Workplace benefits are more important than ever. The pandemic showcased the need for benefits that help employees manage their finances, such as financial wellness programs. The ensuing economic recovery increased the importance of all benefits, including retirement accounts and increasingly popular HSAs, to attract and retain talent in a competitive job market. Our survey data showed that, over the last two years, customers interacted more often with their financial institutions, including workplace benefits, and opened more financial accounts as a result of the pandemic. The workplace benefits market has never been more competitive, in particular when it comes to digital experiences and workplace benefits UX. This creates an opportunity for benefit providers and all those involved with administering workplace benefits.

While traditional benefits, such as tax-advantaged 401k and 403b retirement accounts, remain essential, other benefits are growing in importance as well. For example, interest in financial wellness programs has grow significantly in the past few years:

  • In CI’s survey of U.S. employees, about 40% of our respondents reported having access to a workplace financial wellness program, up from 14% in our 2018 survey.
  • Among employees who do not have access to a workplace FW program, 85% expressed interest in their employer’s adding one, up from 53% in our 2018 survey.

Healthcare costs are also an increasing concern to Americans. HSAs are an attractive option. Our survey demonstrated that HSA adoption is on the rise, as these saving accounts become a more common part of employee workplace benefit suites. Equity plans, such as stock plans, are also rising in popularity as a way to compensate employees.

In this competitive marketplace, workplace benefits providers that pay attention to UX trends and best practices will have a leg up on their competitors. Today’s customers are won and lost through digital experiences. Firms that offer the best platforms, experiences and UX will enhance the value of their benefits, increase employee engagement and drive better financial outcomes. Below, we’ll examine five best practices that workplace benefits firms must follow to create a best-in-class digital experience.

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Let participants link information about their outside financial accounts, including their workplace benefit accounts

Users want access to everything all at once. Whether you are a recordkeeper, financial wellness vendor or other workplace benefit provider, your digital platform should allow participants to link their external financial accounts—including their external workplace benefit accounts—and integrate that information into planning tools. Not only do account aggregation and benefit integration capabilities foster holistic financial planning, and, by extension, financial wellbeing, but these capabilities are also popular among employees when it comes to their workplace benefit sites.

  • In a recent survey (subscription required), Corporate Insight asked U.S. employees about the financial wellness program features that they are most interested in. Account aggregation received a 50% top-two box importance rating—which represents the percentage of respondents who deemed the feature “very important” or extremely important.” Benefit integration received a 48% top-two box rating, making these the third- and sixth-most important program features.
  • Similarly, respondents to our stock plan survey (subscription required) rated account aggregation extremely highly. With a 69% top-two box importance rating, account aggregation tools fell just behind stock option value calculator (70%) on the list of top-rated tools and calculators.

Workplace benefit platforms also stand out when they offer direct links to external benefit portals. For example, Financial Finesse provides its financial wellness program participants with impressive Action Plans. The plans offer actionable recommendations to help participants improve their wellbeing, including a Take Advantage of Your Company Benefits section that links to integrated solutions available to employees through their workplaces.

This screenshot shows Financial Finesse's Action Plan page for healthcare directives
Financial Finesse Action Plan – Create a Healthcare Directive Action Item

Some workplace benefit providers—mainly financial wellness vendors—go a step further and integrate additional workplace benefit information into advice and recommendations. This is a clear best practice. Recordkeepers with proprietary workplace benefit offerings outside of retirement plans, like HSAs, can and have done the same. For example, Fidelity—a firm with a proprietary HSA offering—provides a savings prioritization tool that assesses participants’ accounts and recommends savings strategies that optimize retirement and HSA contributions.

This screenshot shows Fidelity's benefits overview page, including the savings prioritization tool
Fidelity NetBenefits Site – Savings Prioritization Tool Results

Offer online education about different workplace benefits for the best UX

Our survey data suggests that education can be one key to a top benefits package. The more an individual knows about a workplace benefit, the more value they see in that benefit. This is a trend we saw again and again in our survey of U.S. employees, where we asked respondents to rate the importance of 12 different workplace benefits. Here’s what we found about education:

  • When looking at the results for the general employee population—that is, all employees whether or not they have access to a stock plan—stock plans received a mere 40% top-two box importance rating, tying tuition reimbursement for ninth place.
  • Stock plan importance ratings are drastically different when looking at the results of our stock plan participant survey, however. Among those with access to these plans, stock plans ranked first in importance with a 74% top-two box importance rating. Importance ratings for the other 12 benefits we asked about were generally similar across all employees and stock plan participants, though there were differences in defined benefit pension plan and physical wellness program importance ratings.
This chart shows how equity plan participants rate different benefits differently than all general employees
Corporate Insight Survey Results – Benefits Rankings for All Employees vs. Equity Plan Participants

