On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Sherri from Businessolver about how new benefits data reveals employees’ financial preparedness.

Some Conversation Highlights:

One of them is financial preparedness and the other one is benefits literacy. And so then those two, how I often word it as those two clash together, I don’t feel financially prepared for an expense, nor do I really understand benefits.

And so therefore, sometimes I think we see people overinsure because they just purchase the most expensive plans that they can to try to cover that financial risk that they are concerned about, and they don’t really understand benefits so that they don’t know how to ask the right questions and really get the benefits that fits their needs most appropriately.


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Listening time: 27 minutes

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Sherri Bockhorst
SVP Innovation & Strategy Businessolver Follow

Speaker 1 (00:00):

This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You are now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.


William Tincup (00:34):

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Sherri on from Businessolver, and our topic today is new benefits data reveals employees’ financial preparedness, which actually I was a little bit shocked at. So I can’t wait for Sherri to school me on this new data and what she’s seeing. So Sheri, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Businessolver?


Sherri Bockhorst (01:01):

Hi. Sure. Hi, everyone. My name is Sherri Bockhorst. I lead the consumer experience team here at Businessolver, which means that I look across all of the ways in which we can engage employees, whether if that’s web, or mobile, or virtual assistant, or member services, and try to optimize that experience so they can best understand what to enroll in to meet their families’ needs and how to use those plans and programs during the year. And Businessolver as an organization is a benefits enrollment technology firm and consumer experience platform. So obviously the tech that supports that experience that I just mentioned.


William Tincup (01:46):

I love it. So new benefits data reveals employees’ financial preparedness. All right. So take us into this. Where do we get our data and then how did we get to this outcome?


Sherri Bockhorst (02:01):

Yeah. Sure. So at Businessolver, we’re constantly pulsing our clients and our employees that are engaging in our platform. But one of the ways in which we do that is we ask a number of questions through our MyChoice Recommendation Engine. And we ask a series of questions about how prepared our members to interact with their benefits, how prepared are they to pay for their benefits? And that’s where that data came from, was out of that enrollment process and pulsing employees on how they’re feeling and thinking about their benefits, what risks on risk tolerance they have regarding their benefits.


William Tincup (02:40):

I love this. And the way that y’all define financial preparedness or maybe even as they define it, how is that defined right now?


Sherri Bockhorst (02:50):

Yeah. It’s an interesting question. I’m glad that you asked it. It’s less about defining it from our perspective, and it’s more about how the employees themselves feel about their financial preparedness regarding their benefits and the cost of benefits and the cost of care.


William Tincup (03:07):

Okay. Okay. Perfect. And have you seen this before? Have you seen this data or the responses in this way before?


Sherri Bockhorst (03:18):

Yeah. Sadly, I think a couple of things that seem to repeat themselves year after year. One of them is financial preparedness and the other one is benefits literacy. And so then those two, how I often word it as those two clash together, I don’t feel financially prepared for an expense, nor do I really understand benefits. And so therefore, sometimes I think we see people overinsure because they just purchase the most expensive plans that they can to try to cover that financial risk that they are concerned about, and they don’t really understand benefits so that they don’t know how to ask the right questions and really get the benefits that fits their needs most appropriately.


William Tincup (04:07):

So what’s our take on the first side on increasing benefits literacy? What do companies need to do? What do we need to do to actually bring everyone’s level of acumen or literacy up to a certain level so that part’s taken care of?


Sherri Bockhorst (04:20):

Yeah. It’s a great question. So it’s funny, I’ve been in this industry for a long time, I’m an actuary by background, and when I first started in the health and welfare consulting spaces in actuary, one of the elements that we had to tackle was education for retirees during time of enrollment.

And at the time, we were printing 45-page benefit guides and mailing into the home. And I still remember my first year in this industry, the thought was we need a bigger set of glossary terms, and we need to make the font bigger. So taking that 45-page guide to a 60-page guide because we add glossary terms and we increase the font. And we saw nothing change regarding benefits literacy. So here we are 20-plus years later and benefits literacy is still low. And what we’ve really learned is that in order to truly support people, it is important, I think, for us to recognize that benefits literacy is low and will continue to be low.

And so how do we really change that experience to provide meaningful and personalized information along that path? Whether if it’s the path of enrollment itself, helping them pick the plans at time of enrollment, and/or if it’s during the year of how to use those benefits. And so it’s really becoming because of our ability to use data more effectively and because of technology and people’s comfort with the use of technology, we’ve really been able to change that experience to meet people where they are, whether if that’s on a mobile device, or a desktop, or phone using a virtual assistant and really being able to provide a more guided and proactive experience related to those benefits so that it’s much more personalized, gone are the days of those big benefits guides. Almost everything is moved virtual.

