Not only is Barbara Boudreau the Executive Vice President of Strategic Development at ConnectYourCare, she’s also a company founder. As a leader of the strategy team, she continues to bring the voice of the customer into benefits solutions to continue to innovate and meet changing needs. Listen as she discusses lifestyle benefits - like fitness and wellness programs, college planning options, and adoption and surrogacy benefits – and how they help employers attract and retain talent. She also outlines how the crisis of 2020 has forced employers to become even more competitive in increasingly remote workplaces.
Carla: Hello, my name is Carla Wardin, and I'm the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, "Exclamation! of Benefits." Today, I'm speaking with Barbara Boudreau, Executive Vice President of Strategic Development. Hello, how are you doing today?
Barbara: I'm doing well, Carla.
Carla: Thank you for being on the program. My first question is about your role. Can you tell me about your role at ConnectYourCare?
Barbara: Certainly. I'm one of the founders of ConnectYourCare. So, when you think about what that role means, I really oversaw the development of much of our operations, our department structures, our solution - all the way from a people standpoint to the platform standpoint. And today, I'm in a strategy world, so really bringing that story forward, everything that we've built over the last almost 20 years forward, and then also bringing that voice of the customer back into our solution to make sure that we continue to innovate and continue to meet changing needs.
Carla: It must be so exciting to have founded a company like this and have seen the growth that its experienced over all these years.
Barbara: It really is. No matter how much you understand that your solution, what you want to build, is absolutely fitting a need, still, when you start a company, you don't know if your message will be heard, and you make a lot of decisions along the way, and are they the right ones? Because they have ramifications that you can't even think about. And I am really proud at the decisions that we made - and how they really did meet the needs that we didn't even know about - and still really function and give such a strong foundation to be able to bring solutions that really meet needs of the clients that we're working with.
Carla: Speaking of solutions that meet needs, one of the things that ConnectYourCare does - that people don't always know about - are the lifestyle benefits. Can you talk to me about what they are and how they work?
Barbara: Absolutely. So, at ConnectYourCare, we have a proprietary platform. And so, we do account administration starting out, of course, with the traditional mostly healthcare benefits, so helping employees cover their healthcare out-of-pocket costs. But since it's our platform, we can make it do anything we want it to do, so we have this thing that will administer accounts. And so, for us to be able to set up an account that can administer and cover expenses like chiropractic or vision expenses is just as easy as setting up an account that can cover gym memberships and ski passes.
So, for us to expand into lifestyle is pretty easy from a structure standpoint, but then we had to think through can we do it operationally, and what's the need out there? And certainly, the need is great, so lifestyle benefits are for non-traditional types of benefits. There are things beyond those healthcare out-of-pocket or even independent care types of expenses. There's no tax break for the offerings for most of the lifestyle offerings, so it's really an employer who's looking to do something else, needs either to attract and retain employees and show some differentiation from other employers, or really just wants to step up and help employees meet their personal goals.
Most lifestyle benefits are something around either wellness, so tied back to healthcare, or financial wellbeing. So, it will be things like fitness and wellness, financial planning, but even things like covering college planning costs. So, lifestyle benefits can expand into other things that may worry the employees. How do I make sure my kids get into the right college, that they understand a big school versus a small school? And will their major help them be able to cover their student loans in the future? Or even things like personal enrichment certification classes - things like that that a traditional benefit program may not cover.
Carla: Sounds like these are attractive to both employers and employees. It's addressing concerns that employers have, and you mentioned it helps employers retain and attract. Is this something that they are looking for? Is this something that they look to ConnectYourCare lifestyle benefits for specifically?
Barbara: It is, yes. And especially employers who are in very competitive environments. So, they're looking for ways to do something different that shows employees that this is a place that they want to work at, even as we think about remote workers, which certainly, there are a lot more of them now.
Carla: So many of us.
Barbara: Right. As that works for companies, that's probably going to stay around in some level. I don't see most companies going back to 100% office if that's where they were before. But if you think about what that does from an employer's standpoint, when you're trying to attract employees or keep your employees, you're not just in competition with employers in your geographic location anymore because those employees, that base in your area, could get attracted by a company that's multiple states away. So, remote is great for the workers. It opens up additional companies that they can work for, but it makes it a little bit harder for the recruiting and attracting employees - a little more competitive.
So, things like lifestyle can differentiate a company as they're trying to compete for workers. And also, if I keep on the remote theme for a minute, we've all talked about the "Covid 15." So, we're all stuck at home, and even just the lifestyle benefits are a nice example of, "Okay, I still need to think about my wellness, and even I still need to think about my financial wellbeing." Just because I'm stuck at home, those things are still important. So, it's a good focus for the employers too to benefit their employees. So many of those benefits just are stronger for the remote workforce.
Carla: I think it's a popular resolution in 2021 to get rid of the "Covid 15" that has come upon a lot of us.
Barbara: It is.
