Businessolver – 3rd Annual MyChoice Recommendation Engine Benefits Insights Report with Rae Shanahan

On today’s show, we have Rae Shanahan from Businesssolver here to discuss a report that they’ve done, titled MyChoice Recommendation Engine Benefits Insights Report.

A mouthful, but Rae will break that down for us and explain what it all means. This is the third time that they’ve done this report, so it should actually be really interesting. We’ll get into discussing employee benefits as well as their findings.

And of course, here’s a link to the report. 


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William 0:33
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Rae on from Businesssolver. We’re gonna be actually talking about a report that they’ve done. This is the third time that they’ve done this report. So will be actually really interesting. It’s titled the “My Choice Recommendation Engine Benefits Insights Report.” So that’s a mouthful, but Rae will break that down for us and explain what that means. So without any further ado, Rae, would you introduce both yourself and Businesssolver?

Rae 1:05
Sure, sure. I thank you for having me on today. I appreciate it. Rae Shanahan, I’m Chief Strategy Officer at Businesssolver. Been here for 21 years. So part of the organization going from around 10 employees to over 1200. And it’s been quite a ride, let me tell you that. Businesssolver. So we have a product called Benefit Solver. So we’re a technology company, we created our benefit solver technology, really to help help connect employees with their employee benefits. And then, and then we built a service team around that. And you know, the platform has grown and expanded. And we continue to focus on delivering benefits technology with the right level of service and support to employers throughout the country.

William 1:51
Well, you and I could talk because I’ve been in the benefits, in and around the benefits world for, you at one point in your life, you stop talking about the years that you’ve done something. This magical moment, but you just say for a long time. A decade, plus, just whatever the plus is. And I know that you’ve seen a lot of things come and go and fads, etc. So let’s talk about this, this third report. So A when you went into it, obviously, you had a cool baseline with the first two reports. What did you learn that kind of validated things that you already knew like? Okay, that seems reasonable. And then also the opposite of that is what shocked you what came out of the data that you’re led? Hmm?

Rae 2:44
Sure. So I’ll take a step back and talk about why it’s called a recommendation engine versus decision support. So back in, I think we launched the My Choice recommendation engine, actually, in 2015. We’ve had a traditional decision support tool that was part of our platform, where we asked about how many prescriptions, how many times you go to the doctor. You know, just really, really very boring and basic things. And it was really meant to drive a cost-related decision, and did quite a bit of behavioral research and found that you know, with benefits, the right people want to pay the right price.

However, they have an extremely low-risk tolerance. So we went out to, we created a recommendation engine tool, really as a combination of both how I feel about my benefits, and then what my financial and my risk tolerance is. And so, you know, our whole premise is that too much choice is too much. Most employers offer far too many benefit options and employees are overwhelmed.

You know, I think Barry Schwartz did some good research on, you know, the Paradox of Choice. The second thing is, you know, we’re validating that employees don’t want to shop for employee benefits. They spend a heck of a lot more time picking out their pair of shoes, or for sure right now planning their next trip, than they do selecting their benefits.

And then you know, a third thing is, people are, you know, since they’re intimidated by their benefits, they tend to stay with the same benefits year over year, and 93% of employees stay with the same benefits. And you know, our whole goal is to help people get into the right plan. So they do not worry about that throughout the year.

William 4:30
So, just looking at that alone, is that fear of change? Or is it that they don’t think that their audience has changed all that much? And so there really isn’t a need to change or is it other factors like costs? Like you know, I wonder why that’s a high number. Why? Doesn’t that seem more reactive to kind of what people want, and if that’s changing?

Rae 4:59
Well, yeah. I’ll share that benefits are intimidating by the very language of benefits.

William 5:05

Rae 5:06
What is it? You know, what does STD mean to a 23-year-old versus hospital indemnity? Critical illness. You know, there, it’s all very, very intimidating. And so when people are faced with that kind of, you know, intimidation, they’ll try to stay safe. And it’s just easier sometimes to not make a choice and let it roll versus, you know, make a change and rolling something that, that they’re not confident about.

