Over the next 18 months, employees will be spending more time online--not surfing the Web or checking e-mail but rather logging onto their company Web site and signing up for employee benefits with a click of the mouse. According to MetLife's recently released 2004 Employee Benefits Trend Study, employee self-service on the Internet is an important benefits strategy, particularly among large employers. As a result, companies expect a huge surge in e-benefits use over the next two years.

Today, almost half (47%) of U.S. employers offer benefits Web sites, which give employees online access to their benefits information and/or enrollment options, up from 21% in 2003. By mid 2006, 36% of companies not currently offering online enrollment plan to do so. Among companies with more than 1,000 employees, the percentage jumps to 50%.

"Within four to five years, almost all benefits transactions will be electronic," notes Sachin Shah, vice president, Institutional eBusiness at MetLife. "E-platforms significantly reduce HR costs while allowing employees to manage their benefits from the convenience of their desktop. Online capabilities also make it easier for employers to offer a wider range of benefits options - and to combine a customized mix of employer- and employee-paid offerings."

According to the MetLife Employee Benefits Trend Study, the most common e-benefits applications offered by employers are for "plan design information" (74%), "changing investment options within a retirement plan" (74%) and "benefits decision support tools." (74%) Employers and employees alike are least likely to use online channels for "claims submission." (45%)

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