Our survey data on financial wellness programs and HSAs reveals a similar trend when it comes to education:

  • Those with access to financial wellness programs place higher value on programs than employees who do not. About 97% of program participants rated programs as at least “moderately important,” but only 73% of all U.S. employees assigned this rating.
This image shows how financial wellness program participants value the programs above those who know less about them
Corporate Insight Survey Results – Importance of Financial Wellness Program for Participants vs. Non-Participants
  • Financial wellness programs often offer HSA education, and we found that people participating in financial wellness programs think HSAs are significantly more important than those not participating in a program.
  • In our survey of U.S. employees, 50% of respondents gave a top-two box rating to HSAs, making HSAs the fifth highest-rated benefit type in a list of 12 options. However, 81% of financial wellness program participants rated the importance of HSAs in the top-two box—a 31 percentage point difference from employees not enrolled in a financial wellness program. Financial wellness program participants may recognize the benefits of HSAs thanks to the program’s guidance, which often highlights the role of HSAs in holistic planning.
This image shows how financial wellness participants value HSAs compared to other benefits
Corporate Insight Survey Results – Benefits Rankings for Financial Wellness Program Participants vs. Non-Participants

Our survey data also suggests that there is a critical need for and a high level of interest in benefit education. For example, we can look at what our HSA survey respondents said:

  • About 64% of HSA participants are confident in their understanding of HSAs, but the other 36% reported either moderate, slight or no confidence that they understood HSAs, including their rules, perks and how to use them—a clear issue.
  • The top-rated educational topics underscore participants’ desire for help in these areas. Aside from identity theft/security, HSA features and benefits and health insurance-related topics took precedence. How to use an HSA and HSAs in retirement planning strategies were also popular topics.

Our stock plan survey respondents expressed similar sentiments:

  • Four of the 10 highest rated content topics involve stock plans, including equity plan types and key features (69%), equity plan basics (69%), advanced plan features (69%) and plan websites (68%).

Provide user friendly mobile experiences that are consistent with websites

Mobile grows more important every year. Users expect every firm, including their financial firms, to have a mobile option. To meet these expectations, workplace benefit providers must ensure participants can easily access their programs from mobile devices via either a native app or a mobile-optimized site that renders well on phones and tablets. For both HSA and financial wellness program participants, mobile apps are viewed as the most important, as well as the most frequently used, digital platform. Meanwhile, stock plan participants log in with similar frequencies across desktop and mobile platforms.

  • Financial wellness program participants said that native mobile apps and mobile browsers are the two most important ways of interacting digitally with programs. When we asked program participants about the digital platforms they actually used to access their accounts over the past 12 months, smartphone apps were the most common (87%) followed by desktop or laptop websites (77%).
  • Survey data shows that the mobile app is the most common way to access HSAs, with 78% of participants logging in via apps within the past 12 months. Many respondents (71%) also used desktop sites, while 54% used mobile browsers. HSA survey respondents’ digital preferences align with usage data, as a plurality of respondents rate the native mobile app as the most important HSA digital platform.
This image shows the different platforms HSA participants use to access their accounts
Corporate Insight HSA Participant Survey Results – Platform Usage
  • Stock plan participants rely on both their mobile devices and desktop/laptop computers to access their accounts. About 79% of stock plan survey respondents said they logged in via smartphone apps and 78% via desktop/laptop site in the past 12 months. Many respondents also used a mobile browser (70%). Stock plan participants’ digital preferences align with usage data, as mobile devices’ and desktop/laptop computers’ importance ratings are also similar.
This chart shows the platforms equity plan participants use to access their accounts
Corporate Insight Stock Plan Participant Survey Results – Platform Usage

Given the importance of mobile platforms to workplace benefit participants and importantly—the fact that they typically do not rely on a single platform to access their accounts—workplace benefit providers should look to make it a priority to offer intuitive, consistent experiences across digital platforms. A viable mobile option is a must have in any workplace benefits UX.

