Welcome to our partner profile series. Each month, we'll feature insights and perspectives from HR professionals and consultants working with a wide variety of clients to address today's most pressing issues.
Interview conducted by David Sherman, Director of Channel Partnerships and Strategic Alliances at PTO Exchange.
A Conversation with Hunter Whittington
Hunter serves as the Managing Director for US Enrollment Services.
US Enrollment Services is a marketing, communication, and enrollment firm. They offer a wide variety of solutions to help employers manage their benefits programs.
Hunter has been in the enrollment and benefits industry for almost 40 years. He's committed to helping people understand their benefits and choose a plan that's right for them.
See his full bio below.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you focus on at US Enrollment Services.
I grew up in a small water town in Virginia. Tappahannock had 4 stoplights and 1,500 residents – but it had the Rappahannock river which was a mile-wide stretch of freedom and adventure. Between the boating, sailing, skiing, crabbing, fishing, and every imaginable water activity; you picked up life lessons that you didn’t even know were being instilled in you.
- A healthy respect for your fellow man – everybody knows everybody, so do right by each other. There are no racial or ethnic divides in a small town – everyone is a brother and a friend.
- A healthy respect for the environment – our delicate ecosystem on the water required intentional, sustainable practices.
- A healthy work ethic – nothing is given to you in a small town – crops don’t harvest themselves, and everybody pulls their own weight in any job. Laziness is never tolerated.
These are traits that I brought with me to Florida in the mid-’80s when I graduated college and started in the enrollment and communication business as an enrollment firm. Since then my family has been blessed with 28-year-old identical twin boys, who are also both in the enrollment and voluntary benefits business. Nothing more satisfying at a family dinner than being able to relate to your kids on a business level where all are invested in learning from each other.
At US Enrollment Services, we work with employer groups to help employees navigate through the complex maze of healthcare by helping employees select the right benefits plan through expert assistance.
We assist employees in making informed care choices by providing real one-to-one benefit education which in turn helps make better healthcare decisions and maximize value in their benefits offerings. We feel that people still like to talk to people.
We also realize that many employees are not using English as their primary language, and so we feel that employees feel most comfortable talking about money and insurance in their native tongue which is why we specialize in native language, salaried, benefits counselors.
We are also one of the leading providers of software solutions for the management of all employer-sponsored benefit programs.
What are some of the main challenges your clients face, and how does USES help solve some of those challenges?
Today’s work environment is challenged with attracting the best possible candidates who will look at you as their employer of choice for their career. They are also challenged with retaining their top talent.
While our services cannot change a person’s salary or working conditions, but we can have a material effect on how that employee perceives the value in an employer’s benefit offerings. In today’s market, benefits are valued more than at any previous time in history.
We feel that a thorough understanding of how benefits work for your family will make for a more satisfied employee. And hopefully, an employee will think twice before leaving an employer just because of a higher salary if the benefit plans are fully appreciated. There is a well-known survey that illustrates how perception is reality in benefits communication:
Percentage of employees responding favorably to their benefits package:
Those with below-average healthcare benefits
Those with above-average healthcare benefits
With effective benefit communication
Without effective benefit communication
What sort of new and innovative benefit solutions have you found that can make a tangible difference in a company's Financial Wellness initiatives?
Financial wellness is a concept that should be reinforced at the earliest stages of employment. There are essentially 6 areas of Financial Wellness to consider:
- Personal finance
- College Planning
- Insurance and Protection
- Employee Benefit Health Plans
- Retirement Planning
- Social Security and Medicare
Today’s marketplace has very robust tools to assist in each of these targeted areas. Employers are increasingly including Financial Wellness as an educational part of their benefits platforms. But we want to make sure that employees are not just reading but absorbing and taking action. Content can be delivered with personalized communications that educate and motivate. In other words, speak to employees in the ways that employees can best hear the message. Tailored communications through research-based algorithms can use data science to create a language that is more relatable. As a result, employees can better understand and engage with providing security for their future.
Also, through the employer’s benefit offerings, there are products on the market that help contribute to an employee’s overall protection and security such as:
- Low-cost loans offered through the employer – 78% of all US workers live paycheck to paycheck and 61% cannot afford a $1,000 expense, so employers can provide programs that can act as a safety net for employees which would allow access to low-cost, Socially Responsible Credit.
