Benefits Products & Services
By Thomas A. McCoy, CLU
FIND SOMEONE YOU TRUST, THEN TALK BENEFITS
MetLife guides plan participants toward meaningful conversations
When benefits plan participants get ready to make their voluntary benefits selections, what drives them to one product or another? Is it the product information their benefits provider makes available to them, online or in print? Is it something they remember, or jotted down in notes, from a group benefits presentation at work?
While product providers and plan sponsors have invested judiciously in decision-support resources for employees, it can be argued that the strongest influence on employees’ benefits buying decisions comes from a completely different source: the conversations that they have with family, friends and colleagues.
When they occur, those conversations might lead employees toward meaningful benefits products purchases. Conversely, when those benefit-related conversations do not occur, employees may face gridlock in their benefits decision-making—a less than ideal result for both the employee and the employer.
MetLife has conducted consumer research that shows while a life event—such as a marriage, birth of a child or a family member illness—is a prompt for someone to rethink their benefits, people are more likely to act when they have had a conversation with someone they trust, or who has gone through a similar experience.
Most people don’t talk about money, and the Federal Reserve found that 40% of Americans say they can’t cover a $400 emergency expense; only 45% said they have enough to cover three months of living expenses. The company has embarked on an initiative, launched just prior to last fall’s annual enrollment period, to encourage those kinds of conversations. A key part of MetLife’s strategy is to model those conversations for customers. To do so, it utilizes both digital and non-digital tools.
“We wanted to show plan participants what it looks like when ordinary people talk candidly about their risks and benefits products,” says Meredith Ryan-Reid, senior vice president and head of distribution development and benefits delivery for MetLife. So the company created a series of short videos showing pairs of its benefits customers having this kind of conversation with friends or family members.
“Employers can make the videos available online to employees or use them as part of group benefits presentations,” says Ryan-Reid. “They can also be embedded in any electronic communication going to customers.”
With the same objective, on the non-digital side, MetLife has produced “decks” of “playing cards,” each card with a sample question or statement designed to prompt benefits customers to start a conversation with trusted people about their benefits choices. These also can be distributed however the employer wishes.
The question/discussion cards are designed to make it easier to get a benefits conversation started, while also clearing up misconceptions about certain benefits products. For example, one card dealing with critical illness insurance says: True or False: The average out-of-pocket cost for a major illness is higher than the average household income for two months. Answer (on reverse side): With the average out-of-pocket medical costs for a major illness running over $14,000, it’s true.
The videos depict spontaneous conversations about risk and benefits products being carried on between two people who know each other well—for example, two sisters in one, a young married couple in another. They appear to have no script. They simply talk about risks they face in their everyday lives, responding to prompts from MetLife—displayed as words on the screen—such as “Are you active?” or “You don’t have to be hurt at work to be covered by disability insurance.”
The married man reels off a few coverages he appears to consider important—health, dental, vision. Then he asks, “Disability insurance? I work in an office. To me, that’s not a risk.” Later his wife chimes in, “Before this conversation, I thought you had to be hurt at work (for disability insurance to cover).”
“Yeah,” says her husband. “Like a pipe fell on your head at your desk.”
In another video, two friends have a candid conversation about life insurance. One says, “A lot of people depend on me. So, just knowing I am covered is big to me.”
Her friend nods, and says, “I had some life insurance—my husband didn’t have any—but a baby changes everything. My son made me look at the world differently.”
A key to MetLife’s strategy with the videos is that they last only half a minute. Even in this distracted, digital age, who can’t watch something for 30 seconds? In that amount of time these authentic sounding conversations between people who trust each other bring to life the risks—financial, health and other—they face, and the solutions available within their employee benefits products.
“When we show a lot of this to audiences, including groups of brokers or benefit managers, it produces an immediate response,” says Ryan-Reid. “Those of us in the industry don’t tend to talk with family and friends about what we do at work every day, but I find myself sharing these videos with people in my own personal network.”
Sometimes, she says, it can get emotional. “In a couple of the videos you tear up a little bit. Some of them are funny.”
MetLife’s conversation-starter initiative has not been in the market long enough to measure plan participants’ reactions to the new tools completely. But social media feedback has been encouraging. In response to one of the videos on life insurance, someone posted, “I swear it saved me when my mother started falling ill. It was the biggest stress reliever knowing everything was good financially.”
That post generated the following from another Instagram user: “I literally just started researching the different types (of life insurance). So important to have.”
In addition to the videos, MetLife provides “People Like Me” stories that are real-life benefits testimonials from customers in their own words—men and women of various ages and job types. Each of these takes less than a minute to read.
One from an active 36-year-old woman describes why she bought cancer insurance. She had a benign tumor removed while she was a teenager, something she continually monitors, and cancer runs in her family. “Taking advantage of these (supplemental health) products while I’m still young is one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she says.
In another, a 44-year-old man with a young family recalls how he contracted an autoimmune disease in his 30s, which left him paralyzed. His recovery took months. He says his disability insurance “prevented me from going backwards financially.” Then he adds, “As you get older and maybe start a family, there are things you’ll be worried about, but you can be proactive about insurance and remove that from your worry bucket.”
MetLife is also using the personal testimonials and customer conversation videos to promote legal insurance. “There are a lot of ways to benefit from having a legal plan,” says Ryan-Reid, and it’s not something most of us spend a lot of time thinking about. Most people don’t know a lawyer or have a lawyer, and most don’t know that their employer may be offering a legal plan.
In one video, two women speak light-heartedly but with conviction about the product.
One says, “You know, attorneys are expensive. I actually have legal insurance—sometimes you just need some pushback when someone is trying to bully you. Like before I bought the house, my landlord. I just said (to the attorney) I need a letter talking about my security, and we did that, and she backed off.”
Her friend, with a smile: “Pretty impressive there …”
Woman #1: “I try, I try.”
Woman #2: “I kinda like that …”
MetLife also has introduced an online tool called “Make Your Match,” which enables plan participants to enter general personal data that can then be used to suggest possible benefits choices. “We want brokers to be able to provide a range of tools for their employer clients that will help them get the most out of the products we have to offer,” says Ryan-Reid.
MetLife knows that its insurance products and the risks they protect against are not normal dinner table conversation. But it thinks they should be. Maybe not every night, but enough so that when employees are making their voluntary benefits choices, they feel the kind of personal connection that inspires confidence in those choices.
When employees are confident in those choices, they value their benefits products. And employers also are achiev- ing their objective for their plan.
Thomas A. McCoy, CLU, is an Indiana-based freelance insurance writer.