Employee benefits…there’s an app for that!

It was only a matter of time before app-mania struck the pension and benefits industry.  In the past few weeks, it seems like  industry publication has an article about another service provider launching an app or using social media as a communications tool.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of auto-enrollment, online planning tools, employee websites and portals, but the introduction of apps may bring employee engagement and access to their benefit or retirement savings information to a new level.  For example, Sun Life Financial has announced that it plans to offer a free mobile application for group benefits and group retirement and savings plan members.  The app will allow plan members to submit benefit claims or check the balance of their retirement plan accounts.

At a time when defined contribution plan sponsors are concerned about the lack of engagement by members responsible for investing their plan assets, the advent of apps has the potential to increase participation and interaction.  The ability to see your pension plan account balance at the press of a button (or tap of the screen as the case may be) also enhances transparency and may help increase member awareness and education.

Other benefit providers are also jumping on the app-bandwagon, capitalizing on the increasing number of people with smartphones.  For example, Morneau Shepell has launched “My EAP”, which will provide users with access to interactive tools, support resources (such as e-counselling) and other employee assistance programs.  Many of these features are already available on Morneau’s website, but the app enhances the ease of access for people on the go, giving access to EAP services anywhere and anytime they are needed.

The use of apps and other social media technology is creating new opportunities for communication and disclosure with pension and benefit plan members.  However, as always, apps and social media must be integrated into an overall communications strategy.  Consideration must also be had to ensuring the privacy and security of such sensitive personal information.

Specifically with reference to pension plans, plan administrators must also make sure they are complying with any applicable rules regarding the use of electronic communications.  Governments have implemented a number of rules regarding when and how electronic communications can be used in the administration of a pension plan.  I will discuss this in more detail in an upcoming post.

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