William 5:35
What do, what are kind of new entrants into the market? Let’s say people under 30, just can’t keep it keep in general, what benefits do they care about that are a little bit different than what you’ve seen in years past?

Rae 5:50
We’re seeing that employees especially in Generation Z, they’re saddled with lots of bills, student loans, and you know, thinking about, they don’t really leave their parents’ benefits until after age 26. So, you know, they, they really aren’t prepared for it when they’re coming up with their employee benefits.

And so the education of those folks, because they may not have understood anything that they had under their parents, and now they’re out under their own. And, you know, they’re, they need a good tool to help them understand just what do, what, what’s in that employee benefits menu, and why should it? Why should it matter to them? You know, they’ve been blissfully, you know, covered through again, through that age 26.

William 6:35
Right. And now, now, they’ve got to look at things and again, that is intimidating. It’s intimidating for all of us. The first time you have to kind of go and do that bit, you get the packet. And then the packet. It’s like, literally written in Latin. And you don’t understand the terms, it’s just easier to close the folder and go. Yeah, It’ll work out.

Rae 7:01
Yeah, totally. And, you know, the other thing is, and I know that you do, you know, a lot of this is about your podcasts or a lot about recruiting, you know, it is extremely important. Benefits are part of the total compensation. When you look at employers’ websites, and the way they describe their benefits as part of that total compensation, very little real estate is devoted to benefits in the recruiting process.

William 7:29
Yeah, and it’s, it’s, uh, I’m glad you, you hit on that. And it’s usually really kind of cut and copy stuff. Right. And it’s, that’s it, there’s nothing unique, it doesn’t really like speak to what companies are, especially the innovative companies that are doing really, really cool stuff there that, that that’s actually an opportunity to show a differentiator and show Hey, we also innovate in benefits, here are some of the things, all that standard stuff. Yeah, we, you know, we got all that, right, are some of the extra things that we do that, that you would enjoy as being a part of the team?

Rae 8:07
Totally. And, you know, just an add on to, you know, add on to that is, we, you know, our clients that are on our platform, they’ll have anywhere from 16 to mid 20 number of different point solutions that they offer in their benefits pilot program. And they are, you know, oftentimes spending $25 per employee per month on all of those different, on all those different programs. And it’s, and they’re not–getting to your point–they’re not getting credit for it.

I think they have a great opportunity to better market those two new hires, and also educate their current hires on just what they have. So that if they’re tempted to go take another job for another $5k, which granted, I mean, $5,000 is a lot of money. But you know, that could be definitely overshadowed by the change in employee benefits that are being offered at that new employer.

William 9:03
Oh, simple, some things like deductibles and different changes in your pharmacy you can burn through a $5,000 raise. Which by the way, $5,000, once it’s taxed, isn’t $5,000. But, but I want to get your take on how you give advice to HR leaders and benefits leaders and total rewards leaders, I guess when you’re interacting with them on how they kind of garner what are the needs and the uses, you know, that our employees are going through right now? Then I’ll tell you where this is coming from.

With everything that happened in 2020; murder hornets, to Coronavirus, to the presidential election, and keep going. Everyone’s talking about mental health now. Which thank god. So how does, you know, now let’s just say that that’s happening more frequently. How does a company keep up with the times? And keep up with what their employees actually need? And what are they going to use?

Rae 10:12
Oh, so how long do you have? I want to take a step back. And I want to talk about the first part of the question, and then I want to get to mental health because it is something that we as an organization are extremely passionate about as well. So let’s start first with when you talk about the CHROs, the benefits managers, the HR people. Who do they talk to, who comes to them to talk about their employee benefits?

It’s not people that say, Hey, I went to the emergency room last night and my benefits card worked. Or it’s not the people that say, hey, my deductible, I mean, my, my employee deductions for my benefits, right? It’s the, they only hear from the people that have that that are struggling, don’t understand them and complain, right? So it’s kind of like the anchoring effect.

