Drawing conclusions from a recent study, insurers may need to work harder at educating consumers about benefits and the financial protection they provide. The study, released by the Employee Benefits Group division of Sun Life Financial Inc., reveals that while employees value voluntary benefits, they might not truly understand the financial protection provided by their life and disability benefits, says Michael Shunney, SVP and GM of the group. “Carriers and employers need to find new and better approaches to engage employees. If employees are motivated and educated, it will only increase participation and enrollment in their employer-sponsored benefits.”

The annual online study, “The Voluntary Benefits: Key Factors Influencing Employee’s Choices Study,” highlights the factors that have the greatest impact on whether an individual chooses voluntary benefits through their employers and their preferred methods of learning and enrollment. In the nationwide study, more than 2,800 employees were asked to distribute 100 points across six options to illustrate what influenced their decision for selecting a particular benefit. Participants rated the “Likelihood of Using in the Near Future” and “Financial Protection Provided” as the most important factors.

In the “Likelihood of Using in the Near Future” category, employees rated disability and life benefits nearly equal, despite the likelihood that suffering a disability during their working years is far greater than death.  When asked about the financial impact that would occur if they needed a particular benefit, employees rated dental nearly as high as disability and life. The study also found that employees value dental and vision benefits over life and disability.

According to Shunney, these findings might provide insight into the declining purchase rates for voluntary life and disability benefits, compared to an increase in voluntary dental purchase rates. “Although concerning, it presents an additional opportunity to both educate and engage employees about the value and need for benefits such as disability and life that provide the most financial protection,” Shunney says.

The study confirmed many findings from last year’s research including the fact that employees value benefits more than cash. It also revealed insight into how employees chose to learn about benefits and the preferred methods of enrollment.

Despite employers offering more ways to learn about benefits over the last year, 82% of respondents prefer printed materials. Online/website was a close second at 72%, and 44% prefer group meetings.

Regardless of their preferred method of learning, the survey revealed most employees do not spend much time reviewing benefit information. However, according to the study, employees who take the time to review benefits are more likely to purchase the benefit than those who did not. Employees spend the most time reviewing medical, dental and vision benefits, according to the study.

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