Group risk roundtable: Increasing the value of group risk benefits

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• Group risk benefits can provide valuable services, such as HR support.

• Group risk provision should be promoted in terms of health andwellbeing support, rather than absence insurance.

• Increased take-up of group risk benefits will drive down premiums.

Group risk benefits have become far more than insurance products, with providers getting involved in staff health matters to help reduce absence, says Sam Barrett

Group risk products can deliver major benefits to both employers and employees, but the cost of provision means their merits are often overlooked.

This perhaps explains why, according to The Aviva family finances report, published in January 2012, less than 11% of employees have income protection, leaving a large proportion of the UK’s workforce without cover.

Shifting focus from product costs to advantages is key to increasing take-up, says Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development (Grid). “Group risk benefits provide a range of services that could include claims management, absence management and HR support, but because there is an element of insurance sitting in the background, that is what the focus becomes,” she says. “We need to shift the mindset, so employers see group risk as a service, rather than an insurance product.”

Chris Ford, director of group risk at Jelf Employee Benefits, says if it offered a product that combined an employee assistance programme (EAP) with early intervention, management information on absence and robust legislative support, his employer clients would bite his hand off. “Everything you want is in the policy, but there is still stigma attached to it,” he says.

An overhaul of the language group risk providers use may help to raise awareness of the services they offer, says Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at EEF. “Any talk of insurance causes a real problem. We have seen a shift from absence management to attendance management, and now on to health and wellbeing. Employees have much more affinity with health and wellbeing.”

Employers can play their part in promoting risk benefits by ensuring providers are involved in the organisation’s sickness absence strategy.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), representatives from its group risk providers, EAP and occupational health meet at least once a year to ensure there is a joined-up approach to employee absence.

Carolyn Wilkinson, senior benefits manager at PWC, says: “Income protection providers are doing so much more now around sickness absence and, as we pay for it, it is in our interest to use it.”

Informa UK involved its income protection provider by inviting it to the workplace to explain its services. Linda Hilliard, UK reward manager at the publishing firm, explains: “It was extremely enlightening, and some of the initiatives that came out of the meeting will help employees who are not covered by our income protection scheme.”

Ultimately, increasing group risk product take-up will help drive down premiums, enabling employers to offer more cost-effective benefits and an integrated approach to managing absence.

Read more from the Group risk roundtable