And because of that, we can really create a much more personalized experience based upon who the individual is, what the risk profile is, what the benefits are available to them, what dependents are covering the risk profile of their dependents themselves because we’re still in the world of group benefit plans. The medical plan that I choose as the covered member is the same benefit medical plan that I’m choosing for my husband, even though our risk profiles could be very different. But really being able to take in that information and then personalize that recommendation and support that member ongoing in the engagement and that plan.


William Tincup (07:11):

I love this because what I think a lot of people don’t understand, especially employees and even probably leaders on some level, is a benefit’s not a benefit unless it’s used. It’s just a thing. So the game is consumption, usage, adoption, whatever you want to say. And that’s a good thing. In fact, if employees use all the benefits, that’s fantastic. That’s why they’re there. That’s what benefits managers and leaders, that’s what they want. That means that they got it right. There’s nothing worse as a benefits leaders to go out and pick something to put that in your portfolio of benefits and then not be consumed and not be used. So I love the personalized and also meeting people where they are, being proactive. You just unlocked a lot of cool things there for me because it helps consumption because I think benefits historically have happened in the dark.

I might use my benefits in a certain way. Person in a cubicle next to me, might use them in a different way, might not use them at all. And we never talk about it. It’s one of those things, it just never comes up. It’s not something lunch conversation. It’s not over a Zoom or whatever. So I like that, from a perspective of consumption, you’re trying to unlock for each employee what they have. So there’s an understanding, again, the literacy, here’s what you have, here’s what’s available to you, and here’s how to use it. Here’s how to actually consume it and to utilize it.


Sherri Bockhorst (08:56):

Similar. You talked about consumption. We talk a lot internally about optimization.


William Tincup (09:02):



Sherri Bockhorst (09:02):

And it’s similar though in the sense that, let’s say that… I’ll give you a super simple example. So I have an 11-year-old son who recently broke his leg. So helping someone like me in a number of ways, what type of care does he need? How do I find in a network provider? He’s now gone into the PT stage. What PT provider should I use that’s closest to my home? So helping me use those benefits that I’ve paid for and then using that data to prompt me because if I am a participant in the accident plan, because I know I have an 11-year-old son who’s pretty vibrant outside that can lead the injuries. So having me get that nudge that says, “Hey, Sherri, it looks like you might be eligible to file a claim for your accident plan. Here’s how to go do that.”

And that gets to that consumption so the… Clearly, I don’t want my kid to end up in the ER or end up having to get PT, but if he does, how do I get that guided experience to make sure that I’m using a network provider, I’m using a high-quality provider, that I’m filing those claims accurately to get the full value out of that accident plan that I paid for? It’s about that whole experience of consumption so that we optimize those benefits for the member. I’d rather not use my medical plan at all, but if I’m going to, and in our family, we use it a lot, how do you really optimize that and how do you end up… Another example is my poor kid, who I use on these examples at the time, but it was a Sunday night, maybe a month ago, and he went from having what I thought was just allergies or cold during the fall, and a snot turned that bright green color that you know, “Oh, he’s got a sinus infection.”

I called the pediatrician, left a voicemail, but then I remembered that we had telemedicine. One click in my app, I got to the telemedicine provider. I got online with the telemedicine provider physician within, I don’t know, three minutes, and he got a prescription for my son. I got it picked up, and he had his first dose of medication on Sunday night. By the time my pediatrician called, it was about 24 hours later because I called on Sunday and was waiting for the call back. So again, it’s how do we make it simple and seamless and easy at that time when the person needs to consume those benefits.


William Tincup (11:37):

It’s probably things that y’all bounce around idea wise. It’s storytelling. You just told a story, and again, it could be fictionalized or anonymized in some ways, but how do we use stories to educate people as to both scenarios like that? But also getting back to that optimization and consumption part of is like, “Okay. If we’re trying to increase literacy, make sure that people actually know what they have. What’s our utility? How do we…” There’s a website, great. There’s a binder, fantastic. Okay. There’s an app, great. But once something happens you know and I know there’s an anxiety, a wave of anxiety that comes over people and you’re not thinking about all of that stuff. They’re just trying the triage of, “Okay. How do I solve this right now?” And I think that that anxiety is what we’re trying to lessen both in literacy as well as on the financial preparedness side. So how… Again, storytelling, I love that story, not about your kid being sick.


Sherri Bockhorst (12:47):

Broken legs and green snot, I mean. Yeah.


William Tincup (12:49):

No. No, no. I don’t love that part. However, I do love the storytelling aspect. Have you y’all bounced around ideas on how to help clients story tell?


Sherri Bockhorst (13:01):

Absolutely. I’ll say we approach it predominantly through two prongs. One is that we create personas and then we map those personas to experiences. So how do we become as proactive as possible given the data set that we have to create those stories that are most relevant to individuals? So my green snot story really relevant to a parent, maybe not so much to others.