So play a game with me. Um, so is the population of Uzbekistan, greater or fewer than 12 million?

William 11:07

Rae 11:09
So just jot down a number you think are in Uzbekistan.

William 11:15
9 million.

Rae 11:17
Well, thanks for playing, and ah–

William 11:21
And, you lose.

Rae 11:22
Actually 28 million.

William 11:27
I lost by a factor of three. Nice.

Rae 11:30
I only bring this up, again, thanks for playing, is we’ve got to get out. You know, one of my favorite books is a book called “You are not so smart.” And you just, you know, you know, you just showed what the anchoring effect really has on people. And so back to the first part of this, when all the HR people hear is from people complaining about their employee benefits. Sometimes we might be anchored, that the general population should you know, behave the same way. And that’s probably not right.

So I’d say it’s time for, for the folks in the benefits world to you know, step out from assuming that employees don’t understand their benefits and don’t want to understand their benefits, and really say how do we help them embrace them and access them and use them in a better manner? And so, you know, that’s the first part, right?

And you know, then I, no, go ahead.

William 12:26
No, no, now let’s pivot to mental health.

Rae 12:29
Yeah, yeah. You know, what, number one I’m somebody that, I’ve suffered from depression. And I’ll tell you, what, I’ve made it my mission, that I want it to be okay to talk about it. And I want I think employers have a great opportunity to, to make it okay. And, you know, it starts with many of our employee benefits are very rich as it relates to mental health, but very few people are really accessing them. And you know, now is the time, especially with May being Mental Health Month. What a great opportunity for employers to really highlight their employee benefits that are not, you know, that are for the mental health as well as the wellbeing of the employees.

And the demand for those benefits is going up. And, you know, you’ll be seeing something from us, again, in about a couple of weeks, we also do an annual empathy study. We talk about what benefits are seen as empathetic. And you know, there’s continued growth in the focus of mental health benefits are part of working for an empathetic employer.

William 13:38
Oh, I love that. I love that. So 100 years ago, there was a leadership and benefits conference that first started up. And I was actually one of the keynote speakers and I opened, this is right out of Dale Carnegie, I opened with us a line where I basically said when we say something is a benefit, and people don’t consume it, it’s actually not a benefit.

Rae 14:05

William 14:06
So so the game of benefits is actually a game of consumption. It’s a game of usage, a game of adoption. So how do we train people? How do we get people to consume the benefits that we call benefits? And not a lot of people liked that speech, but the point still being that I wasn’t quite booed off the stage. However, I wasn’t asked back. And a good friend of mine chaired the conference.

So you know, anyway, so so when we look at benefits now, and I know you look through the lens of, “Okay, what are people using? What are they consuming? How are they consuming all of those types of things?” I want to ask you a question about remote employees and remotes aren’t new. However, you know, on March 13 of last year, we all had to go remote on the same day, which was nice. What do you see from your vantage point in terms of benefits enrollment and benefits consumption?

Rae 15:08
Sure, sure. Yeah. March, Friday, March 13. Monday, March 16. Yeah, that was certainly an interesting time. Um, you know, so so the way that we see it, is it that the need for available accessible tools is more important than ever. It’s one thing to just enroll and select benefits.

But it’s also then how do I navigate and activate and utilize my benefits. And so having a very, very strong mobile, mobile-first solution is extremely important. Having AI available to employees is very important. I remember reading a book not too long ago, what was it called the heart, it was something about, ah I’ll remember the name later. But the key thing was that employees are oftentimes more open with AI than they are with people.

I think the guy did a study about people that had PTSD, they were more open to sharing their true feelings with AI versus with a real person. So where I’m going with this is, you know, employers, again, back to the anchoring effect, don’t underestimate your employees’ desire to want to understand their benefits, use their benefits, and rely on technology to help them navigate. They do it in other parts of their life. So why wouldn’t they do it for benefits?

