The Future of Employee Benefits [Interview with Jeff Cox]
By Simply Benefits Marketing
September 21, 2021
Simply Benefits is making significant changes to the way you manage and access your employee benefits. So, what does the future of employee benefits look like? We spoke to Simply Benefits co-founder and Employee Benefits and Group Retirement Solutions expert, Jeff Cox.
Tell me a bit about you. How did you get to where you are today?
Jeff Cox: I joined CapriCMW 12 years ago as a benefits specialist. A friend, who was working for a life insurance company at the time, said, “I think this industry would be a perfect fit for you.” He told me to call my now business partner and arrange a meeting, and the rest is history.
What does an employee benefits consultant do?
Jeff Cox: A good benefits consultant is really a good employee compensation consultant. In addition to helping you find the right benefits plan for your team, they also help an employer identify how they’re compensating their staff.
We ask questions around whether you throw your staff a Christmas party, whether you’re putting on breakfast once a month, whether you buy work boots for your team if they need them. These are all aspects of true employee compensation.
These details are easily overlooked to save upfront cost, but they can be the difference between an employee working for you or going to work for the competition.
Why did you start Simply Benefits?
Jeff Cox: We saw there was a real gap in the industry that needed filling. We actually witnessed a couple of attempts to build something that filled that gap from external players who tried to push their way into the market.
It was interesting because what we recognized is that the marketplace was salivating for what they had to offer. But while these competitors offered a health spending account, they missed something fundamental — the insurance component.
Why do you think it’s taken so long for benefits to go digital?
I think it's hard for someone to make changes in this industry. Insurers are a little like banks. We all have to use them, but they’re generally not a pleasant experience. What needs to change is mostly a mind-shift rather than a technological change.
As cool as those early tech offerings were, people weren't willing to move away from the traditional approach. They wanted the way benefits have always been done with new technology. That’s not what the industry needs.
I was born in 1980, so I rode bikes in the ‘80s without a bike helmet, and yet still had the first iPhone. I know that technology is vital, but I also know that doing things the same way isn’t going to get you the results you need. You need to approach it differently.
Why do you think Simple Benefits matters?
Jeff Cox: I think because we're one of the first quality insurers of benefits plans and we are truly putting the customer first.
One of the things that I think we’ve done well is taking the knowledge that I have accrued over a decade and then seeking open advice from our investors and our advisory group.
We’ve asked, “if you could change anything about benefits, what would it be?” And instead of saying, “that can’t be done,” we’ve really listened and put those ideas into practice.
Is there anything that has surprised you about starting Simply Benefits?
We've definitely had a couple of “aha” moments in this process. I walked in one day, and the team had created our lookup function, which previously was a booklet. Booklets are very hard to read — they're very contractual; they don't make a lot of sense. Most people toss them in a drawer and never bother to read them.
Part of simplifying the process was to give people easy access to their information. When you go into a traditional benefits plan, it starts at Life Insurance, Short Term Disability, then Health, Dental, etc.
Our developer, Eric, put it together so that when you looked at the app, it had dropdown menus, but they weren’t in the traditional order. I pointed it out to him, and he said, “they’re alphabetical, how can that be in the wrong order?”
As crazy as it sounds, it was a mind-shift. A seemingly small change like this will make a lot of difference to the end-user.
What impact do you think Simply Benefits will have on users?
You probably know that your drugs are covered 80% or that you could go to a physio or a massage, but there are probably around 20 functions that most people don’t realize they’re covered for.
For example, many people have comprehensive travel coverage as part of their plan, and if they get sick somewhere abroad, their policy might cover having a family member flown to them.
We’ve made it much easier to search for what you need to know and be able to get around five key points on it right away. Not only will it save time, but it will also save you money on buying insurance that you didn’t need.
Why should employers offer employee benefits?
Jeff Cox: We get asked this question all the time, and ultimately, the answer is the retention and attraction of employees.
If you don’t offer employee benefits, those potential rockstars are going to cross the street to someone who does. Offering the best plans differentiates you from your competition. If you want to be the best workplace in the industry, that’s the key reason to have it.
How are HR managers changing the way they approach employee benefits?
Jeff Cox: HR managers are starting to rethink prescribed benefits and instead, take on a more flexible approach. This includes providing the ability to work from home or take time off to pick their kids up from school.
It also includes greater flexibility around employee benefits, for example, allowing your employees to choose to increase their dental coverage or decrease a benefit they don’t use. Down the road, we may see employees personalizing their benefits by choosing from a selection provided by the employer.
What trends are you currently seeing in employee benefits?
Jeff Cox: A lot of workplaces are starting to encourage physical and mental wellness. Whether that’s promoting healthy eating campaigns, doing active sports at lunchtimes, or bringing in dieticians to speak at the workplace.
Where we were seeing employee burnout, we’re now seeing team members finding a happier blend between their work and home lives. It’s certainly harder to measure and implement, but when you see an increase in productivity as a result, wellness makes sense.
What is the future of employee benefits?
Jeff Cox: What I see happening is the innovation where the employee is not out of pocket. I believe the current practice, where you have to save a receipt and submit it will be gone.
If I can order a Starbucks in my kitchen and pick it up five minutes later, I should be able to see a physiotherapist without having to be out of pocket for 72 hours or more. The reality is that most people can’t afford the upfront cost and that’s where we have to innovate.
We’re starting to see small improvements already — some practitioners like chiro, physio, and massage will have you on their systems, and you don’t need to receive and submit receipts, they’re already doing that, but it needs to get a lot more seamless.