So how do we really use those personas to be more proactive? A great example of that is we have clients that offer backup childcare. So backup childcare is really relevant for some personas and not to others. One of the places that it’s incredibly relevant is for younger children. Well, we know if somebody has a dependent and the age of that dependent. So we can proactively push messages to that member on a periodic basis saying, “Hey, Sherri, remember that your organization offers backup childcare.” So it’s relevant to that persona. So we’re not targeting them or blasting emails that aren’t relevant to them, but trying to really focus and target that information on a proactive basis that will be relevant to them about how to consume those benefits.

So that’s one way that we do that is targeted messages based upon those personas to try to proactively engage those members. When we send a targeted message like that, we’ll see somewhere between a 25 and almost 40% boost in the interaction on our platform within two days of sending that message. So definitely we’re drawing that, capturing their attention through those persona messages and getting them back into the system to have that more guided experience, which I think is fabulous. The other thing that we try to do is create, I always call it muscle memory. The challenge with benefits is it’s hard to remember everything that an employer offers.

So here at Businessolver as an employee, I have all the core benefits, medical, dental, vision, et cetera, and then we have a plethora of other benefit options or… They’re free. They’re the wraparound programs like the telemedicine or the backup childcare. It’s not something that I elected and that I pay for out of a payroll deduction, but it’s a real value or a part to me to have these resources available. So as an example, I have aging parents and sometimes I need some assistance. But there’s a service available to us as a Businessolver employee to engage in that. I don’t need to remember all of the programs, or all of the vendors, or how to get to all of those. I do need to remember where all those programs sit in my mobile app or on my web. And so how do we train people to remind them where to go in that moment of need so that they can easily access that.

I might not remember if I have Aetna or Cigna or UHC or the Blues, but boy, I remember how to get to where I need to so that I have access to that information quickly and easily and can also give that information to my spouse. And that’s what we try to train people on. So really personalizing that message and then creating that muscle memory so that they know where to go when they have that moment of need. And that’s how we’re trying to use those stories more effectively rather than what we used to do, which again was try to create these standard personas and write about them and put them in the guide and hope that somebody would pick up that enrollment guide during the year, which wasn’t really effective.


William Tincup (16:59):

Well, I think the thing is, half of it is knowing where to go at that moment. Again, it’s probably under duress, et cetera. Again, if it’s dental, it’s something like that. It’s like you had a root canal. It’s like, “Okay. What is my deductible? I don’t… Okay, I got to go to a place and understand that.” I can see a real use of, in the future, machine learning and NOP and even bots to help people facilitate some of those conversations to really understand almost to a point of where they are in their spend or deductible and what’s available to them, et cetera. So I can see, again, getting to the place to be able to answer the question, for me, it eases that anxiety for the employee.


Sherri Bockhorst (17:50):

Yeah. And William, we caught quite the question behind the question. So Sofia is our virtual assistant. We get a lot of questions in Sofia about benefit plan design. “What’s my office visit co-pay? My deductible? What’s play out-of-pocket maximum?” So historically, Sofia would be able to know who I am, know who is covered under the plan, know what plan I’m enrolled in, and respond to that question, “What’s my deductible?” “You have a $300 deductible.” So she could do that and do it very effectively. The problem with that was that really my question or was my real question-


William Tincup (18:34):

How much do I have left on my deductible?


Sherri Bockhorst (18:35):

… how much of my [inaudible 00:18:36] pay? Because I’m about to have an expense. So what we’ve done is train Sofia on, back to this persona, what’s probably happening in their life based upon that question and how do we truly support them in that need? So if I ask, “What’s my office visit co-pay?” She’ll still answer that question, but then she’ll also remind me that telemedicine is available. Or, “What’s my deductible?” She’ll answer the question but also remind me to find a network provider and go ahead and provide that link so I can find the most cost-effective network provider for that service that I’m looking for.


William Tincup (19:14):

Do you see her in the future being able to say where that person is in their deductible within the year?


Sherri Bockhorst (19:21):

We are also close to that, William.


William Tincup (19:21):

Okay. All right.


Sherri Bockhorst (19:21):

We [inaudible 00:19:25] that for each year.


William Tincup (19:26):

All right. That’s another podcast. Okay. Got it. Yeah. That’s fine. Because I’ve always been fascinated with two things. One is spousal, partner, husband, wife, whatever, significant other, and define that as you wish and giving them access to all of the same documentation and understanding just because, I speak from my own experience of being married almost 30 years, I have no idea what our benefits are. Zero idea. Now my wife knows them like the back of her hand. Done. I don’t. So she has to tell me what is and isn’t and as it relates to that. But then again, I have to go get the paperwork, then give it to her. It’s this a whole thing. So I’ve always looked like, “Please somebody, please solve this.” And the other is-


Sherri Bockhorst (20:17):

So we’re working on that too, and here’s the biggest reason for us, in my opinion. So it’s what you said, but also as I talked about the personas and really creating that personalized outreach based upon data, there I can get a nudge saying, “Hey, Sherri, don’t forget to go file that accident claim for your son’s broken leg.” I can get that message though because he’s a dependent under the age of 18. If it’s my husband that broke his leg, I can’t get that message.