- Student Loan Repayment/Forgiveness Programs – With the average student loan debt currently at $39,351, it becomes difficult to manage the ongoing principal and interest payments. Twenty-five to 34-year-olds makes up the biggest cohort of student loan borrowers, adding up to 14.8 million borrowers in total. These programs can assist in managing the debt, or even provide resources for eliminating the debt.
- Vehicle protection programs – Employer-sponsored program that provides a payroll-deducted way to have a vehicle maintenance product. Helps eliminate the employee absenteeism, which contributes to their productivity and ultimately their security
- Legal Plans and ID Theft Protection – Inexpensive programs offered through an employer that provides peace of mind for any potential legal situation. Most employees do not have access to an attorney without paying several hundred dollars for every phone consultation, where these programs provide the safeguards which will provide many legal services, including wills, letters, consultations, etc as a no-cost part of the program. And the ID Theft protection allows for an employee to be notified in the event of a potential breach and provide remediation services if needed.
- PTO Exchange – Helps employees realize the full extent of their earned PTO compensation, and helps organizations deliver a differentiator on how paid time off can be shared between employees and charitable organizations.
The past few years must have changed the Enrollment industry significantly. What has the impact been for you and US Enrollment Services?
At US Enrollments, we have always provided multiple methodologies for enrollments. Whether it was through a face-to-face meeting, co-browsing, call center, or even self-service enrollments; having multiple ways to connect to an employee gave everyone a feeling of inclusion in the process. If a company had remote employees, we always wanted them to have the same enrollment experience as their colleagues at the corporate office.
When COVID struck, all enrollments went immediately to virtual through our call center. This has actually become the preferred approach even after the virus had subsided due to its convenience and efficiency of it. When employees call our service center regarding their benefits enrollment we have a consultative session with voice recording backup, use scripted messaging for consistency and compliance, and it allows for a spouse or significant other to be on the line as a part of the benefits conversation.
When an employee feels valued and appreciated, they tend to have a more favorable view of their employer. Taking 20 minutes per year to talk to a live representative who is trained on every benefit available and has the ability to ask questions, just reinforces the value of each plan offered.
COVID created much more awareness about the need to understand benefits - before being in front of a doctor or hospital. When an employee exclusively uses an online version of a benefits enrollment platform, it becomes difficult to have value reinforced for the plans offered. Many times it becomes simply a click-through based upon what was selected the previous year, with price many times being the primary decision tool.
Take an opportunity once every four or five years, if your employer offers a personalized enrollment option, to find out as much as possible about the programs that you are spending your valuable dollars on.
About US Enrollment Services
US Enrollment Services (USES) specializes in benefits enrollment solutions. USES employees over 400 insurance professionals with backgrounds in human resources, benefits, training, communications, enrollment centers, enrollment technology, and administration. They offer enrollment experience with large national firms as well as small local employers.
About Hunter Whittington
Hunter is the current Managing Director for US Enrollment Services where he helps employers manage their benefits enrollment process, develop a Benefits Administration system or help employers communicate their benefits plans to employees. Hunter has been in the enrollment and benefits industry for almost 40 years. He currently resides in Delray Beach, Florida.
FUN FACT: Two things that bring me great joy are: sunrises and flowers. Everybody enjoys a good sunset, but not enough people take the time to go watch the sun come up over the horizon. It always sets the tone for the day, and provides the opportunity for a fresh perspective for a positive day!
As for the flowers, I enjoy landscape design. Layout, planting, and cultivating a landscape is incredibly therapeutic and rewarding. Everything from watering, fertilizing, trimming, and even pulling weeds provides an opportunity to be one with nature and all of its color and beauty. Knowing that you created an environment that surrounds your home with the fauna and flowers, gives a sense of accomplishment that only comes from dirty fingernails. Tough not to smile when you stare out at the orchids, or roses, or any of the caterpillars and butterflies enjoying the plantings created just for them….
Use PTO to Enhance Financial Wellness
PTO Exchange developed the first flexible benefits platform that allows employees to self-direct the value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other needs and causes. The platform caters to employees’ individualized needs and different transitions in life (retirement accounts, student loan repayments, charitable donations, and more) – offering a choice and flexibility to control the value of their unused vacation. PTO Exchange helps companies stand out in a competitive job market, increase employee engagement, build loyalty, reduce balance sheet liabilities, and strengthen culture.
Learn more how PTO Exchange can help with financial wellness - download our free data sheet below.