Carla: And what else is popular? Of what we offer, what are the most popular of the lifestyle benefits? You mentioned a couple. What are employers looking to offer people?
Barbara: The most popular, by far, is the fitness and wellness lifestyle account. One thing with the lifestyle accounts is, since they're non-traditional benefits, they can get combined into one account, but even within the types of accounts, say financial, or fitness and wellness, the nice thing about these types of accounts is that they can meet the needs of varying employees. We have multiple generations working. We have people in different stages of their lives, and certainly with different focuses.
So, even something like fitness and wellness, our minds go to gym memberships, which the gyms might not be open now. But even when the gyms are open, it's not only for those people who are the heavy gym rats. The fitness and wellness is broader than that. It could cover a meditation app, for instance, but also activities, ski passes, national park fees. And so, it is important to see it as fitness and wellness, not just fitness, and not just things like the gym. So, that's by far the most popular, and it has a broader reach than maybe people think about just thinking of it as a fitness app.
Carla: You also mentioned college planning. How does that work as a benefit?
Barbara: So, the nice thing of these, as long as we can define what the types of expenses are and get a feel for what we'll see for documentation as it comes in, then we can expand to other categories. So, the college planning could be someone's child, or themselves if they're thinking about continuing their education, going to one of those planners who will help them determine their major even, but certainly, the types of schools that have the classes and the discipline that they want to get into can help them determine their financial needs and how they tap into them. So, college planning all the way from helping them determine the colleges that they should apply to, and helping them with the application process, to even what financial aid or types of loan programs are out there for them.
Carla: That's so interesting and has to be so helpful to people who are getting started on that journey no matter what type of need that they have, obviously, because it's something that families are going to be looking for. What about in building a family, aren't there some benefits that go for that as well?
Barbara: Certainly. So, many of the lifestyle that we're talking about don't have the tax breaks for them, but there are a few non-traditional types of benefits that also have tax breaks as well, things like adoption. And so, a company can offer funds for reimbursement or even a pre-tax program for employees to cover their adoption expenses, so court costs and agency fees, things like that. Related to that, we have some employers that are doing surrogacy benefits. And surrogacy kind of falls out of your personal healthcare expenses. Surrogates' costs are not covered by a traditional healthcare plan, or even a traditional healthcare account. So, a surrogacy account can help for those types of expenses that fall through the cracks as well.
Carla: That is so interesting and such a great program. Lifestyle benefits aside, what do you see as coming up for the next year? What do you see as up and coming trends? What do you think is going to happen?
Barbara: Well, a quick look back on 2020, if we think about the crisis, there are crisis relief accounts, and they were a really small part of the benefit program, had been only used in very small geographic locations, not a lot known about them, we weren't really too aware of them. But then this national crisis came, and so we saw how account administration can have a role in benefits. Because the pandemic was a national crisis, there were some tax-advantaged methods to be able to use accounts and reimburse employees for non-traditional benefits. So, they went right along with lifestyle, and having the tax advantages would really help. It'd cover things like utilities and groceries, and even some work from home costs like internet, even childcare for some extra challenges on a tax-qualified basis.
But beyond that, looking into 2021, there's certainly going to be a continued focus on consumerism. And we are continuing to try and get employees and individuals involved in their healthcare decisions - and a lot of that is because the cost structuring in healthcare is going to continue. Costs are really high. Employers will continue to look for ways to manage those costs, and some of it is looking to push some more costs to the employees, potentially, through co-insurance deductibles - but also how else can they restructure?
If I go back to remote for a minute, there were some expansion of telehealth, for instance, and that is much more accepted now as people were almost forced to use it. So, people who might not have seen it as an option for themselves will now. And that's also a less expensive way to deliver care. So, expansion in cost structuring could be things like that, so not necessarily pushing costs to a person, but finding ways to have less expensive options for them.
I think there will be expansion within lifestyle as well and other non-traditional offerings. Now that we've broken through and it's not just about what's tax-qualified under the benefits, or what's traditional, there is a lot of interesting creativity out there on what can be the next thing - and where we have multi-generational workforces and people with different needs and more vocal about those needs. That's the nice thing about just non-traditional benefits, in general, is it's completely open. And for employees, it could be a very small pocket of employees who have a need, it's easy to open that need up in a wider program.
Carla: Thank you so much for your outlook on the upcoming year. I also hope for a very non-traditional and creative year that benefits all of us in some way. Thank you very much for your time.
Barbara: My pleasure. Thanks, Carla.
Carla: Once again, my guest has been Barbara Boudreau, and I'm Carla Wardin on the ConnectYourCare podcast, "Exclamation! of Benefits."
Carla Wardin is the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, Exclamation of Benefits. Carla brings her broadcasting and technology experience to talk to experts about the latest innovations in the benefits industry. Carla is an author, speaker, and marketing communicator from Michigan, where she and her husband are raising three boys on a dairy farm.