Focus on cybersecurity and provide features and education to help participants keep their information safe

Cybersecurity breaches are growing—with ransomware attacks increasing by 150% in 2020—and the retirement industry is no exception. In response to this growing threat, the DOL released cybersecurity guidelines in April and shortly thereafter, began conducting cybersecurity audits for retirement plans. Because of increased cybersecurity awareness in the retirement industry, participants place utmost importance on the security of their personal information. Users value feeling secure. In our 2019 participant survey (subscription required), security emerged as the most important retirement website feature; 91% of respondents assigned security a top-two box importance rating, making it more highly valued than account information (86%) and account servicing (77%). Security is an essential part of the best workplace benefits UX.

Cybersecurity is also critically important for HSAs, as health data is sensitive information. In our survey of HSA participants, account security (e.g., the login process, multi-factor authentication, password resets, etc.) emerged as the most important HSA digital feature; 86% of respondents rank it in the top-two box.

We found similar sentiments about cybersecurity among stock plan participants; account security received a 72% top-two box importance rating, tying with account information as the highest rated platform feature category. Also notable, online security/identity theft was the highest rated education content topic (72%).

We also asked U.S. employees about the financial wellness program features they think are or would be most important:

  • Fraud and/or identity theft monitoring was the most sought-after feature, with more than half (55%) of respondents assigning top-two box ratings. Further, security was the highest rated attribute in our entire survey (86%).
  • Financial wellness firms specifically can garner a competitive advantage by offering and promoting fraud monitoring tools. These services may provide identity monitoring, credit checks, checks for risky transactions and help for potential victims in case of theft.
This image shows how financial wellness participants rank the value of various program features
Corporate Insight Survey Results – Financial Wellness Program Feature Rankings

Workplace benefit providers should take steps to help participants keep their accounts secure and ease their concerns:

  • The ability to update login credentials is fundamental and enforcing two-factor authentication is a good start, as respondents value this attribute, but firms should also consider letting participants customize their two-factor authentication settings.
  • Firms should also look at some security features that are becoming increasingly common across workplace benefit platforms, including the ability to use authenticator apps, manage registered devices, grant and revoke account access to advisors and other third-parties, and manage trusted contacts.
  • Fidelity stands out, providing retirement plan, HSA and stock plan participants with the processes for:
    • Updating usernames, passwords and two-factor authentication preferences
    • Designating trusted contacts
    • Managing up to four distinct account access levels for other third parties
    • Adding, changing or removing account owners in the context of a relevant life event

Provide language flexibility to better serve all employees

Language is a major opportunity for firms to set their digital experiences apart. The ability to view a workplace benefit site or mobile app in a language besides English is a best UX practice for firms. A recent Morningstar study found that only 31% of Hispanic households with income from at least a part-time job report participating in a retirement plan. Hispanic households also reported having less saved in their retirement accounts than white households. Expanding the availability of Spanish-language resources could help bridge this savings gap and is an important addition to improve accessibility.

Recordkeepers have focused on providing a more inclusive digital experience in recent years and multiple firms introduced features for Spanish-speaking participants, especially in educational resources. However, fully translatable retirement sites—especially authenticated sites—and apps remain rare. While some recordkeepers, like Empower, offer Spanish versions of apps if participants set their devices’ languages to Spanish, only a few firms including Merrill, Fidelity and Principal let participants change their language settings to Spanish within the app itself. As 22% of Americans speak a language other than English at home, language options can help a firm establish itself as a leader among this segment.

These two screenshots show language option screens in mobile apps
Fidelity and Principal Retirement App Language Selection Screens

As detailed above, workplace benefit providers face some big challenges when trying to offer the best digital experiences. The pandemic and the great resignation increased the demand for new and better workplace benefits, such as HSAs, stock plans and financial wellness programs. Firms should offer best-in-class digital experiences to make these programs as intuitive and accessible as possible. The shift to mobile-first experiences put a further onus on firms to improve their desktop and mobile interfaces today. Users expect their benefit website and mobile app to match the UX of Apple, Google and Netflix. As customer expectations are at an all-time high, offering the best digital experience for workplace benefits has never been more important.

Firms can offer a best-in-class digital experience by keep pace with workplace benefits UX trends and best practices with CI. From the latest innovations from startups to the big changes from established industry leaders, our workplace benefits research team tracks the user experience across desktop, mobile and claims. Our cross-industry research has found time and time again that the best UX doesn’t come from innovators. Rather, the best user experience comes from firms that quickly adopt insurance trends and innovations that are proven to work. Our subscription research helps firms keep up with the trends and innovations firms need to know to offer the best user experience.

Learn more here about CI’s research services for plan sponsors, plan participants and workplace finance programs. Or contact us to learn what our research can do for your organization.