WebBased System Gains Steam

March 24, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — For several years now Aon Consulting has been offering its client companies an interactive online service that bundles a broad spectrum of human resources data and service.

Aon says the system wraps together benefits and HR data, plus material on personal financial planning and employee benefit enrollment, while giving employees the ability to purchase individual financial products, as well.

It’s a benefits enrollment and resource tool for both employees and a company’s human resources depart-ment, according to the company. 

Aon Consulting has two platforms for its online communications and enrollment system. One is called SelfServiceNow, the system that’s been in place for more than five years.

The other is HR Portal, a new generation version of the original.

Client companies enrolled in the service have their own customized URL that’s completely secured and can be accessed at anytime, said Joshua Trent, vice president of Aon Consulting’s Chicago Benefits Management Services Group.

According to Ken Groh, vice president of Aon Communication Consulting in the firm’s Chicago office, many of the Web-based enrollment tools are replacing voice response systems that required employees to call up and punch telephone keypad numbers to enroll.

“I think that, for the most part, employees had concerns about voice response and whether they were pushing the right buttons or doing the right thing to get their enrollment up,” he said.

“And from an HR perspective, there were errors that were coming in as well because people weren’t understanding the prompts.

“But in a Web-based system,” he said, “it’s right in front of you — you can see it, and what you see is what you get.”

Trent said Aon Consulting has seen “incredible growth” in demand for its Web-based enrollment system. Five or six years ago there wasn’t a lot of Web savvy, he said, but as time passed the curve grew much shorter.

“More and more companies have said their primary goal is to put a Web enrollment piece up there, but they also want to leave an IVR (interactive voice response) option out there just in case there are those employees that are comfortable with it.

“The tables have absolutely turned,” he added, “and Web is the one our clients are looking for more than anything.”

Groh said in the manufacturing environment, more than 70 percent of employees are choosing to enroll via the Web when given a choice between IVR and online.

New hires can use the site to enroll in benefits while existing employees can use it to review their annual enrollment selections, look at new benefits options and make family status changes. They can also use it to check out benefit costs and the accessibility of primary care physicians. 

When finished, Trent noted, they can print out a confirmation statement that lists the benefits they’re enrolled for, as well as what their paycheck deductions will be.

For the employee, he said, it’s a very clean and easy way to enroll in benefits and avoid a lot of paper handling in the process. He said it’s also much more personalized than the typical blank enrollment worksheet that new hires must fill out.

“It primarily works for those companies that are either going just through enrollment every year where they have to offer new benefits for their employees, or for companies that have high turnover and a lot of new hires.”

According to Trent, the online enrollment system allows a company to centralize its communications because employees can use the Web site not only to enroll but to access information on new costs for the year.

He said for employees it’s an easier process and for employers it means fewer errors and lower printing costs.

“The system won’t allow employees to complete the enrollment without filling out all the information correctly,” he said. “It also does consistency checks on dependents and things like that,” he added.

Groh said the Web-based system substantially reduces the burden on a company’s HR team. Under the old paper system, employees sometimes submitted incomplete forms, which required some worker in the department to contact the employee and return the form for completion.

Once a new hire gets entered into the online system, all the HR department must do is enter the person into the company payroll system.

AON handles the rest, Trent said. The firm itself sends out an enrollment worksheet that notifies employees when it’s time for them to register for benefits. The worksheet lists all their benefit options and includes an employee’s user ID and PIN number to access the Web site.

A company’s HR staff doesn’t have to get involved in the day-to-day benefit transaction piece of it.

Companies are probably under more pressure today to have efficiently operating HR departments, and if there’s a way that they can maximize or get even more value-added service out of their HR people, they’re going to be better off, said Gregory Rhodes, senior vice president in Aon Consulting’s Employee Benefits Group in Grand Rapids.

“Companies have been faced with layoffs, and HR staff are sometimes the first to go when layoffs occur,” Rhodes noted.

“So how can those people continue to perform effectively if they’re going to be decreased in size possibly? This (system) allows them to have a tool that can integrate whatever they build or need to build system-wide, with the ability to make that a more streamlined process.” 

He said financial planning tools and access to financial products can be integrated into the Web site for companies that want to offer employees additional options.

In those cases, employees can use the site to do modeling of different types of voluntary benefits, typically non-company sponsored benefits such as auto, homeowners or pet insurance that they can buy through a separate party.

“We offer this as an adjunct to the system; it’s not automatically included in our SelfServiceNow platform, but a lot of our clients look at this as an added benefit,” Trent explained.

For companies that would like it, AON also offers a call center operation that will address their employees’ benefit and enrollment questions.

Trent estimates that 60 percent of Aon’s clients opt for full-service benefit administration that includes call center, full enrollment, COBRA and flexible spending account administration. Many companies looking to outsource benefit administration go for the full gamut of services, he said.

Fee for the service is variable, based on the number of benefit eligible employees AON is administering. The firm bases its fees on a monthly per-employee basis. 

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