benefit programmes, through flexible, voluntary, or core arrangements.
The growth in value-added services offered alongside primary benefits such as group risk and medical arrangements enables advisers and employers to take greater advantage of the increased range of employee benefits available. Practically all group risk and medical insurance providers now offer some form of value-added services next to their proposition.
New voluntary benefits include a growing range of retail vouchers, holidays, parking, lifestyle vouchers, and tickets for cinemas and theatres. Some of the new flexible benefits include bike schemes, links to canteen benefits, experience days and magazine subscriptions, all of which can be offered as voluntary benefits as well - some employers even provide a facility to enable staff to undertake credit checks.
But just how much do employers and staff appreciate value-added services? McCracken believes such benefits are recognised as long as the adviser communicates them both to the employer and the employee. Under-communication is often the biggest impediment to realising the full advantage of extra services.
In the know
Employee benefits such as pensions, life cover, death-in-service and private medical insurance are fast becoming the norm among employers. Many also offer added benefits ranging from retail vouchers, bike schemes to medical specialists.
The role of intermediaries in educating their clients about value-added services cannot be underestimated. It may seem like a thankless task but it is one that reflects well on the intermediary and is beneficial for the insurer, employer and employee. Derek Gray, managing director at Alexander Forbes Healthcare, explains: "Added value services are playing an increasing role in client decisions in the group risk market. Making clients aware of services is fundamental to our client communication strategy ensuring they can make informed choices about their benefits and providers."
Kylie Minogue's recent high-profile confession that she had been misdiagnosed underlines the value of checking initial diagnoses and treatment plans are correct. The internet is fuelling the trend towards seeking medical information online with more than one third of people using the internet for this purpose, but all too often they come away with information that is irrelevant, out of date or plain dangerous.
Studies show as many as one in four patients are misdiagnosed and almost half do not receive proper treatment. There are complicated reasons for this. Doctors see a huge number of patients on a daily basis which limits the time they can spend with each person. With the growing number of new technologies, tests and treatments, it is increasingly likely that a piece of information can be overlooked or treatment administered incorrectly.
Of the multitude of benefits from which employers and employees have to choose, a service to improve health must surely rank as one of the most important.
Like a man in the desert who trades bars of gold for a bottle of water, lump sum benefits can be hugely beneficial to employees making health-related claims, but will be of less value if they do not recover, or worse still, do not survive long enough to use them. The perennial challenge is to ensure those in need are fully aware of exactly what they have access to.
- Dominic Howard is director of UK and Ireland, and Steve Haynes is business manager, UK, at Best Doctors
CASE STUDY - BEST DOCTORS
One added benefit that is becoming popular is Best Doctors, which is an independent service that can locate and contact specialists qualified to treat the condition for which the claim has been made.
Colin Boxall explains how the service works: "Our son, Alex, suffered a stroke at the age of eight years old. Fortunately with the help of doctors and the rehabilitation team he made a good physical recovery. An MRI scan told us a clot had caused the stroke but despite numerous additional tests, the cause of the clot remained a mystery for almost two years. The uncertainty we felt and the worry that it may happen again was very hard to bear. However, Best Doctors arranged to send all Alex's medical records to a world-leading expert and we soon received a detailed report from a paediatrician in the US, that gave us the answers we desperately needed. It explained why the clot had occurred and reported it was unlikely to happen again. The relief was immense and it felt like we could finally start living life to the full again and look forward to the future. Although Alex's physical recovery was relatively swift his return to full mental fitness has been a lot longer, having to learn to read and write all over again. It is likely Alex will need individual help in class for some time but he is on his way back to full recovery."
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