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A good insurance innovation story today is likely to include at least one of the following technology and business improvements: legacy core system replacement, systems integration through microservices, increased process efficiency for the insurer’s business client, and a truly customer-centric solution for the end consumer. Guardian Life’s (New York) Guardian Absence Solutions manages to combine them all. The new service, built through a partnership with EIS (San Francisco), ties together the management of employee leave and compensation replacement management in a single solution that is transparent to employers and employees.
“We handle every aspect of employee leave—how much time they can be away on leave, how to replace their compensation while away, and we help employer on the compliance aspects, various state and federal,” comments John Furlong, Head of Business Transformation, Guardian Life.
That makes it sound easy—which of course is the point—but the service works by combining two often very challenging business areas which have historically been the source of significant frustration for both employer and employee.
Guardian Life’s Absence Management Study found that 82 percent of employers struggle simply to keep up with changes to federal and state leave laws, and that the COVID-19 pandemic intensified senior management’s concern about achieving effective absence management. Guardian’s research also confirmed that employers are outsourcing their short-term disability and Family Medical & Leave Act (FMLA) administration, at a much higher rate—more than double since 2012.
From the employee’s point of view, a single life event can result in a very complicated succession of transactions relating to both leave management and compensation replacement. Guardian Absence Solutions reduces that complexity for the employee by treating all related transactions as a single event, handled by a dedicated case manager. It simultaneously simplifies administration on the employer side by including integrated intake, a unified claims portal, consolidated billing and continuous monitoring of leave regulations to help ensure federal and state compliance.
Guardian Life has over 60 years’ experience in absence management. However, like other companies, it managed these business functions separately—through its legacy disability product administration systems for compensation management and with its ReedGroup (Westminster, Colo.) subsidiary’s LeavePro for absence management. With Guardian Absence Solutions, the company sought to unite these capabilities through an integrated digital ecosystem that supported speed and simplicity for both employer and employee.
“We saw was that these were actually not independent things from both the employer and employee standpoint—they were actually two sides of same coin,” explains Furlong. “Instead of coming at the employer or employee with multiple products, what we’re trying to do is come to them addressing these from both employee and employee perspective, with a comprehensive product that addresses both.”
Furlong explains the benefit to the employee through the example of a pregnancy: at some point the employee’s doctor may recommend time away from work. Depending on company policies, there may be paid leave, or there may be a disability insurance policy that will cover some or all replacement of compensation.
“In a traditional environment, you would go and work with one person to ask, ‘How much time you can I get off? What rights do I have?—I don’t want to lose my job, but I do need to take time off,’” Furlong elaborates. “Then you might have to go somewhere else to file a bunch of paperwork and see if you can get replacement for that compensation from an insurance company.”
The birth of the expected child may be the occasion of maternity leave. From a legacy business process standpoint, this could add further separate transactions even though, to the employee, they are all aspects the same event. “You just switched your compensation replacement from a disability policy to a company paid leave,” Furlong says. “We’ll take care of all that—it’s all beautiful on your web screen, you can see exactly what’s happening, and how it’s happening.”
In the event of a subsequent medical complication requiring further absence, the same unified case management prevails, according to Furlong. “Our goal is to help you as an employee understand everything you need to get back to work if that’s the right goal, or the replacement of your compensation if that’s the objective,” he comments.
Partnering with EIS
Guardian Life began designing the new absence management solution in the fall of 2019, with Reed Group’s LeavePro identified as the absence tracking component due to its “excellent” capabilities, according to Furlong. However, Guardian concluded that its existing short- and long-term disability product systems were overdue for upgrades, and as such less than optimal for the envisioned unified digital experience.
Building on an existing relationship with EIS group related to direct-to-consumer products, Guardian decided to replace those legacy systems with the EIS Suite to handle short- and long-term disability claims processing.
The design called for making LeavePro system microservices available via API to the EIS Suite and a Guardian experience layer. As described in the pregnancy example, all of the claims and leaves from both systems from a single absence event are unified as an absence case in the EIS system—from which the claims processor can see, manage and pay concurrent claims together.
Customer-Centric, Omnichannel Service
“It’s because we’re doing it all at a microservices level that we’re able to create a truly unified experience,” Furlong comments. “It’s the generation and the caliber of the technology that EIS brings the table that’s so important to achieving that.”
Guardian set out to create a truly customer-centric solution, with capabilities that in effect “see” events as the customer experiences them, Furlong emphasizes. An integral component of that objective, he stresses, is an omnichannel approach to customer communications, enabling the seamless choice and shifting of channels including IVR, phone, Web, mobile and chat.
Furlong stresses how the integrated system can solve problems and minimize the potential for error. A single leave event could imply multiple ways compensation is generated—for example as short-term corporation or as a partial payment. From a time standpoint, an employee could have rights to time off for multiple different policy differences. “If you had separate systems, they would calculate all that separately and there would be conflicts between them,” Furlong explains. “By building a microservices-based system, we take information from Guardian Life’s technology and combine it at a microservices level, generated by leave processing rules, etc. We’re able to do that very finitely and get a much more granular, high-quality result.”
The result, Furlong says, is that it’s unlikely for there to be errors in time off, or offsets that are not accounted for. “You just get better compliance and a better client experience,” he says.
Guardian Life signed an agreement with EIS at the beginning of 2020. Work began in Feb. 2020 and a full launch of the new system was completed in March 2021. The work was fairly evenly divided between Guardian Life’s and EIS’s teams in the U.S. and offshore. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Guardian and EIS were able to go 100 percent remote in about two days, Furlong recalls. “I was certainly worried that productivity might suffer, but it didn’t suffer at all,” he says. “We’ve come through various waves of COVID around the world. It continues to be a concern of ours in India, but we’ve been able to keep on schedule.”
Not Like an Insurance Company
Guardian began quoting new cases with Guardian Absence Management’s go-live in March. The firm will be installing its first cases in October 2021. Since launch, brokers and clients have given the new solution rave reviews, Furlong reports. “They’ve been saying, ‘It doesn’t look like an insurance company, but more like what I get from an HR company,” he says. “That’s a real tribute, since insurers have tended to talk about the insurance part of the transaction—not the whole experience.”
Demand for Integrated Disability and Absence Management Solutions on the Rise