William 16:36
Right. What are some of the most innovative clients or customers of yours? What are they doing in terms of benefits that kind of set them apart? You don’t have to name names, it’s just what are they doing that that sets them apart in terms of how they innovate and benefits.

Rae 16:53
So they’re learning to channel their inner marketing. HR people are in marketing and utilizing, like, we have a, we have a group called Studio B. And what we’ve done with some of our really innovative clients is we’ve mapped the employee experience. Again, knowing that sometimes our HR people can be biased, not about, you know, not trying to say anything bad because I was former–I’m a former HR person.

William 17:19
A Recovering, recovering HR person, yes.

Rae 17:22
But really, really mapping that entire benefits journey for an employee all the way from, how they’re recruited to how they’re onboarded. To, once they’re on board, what are all the different sources of communication coming to them, like I said before, if they’re anywhere from 18 to 25 different point solutions that an employer has. Every single one of them wants that employee to download their app and send them emails.

And so again, being bombarded by all that. The employees, in the end, continue to be overwhelmed. So the innovative employers are the ones that realize that they need to have a very strong user experience study done so that they can understand that journey that their employee has. All the way from onboarding, to selecting, to utilization, and then ongoing education.

And then really simplifying that. Maybe not spending quite as much money on all those different point solutions. But let’s put, let’s really focus on what are, where are we going to get the biggest bang for our buck across our population? So again, innovation is around that, truly that employee experience.

William 18:29
So a part of it is this is years past, but the people, the benefits, leaders would do count pulse surveys. And they would use kind of simple models, stop, start, continue, you know, just kind of getting an understanding, and a more real-time instead of once a year twice here, more real-time understanding of what people really liked and enjoyed.

Instead of just all the negative because I really liked the way you’ve you put that because you’re right, the phone calls you receive in HR are usually when something’s gone haywire. Is there a better model? Now to kind of keep your finger on the pulse of what people either are looking for need or what we should anticipate that they need? Et cetera?

Rae 19:15
Yeah, well, selfishly, I’d say that. If the employer is using our platform with the My Choice recommendation engine, they do get, they have full analytics to be able to see really the sentiment of their population. And you know what, one of the funny things, I shouldn’t say funny because this is really, this worries me. So 63% of people that answered the My Choice recommendation engine questions, say they’re in good health.

Which we all know across our population in the US, that’s overly optimistic. And then 51% of them say that they or a family member have a history of heart failure, stroke, or cancer. And so that showed you right there the dichotomy in the mindset.

And what a great opportunity for that employer to be able to personalize the communication, personalize the outreach, and be able to educate those different pockets. And, you know, this real-time kind of data about their, the answers to their employee questions, you know, allows our employers to be not just waiting for that once a year, kind of a survey, like you pointed out, but really staying on staying in touch with with the sentiment of the employees.

William 20:37
So three things left. One is I just did a 23andme DNA test. Do you think there’s a future in terms of kind of understanding what’s going on, especially the health side of DNA? Not the, not necessarily the genealogy part of DNA? Although I do that, too. But really the health part of it? Do you think that there’s a kind of a way to pull that data out? And to also understand our employee populations that way?

Rae 21:09
You know, this is one where if we just eliminate our bias brains, and we say we assume what I call positive intent, right? Trust, right? It would be the right thing to do. It wouldn’t be, we could tailor healthcare programs, we could tailor solutions for employees.

I think the fine line though, is that trust, yeah, and unfortunately, I think even if, you know, even if we were to have that kind of trust in here, I’m afraid that there’d be a dichotomy there. You know, some employees may feel like it’s too “Big Brother.” And I just wish that we could find a way to get there because it could really help. It could help people be proactive in their health, rather than reactive.

William 21:58
I love the way he said that, first of all, the trust, but that’s just highly personalized, you could tailor something specifically to that individual, which I would really love.

The state of HSAs. Where are we at right now?

