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February 16, 2021

New Research Findings: Benefits Data (and Advisors) are Driving 2021 Benefits Strategy

Artemis Health

Artemis Health and Employee Benefit News conducted original research together that explored the goals, motivations, and challenges facing employee benefit leaders at self-insured organizations. We really wanted to understand the role their benefits data played in 2020, and how they were using data alongside broker and consultant resources in 2021. Let’s dive into the research findings. 

The Role of Employee Benefits Data Data 

85% of employers said their benefits data is extremely important, very important, or somewhat important to how they craft an employee benefits strategy. More than ever before, benefits leaders think employee benefits data is the key to rolling out successful programs for employees and their families. The survey found a 12% increase in those who think data is “extremely important” compared to last year. Just 7% think it’s “unimportant.” 

Chart showing importance of benefits data for 2019 and 2020

We are seeing a clear move towards data-driven decision making in the employee benefits space. However, there are still a number of other ways that benefits teams are gathering input. We asked, “When it comes to making major decisions about your organization’s benefits program, which of the following resources do you rely on most?” 

Employers are also gathering information from employees in order to craft better healthcare benefits for their members. 

  • In 2019, the top resource was employee feedback (41%) 
  • In 2020, employee satisfaction/engagement data ranked #1 (57%) 
  • Internal data analysis saw big gains (+18% compared to 2019) 

Benefits teams clearly prioritize the employee experience when planning and implementing new benefits programs and solutions. They continue to rely on employees to provide input and feedback on what works for them. Even so, the continued importance of healthcare analytics is clear in this response. The role of data is growing, with 44% of respondents now reporting that internal data analysis is driving their benefits decisions. 

Benefits advisors should take note of their role in employer decision making. Advisors were listed at the bottom of the resources relied upon for benefits strategy. While advisor importance is growing compared to 2019, this result still shows a tremendous opportunity for benefits consultants and brokers. They have an incentive to make themselves indispensable to their employer clients with great recommendations, access to benefits data, and help with new program evaluation. 

Did agreement on the importance of data point to more benefits teams actually using it? It certainly did.

Pie chart showing how many survey respondents are using benefits data

92% of employers also report that they are using benefits data to make decisions for their organizations. 35% of respondents rely on a data warehouse solution for decisions, but nearly everyone in this industry is gathering data from their benefits programs. That data can come in the form of carrier reports, PBM data, risk scores, health assessments, and feeds provided by point solutions and programs. Benefits data comes with its fair share of challenges for HR leaders, especially if they aren’t using a technology solution or consultant/broker to help them analyze and find insights. 

Respondents reported that they face the following challenges with their benefits data: 

  • Analyzing the data to draw meaningful conclusions (64%) 
  • Taking action based on the data (55%) 
  • Trusting data quality/accuracy (52%) 
  • Accessing the right data (50%) 
  • Running reports quickly enough (41%) 
  • Connecting disjointed data sources (33%) 
Essentially, it comes down to this: employers know data is important and most of them have access to some benefits data feeds, but they don’t know what to do with it. 

Benefits leader and consultant Hassan Azar shared his perspective on this finding. “When looking at disjointed sources of benefits data, it is challenging to piece together a story from the bits of information our vendors give us. Benefits leaders need consistent, thorough and robust data that is easy to access and analyze. With the disconnected bits of data most vendors give us, we run the risk of missing a key insight. Benefits leaders aren’t willing to act on a hunch—they need access to best-in-class analytical support to make data-driven decisions.”

Artemis Health also hears about these challenges from large employers. They struggle to take action with the insights they find in the data. They live in fear of that off-hand question from a CEO where the answer should take two minutes to find, but it somehow takes two weeks. They don’t trust the data they receive from health plans or vendors because it can be confusing and doesn’t provide a holistic view of employee well-being. Most of all, they don’t want to make benefits changes that will negatively affect members on the plan. 

This leads us to another not-so-surprising finding from the research: fully 2/3rds of benefits leaders are expecting to invest more in healthcare data analytics in 2021. 

Chart illustrating how spending on benefits analytics will increase in 2021

Employers realize they have a better chance of finding meaningful insights, taking action, and accessing the right benefits data when they work with a data partner. Whether it’s a data warehouse vendor, a broker, or a consultant, employers are willing to spend some of their budget on data partnerships in order to improve their benefits strategies. They need help with data, and there are tremendous opportunities for advisors and data warehouse vendors in 2021.

The Role of Benefits Advisors 

Employers who describe themselves as “ahead of the curve” are more likely to report that brokers/consultants are crucial partners for decision making. The survey explored a number of questions to reveal the role of benefits advisors (i.e. brokers and consultants) to employers. While the vast majority (94%) agreed that advisors are crucial partners for decision making, 72% reported that they only tap advisor expertise during open enrollment or to evaluate new benefits programs. 

There was a clear correlation between respondents who felt they were “falling behind” their peers and those who only use broker or consultant expertise during these key moments. Essentially, those who rely more on their advisors are more likely to be innovative and confident in their benefit offerings.

Pie charts showing that employers who rely on brokers are ahead of the curve.

90% see their brokers as key when making benefits analytics or tech investments, and we know from the survey that many employers expect to evaluate tech and data solutions in 2021. Advisors have the opportunity to increase their trust with clients by educating themselves on the data analytics options and providing data insights. 

One other key highlight from the study: most employee benefits leaders agree that their advisors are more important than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bar graph indicating that advisors are more valuable because of the COVID-19 pandemic

More than 80% either strongly agree or somewhat agree that COVID-19 has shown the value of advisor/employer relationships. This public health crisis has revealed the need for experts, armed with data, to help with employee benefits decision-making.

It’s clear from these and other responses that employers want their advisors to step up on data analytics. This is a key area of need for employers, and whether they are on the cutting edge, just keeping up, or struggling, they would like to rely on brokers and consultants for data help.

Would you like to learn more about how benefits data can help both employers and benefits advisors strategize for 2021? Watch our 2-minute demo video. 

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