Adapting to the 'new normal': how group insurers are actively supporting employers

Group plans must grapple with post-pandemic realities of mental health, wellbeing, and financial wellness for members

Adapting to the 'new normal': how group insurers are actively supporting employers

March 2020: the World Health Organization is about to sound the alarm. Two and a half years later, who would have predicted at that time that a wholesale market activity in a remote area might have been the source of a world-wide pandemic, but also the vector of a revolution that would radically transform, among other things, how we deal with work, wellness, healthcare, and household finance. These new paradigms brought on by the pandemic is what we refer to as the ‘new normal.’

In this context, employee benefit providers, like group insurers, play an active role in partnering with employers to turn challenges into opportunities. Here are some examples of how group benefit plans can contribute to improving the mental, physical, and financial well-being of Canadians.

Mental Health: A Topic

Public health measures have helped control the transmission of the virus and protect an already fragile public health system. However, the long periods of isolation, the absence of loved ones, and the economic fluctuations all had a deep impact on mental health. During the pandemic, many found themselves in a state of significant psychological distress.

Mental health, a long-time taboo subject, has become a central concern for many, including employers and governments.

Group insurers have been proactive. As soon as the pandemic hit, many improved their tools and services in order to support employees and their families who were suddenly plunged into a highly anxiety- inducing environment. Online health- related informative content, virtual mental health counselling and coaching, and online therapy and wellness platforms were put forward and made available to employers and their employees.

Group insurers have also been working with employers to implement initiatives aimed at supporting mental health in the workplace. Promoting employee mental well-being is a winning approach that can not only prevent disability, but also enhance job satisfaction, stimulate productivity, and increase employee attraction and retention ‒ a must in the current context of labour shortages.

And for those employees unable to work for a time, early intervention, personalized plans, regular communication, rehabilitation, and a holistic proactive claim approach are among the best practices applied to support a safe and sustain- able return to work.

Physical Well-being: A Must

In their effort to contribute to improving employee well-being during the pandemic, many employers have expanded the type of expenses covered by wellness accounts. A wellness account is a flexible and personalized component of a group benefit plan that allows an employer to choose the type of eligible expenses, while providing employees with the flexibility to spend their credits on what matters to them.

Beyond covering the traditional physical activity fees, we now observe an increase in items like relaxation-related services, home safety, and comfort expenses, as well as work-life balance services like child or pet care. Even ergonomic home office furniture and computer equipment are items that are being reimbursed from a wellness account.

The way we utilize healthcare services is also changing. True, telemedicine was on the rise before the pandemic, but the trend has sharply accelerated, much like video and audio streaming services. The benefits of telemedicine are obvious: convenient and quick access to healthcare, reduced waiting time, decreased absenteeism, and reduced pressure on the public system.

The enthusiasm for this new way of accessing healthcare and wellness services is such that many employees now expect telemedicine services and other virtual healthcare services to be part of their employer’s group benefits package. This is a great opportunity for group insurers and employers to work closely together to provide comprehensive, easy-to-use and convenient health and wellness on- demand services.

Financial Wellness: A Goal

The past two years have been quite turbulent: stock markets plunged at the beginning of the pandemic, inflation surged, interest rates rose abruptly, and a recession is looming.

This turmoil adds to an already precarious financial situation that some have experienced at the beginning of the pan- demic with job loss or reduced revenues.

Knowing that this was happening, employers started to focus on improving financial wellness and education programs for their employees. There was a shift in the industry to create engagement strategies focused on helping employees achieve their personal goals, rather than focusing solely on their retirement savings programs.

Group savings and retirement providers like insurers have several tools at their disposal to support employees in reaching their savings and retirement goals so that they can achieve financial well- ness. Technology now allows employees to receive personalized action plans and guidance depending on their situation, level of awareness, knowledge, and financial habits.

Employees can also count on the expertise of financial educators, whose mandate is to inform them about their retirement plan, tell them about the available investment options, explain the options available to them at retirement, and help them learn about several other financial topics. Financial educators have now adopted various online engagement strategies that can be delivered to employees remotely, wherever they are.

And what does the (not-so) distant future hold for us? What role will artificial intelligence play in the detection and proactive management of mental health problems or in building a personalized savings plan? What is the next digital transformation that will reshape workplace benefits?

At iA Financial Group, we believe in an end-to-end comprehensive total benefit platform that will engage employees into their total well-being. By leveraging advanced technology such as predictive analytics, digital diagnostics and therapeutics, biometric sensors, data-driven personalized programs, and connectivity to various partners in an open ecosystem, group insurers will continue to refine and expand their services for a healthier and happier workforce.

Welcome to the ‘new normal.’ 


Andrée-Anne Bourgeois is director, Products, Communication, and Marketing for the Group Benefits and Retirement Solutions unit of iA Financial Group.