Rae 22:13
Um, you know, what, what we found, you know, we have a consumer accounts platform. And what we’re finding is, if we can get people to have enough in their HSA to cover their deductible, then then it can help people get into–truly a high deductible health plan is really the right thing for most people. Once they can get that balance in their HSA.

And so I’m passionate that we need to keep growing those HSA balances. Because it will also help educate, it does help educate the consumer a bit more. So if we can get them to get that first amount covered, and get those balances high enough, then we can help them have less fear of unexpected expenses.

William 23:03
I love that. Okay, thank you. Because the HSA is, is something that I’ve always wanted to keep my finger on, to understand where people are, and consumption, how people are using them.

Okay, so this might just be a William thing, not just the third person, but. Like I take a lot of, I take a lot of vitamins and supplements and also, you know, Wellbutrin and Prozac and all kinds of other shit.

Do your customers ever wonder about the interactions, about all the things that they might be consuming? Like, is there a way to figure that out? Like, you know, again, if you’re taking, I’m just looking at fish oil, or whatever you’re taking, is there a way to kind of, do they, do you get anyone? Do your customers ask for this? And really is what I’m trying to figure out is am I–Is it just a “me thing?” Or is this something other people worry about? The interactions between medicines?

Rae 24:00
Oh, wow, that’s a good one. I, well, my mind’s going in circles on this one, you know, I could, I can’t say that people have asked him for that, William. But that’s again, oftentimes they don’t, they wouldn’t. They don’t always know what they need.

William 24:15
Yeah, yeah.

Rae 24:16
Yeah, we never would have come up with our Sofia, our virtual benefits assistant, if it would have been clients just asking us for something. So I kind of like that, that’d be kind of a cool tool for an employee. To say, hey, because, you know, you know, there are all these claims we’re having with our clients, as you know, one of our affiliations is a company called benefit science. And, you know, they get all of the claims data, But to your point, they don’t know all this other stuff that they’re using. And, and so that that’s an interesting thing.

William 24:49
I would love to know that. I mean, seriously, I just to know to be able to plug in and say okay, like pick up a bottle, what in the hell is D-3? So I’m taking, I’m taking it looks like about 400 milligrams of that. Okay, that sounds fantastic. I’m sure somebody told me I needed to take that. No, okay, sorry, I made that recommendation, took it, take it.

And I take a bunch of stuff like that. At one point, your body can only, your, your liver, your pancreas can only consume so much of whatever you’re you’re taking, and you also might have an adverse impact. And so again, could be just a William thing.

Rae 25:28
No, I love it. I love it. You know, especially with the legalization of marijuana. Oh, yeah. And, you know, no, you know, what, what about those chemical effects of different things. And then, you know, you think about nobody’s really honest about how much they consume from an alcohol standpoint. And, and, you know, make giving them a tool that. Truly, guys, just be honest, if you drink three glasses of wine today, just drink three, not one, say three because that’s the only way you’re really going to know. If you’re honest about the things you’re taking, and you’re honest about how you feel. That’s how we can really help people get through these things. So I love it.

William 26:09
See my friends that drink wine? I don’t really drink wine. They’ll say that they’ll drink three glasses. But I’ve noticed that the glasses get larger. You got to be like. Like when they whip out the glasses, I’m like, that’s not really a glass. That’s more of a pitcher than a glass. But whatever. Yeah, no judgment, I’ll just have to have a martini. So if that’s the way you’re going to judge your three out of your three glasses. That’s actually a bottle. All right? No worries. no judgment.

Alright, so Rae, we’re going to link out to the report so that folks can download this, and consume it, and learn from it. I want to thank you for carving out some time to kind of break things down and then talk a little bit about benefits.

Rae 27:00
Of course, and you know, thanks for having me. I think you’re doing some great things out there. And I appreciate you allowing us the voice today.

William 27:09
One hundred percent. When you do your empathy study again, let’s make sure to revisit that. I’d love to know more about that.

Rae 27:16
Yeah, absolutely.

William 27:17
Alrighty, and thanks to everyone for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

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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