So we have to have a way to really capture and engage those adult dependents on the covered benefit plan because they are just as costly as the employees themselves and it still impacts the family. If my husband is going through an issue, that certainly affects my productivity. And so how do we better engage those dependents? And a lot of the programs that are available, if it’s an EAP, or a hypertension program, or it’s IBD’s management program, most clients extend those programs to the covered dependents. And so we have to have a better way to engage them the same way that I was just talking about engaging those members themselves or the employees themselves.


William Tincup (21:33):

And if somebody’s on an HSA or something like that, or if they’re in some type of lose it or use it type situation, or if they’ve maxed out… I know a lot of people that in February, they do all their doctor’s visits, surgeries, whatever they have to do, they front load a lot of that stuff so that they basically get rid of their deductible and so that the rest of the year it’s non-issue for their family. It’d be great to know, again, the second part is where they’re in their process for either the family deductible or personal deductible, wherever? It’d be just great to know on an ongoing basis like, “Okay. Here’s where you’re at. Your deductible right now is $5,000 a year, but you’re at 4,800.”


Sherri Bockhorst (22:19):

And even unwinding all of that because some of the plan design attributes are just so complex.


William Tincup (22:24):

I know.


Sherri Bockhorst (22:25):

Again, it gets back to the get rid of the glossary terms but just put it in meaningful format for the [inaudible 00:22:32] because there’s things like aggregate versus embedded deductible. Nobody really knows what that means.


William Tincup (22:39):

No. There’s only two people on the planet. That’s it. There’s only two people on the planet. I actually don’t find it. But I know what you mean. It’s like you’re helping them with the app and wayfinding and now we just need to talk English. We have to use words that are consumable that people really understand like, “Oh, okay, I get that.” Yeah. There’s more context and texture to it. Fair enough. But I get it on some level.

Let me ask you just on the financial risk side as you brought it up. Because again, if we fix literacy or if we were constantly working on literacy so that people really understand then the financial preparedness and being fearful of something that comes up during the year, maybe over-indexing or over subscribing, et cetera, do you think that the work there is in financial wellness and financial literacy? Is there work to be done there that gets people to understand themselves about where they’re at as a family and how they can do things differently financially so that they don’t necessarily have that anxiety?


Sherri Bockhorst (23:57):

Right. No. I couldn’t agree more. Health and wealth are so tied together and yet many people still look at them as being very separated. Yeah. And then that benefits literacy challenge just amplifies that even more, so if I’m not making good decisions about my health, and then if I don’t understand benefits. So use the diabetes example. I’m a diabetic, so I know I have healthcare costs and so therefore I’m fearful of my financial preparedness, so therefore I buy the most expensive medical plan. Maybe there’s a free diabetes management program that my employer offers to me that can take a lot of that stress away. Same thing a lot. We see EAPs, almost all of our clients, if not all of our clients, offer an EAP solution. Some of them have three, five, eight visits. That’s 100% paid for, and people don’t use them.


William Tincup (25:02):

That frustrates me to know then because… First of all, just knowing the array of EAP services that are there is just mind boggling that all this cool stuff is there and just not used.


Sherri Bockhorst (25:16):

Right. Exactly. And I think it gets back to your point on consumption. If we can help people better understand the programs that are available to them oftentimes at no cost through their employer and take advantage of those, it decreases that financial risk for them. Again, it’s all tied together regarding health and wealth and then that utilization and consumption. There are so many free services, though, available to employees in their dependent that they just forget about, they don’t know about, they don’t understand, they forget are there, and then it creates financial pain for their family when it otherwise didn’t have to.


William Tincup (26:01):

Well, it’s so interesting to me because the emphasis of on engagement, employee experience, and retention right now it’s like you want to retain employees, get them to actually understand what the benefits they have and let them consume them.


Sherri Bockhorst (26:14):



William Tincup (26:16):

This is a retention strategy. You’re already spending the money. You’re already allotted the money.


Sherri Bockhorst (26:22):

There’s no value if they don’t know that they’re there, right?


William Tincup (26:26):

Right, right, right. And then they might take another job somewhere else because there’s a perception of better benefit somewhere else, which is crazy, but happens all the time. Sherri, I could talk to you all day, but I know you’ve got other things to do. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.


Sherri Bockhorst (26:40):

Thank you for having me. I enjoyed the conversation.


William Tincup (26:43):

Absolutely, and thanks for everyone listening to RecruitingDaily Podcasts. Until next time.


Speaker 1 (26:48):

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William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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