The array of voluntary benefits on the market is dizzying. Some are meant to make employees physically and financially healthy.
Some manage speeding tickets. Some pay for adoption services. The following are just a handful of benefit options and how they work.
Purpose: Six years ago, Peerfit was created to redefine the way employers were engaging in wellness. Emma Maurer, vice president of enterprise health, says the company sought an answer for employers subsidizing unused big-box gym memberships.
Peerfit built a network of fitness studios offering yoga, Pilates and boot camps. Employees have access to any of the available classes via credits an employer purchases. Employees can go online, check out their options and book the classes.
“This is important in the age of personalization because they can customize it for each employee,” Maurer says. “People can do things they are interested in and can physically do.”
Cost: Employers pay only when people go to classes. They typically make one class each week available to an employee. The cost varies depending upon the location and the number of credits purchased, but Maurer says a 500-employee company in New York might expect to spend $10,000 per year for coverage.
ROI: Wellness programs can be difficult to measure, Maurer contends, because it’s hard to measure when something like cardiovascular disease is prevented through exercise. But Peerfit can show employers exactly how money is being spent, who takes part and the percentage of overall engagement.
Extras: Part of the engagement process is enabling people to invite others to attend classes. An employee can send invitations to others, and with the click of a button, the class is reserved for them as well. Maurer says this encourages the social aspect of the classes, like a healthy happy hour.
Purpose: The company introduced its first legal plan to the market 46 years ago. The goal was to provide assistance to people “in the middle,” says Emily Rose, LegalShield’s senior vice president of broker and partnership sales.
“People with lower incomes can get legal aid, and those on the high end probably have a private attorney on retainer,” she says. “Plans were brought to the marketplace to ensure the general public had reasonably priced access to attorneys.”
The program has evolved into a package of services covering common legal matters like speeding tickets, estate planning, adoption and bankruptcy.
Cost: Everything is covered in one plan from initial consultation to legal representation, if needed, for a $200 annual payroll deduction. This covers the employees, spouses and dependents.
ROI: Money in versus money out is the best way to figure ROI, Rose says. On average, someone would be charged $300 per hour for an attorney (as opposed to $200 annually for their services). Uptake is typically 12% to 15% of employees in the first year and grows in subsequent years.
Extras: The organization takes a white-glove approach to customer service, according to Rose. Attorneys in the network respond to calls within eight hours; the industry standard with legal plans is 48 hours, she says. They also have a mobile app that allows clients to take a picture of a speeding ticket and send it to their attorney “before the police officer is back in his cruiser,” she says.
Healthy Paws Pet Insurance
Purpose: Pays for unexpected accidents and illnesses for cats and dogs. Healthy Paws helps pet owners save up to 90% on veterinary bills. Employees take their pets to the veterinarian of their choice, pay up front and get reimbursed for the expense.
Rob Jackson, Healthy Paws CEO and co-founder, says the insurer doesn’t cover preexisting conditions, wellness and preventive services. The company aims to cover accidents and long-term, chronic conditions which can easily add up to thousands of dollars.
Cost: Rates start around $15 a month for cats and $30 a month for dogs.
ROI: Pet insurance is an increasingly requested voluntary benefit, with a more than $2.5 billion market in 2016, according to Research Nester. The organization says much of this growth is because more than 65% of Americans have pets in their homes. Spending on the health of household pets has increased 11% in the past decade.
Extras: Employees can upload a photo of the vet bill through the phone and get reimbursed for the care within days. There are also no maximum limits or caps on payouts.
Purpose: The new kid on the benefits block, Sum180 offers a dizzying array of financial wellness options, from budgeting apps to student loan repayment. Sorting through this can be confusing for many employers.
“It is the Wild West, and we are still in the early days of figuring it out,” says Carla Dearing, CEO of Sum180. “Companies want to know what is offered in the marketplace and what they can hope to provide.”
Because of this, Sum180’s program aims to cover all of the most common financial issues in one stop—from beginning budgeting to paying off debt and saving for retirement. Participants in the program enter information, including what they make, spend, own and owe, and are given “next steps” for their finances. The program also provides tips, advice and support.
Cost: The fee is $1 per employee paid monthly or $12 per employee paid annually.
ROI: Engagement in this kind of behavioral-change program is often low, Dearing concedes. The information is confidential and participants aren’t outwardly ranked, but there are internal categories through which an employee moves up as his financial situation improves by paying down debt or fully participating in a 401(k) program.
“Over time, as people come back in, you monitor their situation,” Dearing says. “Ideally, you can report that people have moved up in their financial health.”
Sum180 uses a “gamified” approach to financial assistance. This essentially means it’s easily understandable. Users can access information simply by swiping their phones or can dip their toes in by watching short videos or getting tips, then move up to budgeting and saving.
“It’s about small steps and positive reinforcement, which are powerful features for change across all kinds of behaviors,” Dearing says.