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The majority of employers do not currently communicate employee benefit information online, despite various benefits associated with the technology, according to a new survey.

Only 29% of 433 corporate benefit professionals were using the Internet or corporate intranets to communicate employee benefits-related information, according to the survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Of the remainder, however, 66% said they plan to use the online technology for benefits communication in the future.

Among the respondents that are not currently using the online technology, the most frequently cited reasons were: employees' lack of computer access, 23%; the cost of implementation, 10%; and the amount of time involved to implement the technology, 9%.

Among the minority of companies using the Internet and/or intranets for benefit communication, the IFEBP found that most have been using the technology for two years or less.

The survey found that 36% of the respondents have used the technology for communicating benefit information for six months or less, while 28% have used it for seven months to one year, and 24% for one to two years. Only 2% have used it for 25 to 36 months, while 10% have used the technology for more than three years.

"We didn't realize the Internet was so new," said Cindy Drinkwater, senior director of research at the IFEBP in Brookfield, Wis. Most respondents are just becoming familiar with the technology, she noted.

There are numerous benefits associated with transferring benefits communication online, according to Ms. Drinkwater. She noted that long-term cost savings are a key advantage; printing and data entry costs are much lower.

"Internet technology proved to be a more effective way of educating employees, rather than paper communication," Ms. Drinkwater said. Internet technology makes it easier to customize benefit information. "You can come up with a specialized model, and it can focus on individuals more than a meeting or paper can," she said.

Among respondents using the Internet and intranet, speed of information transfer and feedback were the most frequently mentioned benefits. Seventy-four percent cited increased speed as the primary benefit. Other frequently cited benefits included: reduced reliance on print, 67%; improved cost-effectiveness, 54%; and increased efficiency, 51%. Only 2% of respondents cited no benefits.

A majority of respondents using online technology for benefit communication were satisfied with the medium, the survey found. Twelve percent said they were very satisfied, while 32% said they were satisfied and 29% percent were somewhat satisfied. Only 4% were dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied, though 6% were very dissatisfied. The remainder indicated they were neither satisfied or dissatisfied, or gave no answer.

Asking respondents to identify how they use the technology to communicate benefit information, the IFEBP found that the majority of respondents use it to present benefits-related information that employees can read, rather than developing interactive functions.

The survey broke responses down according to Internet vs. intranet use, as well as health plan vs. pension plan information.

Among respondents using only intranets for communication:

* The most common health plan information was online health plan summaries, used by 66% of respondents. That was followed by frequently asked questions about health plans that employees could view or post, 42%; links to other Web sites, 20%; and open enrollment information, 20%.

* The most common pension plan information was summary plan descriptions, 47%; frequently asked questions that employees could view or post, 21%; and links to other pension plan-related Web sites, 18%.

Among respondents only using the Internet for communication:

* The most common health plan information was data on choosing primary care physicians and/or provider directories, offered by 20%; followed by links to other health plan-related Web sites, 18%.

* The most common pension information was account balances, offered by 24%; and quarterly reports/fund performance results, 19%.

Among respondents that used both the Internet and corporate intranets:

* The most common health plan information was data on choosing primary care physicians and/or provider directories, 8%; wellness and general health information, 6%; links to other Web sites, 6%; and frequently asked questions that employees could view or post, 6%.

* The most common pension information was links to pension plan-related Web sites, 8%; retirement education literature, 7%; and prospectuses/enrollment forms that could be downloaded, 6%.

Other survey findings include:

* Ninety-five percent of the respondents currently using the Internet or intranets for benefits communication said they anticipate adding more benefit functions in the future. Only 3% said they would not add any benefits, while 2% did not answer.

* The majority of respondents, 70%, used internal resources to design their Web sites. Twenty-six percent used outside organizations, and 4% didn't respond.

* More than half of the respondents, 64%, do not track the number of employees who actually use the Internet or intranets to access benefit information. Thirty-two percent do track employees' Internet/intranet use and 4% did not answer.

A complimentary copy of "Communicating Employee Benefits Via the Web" can be obtained from the IFEBP by calling 414-786-6710, extension 8219; by faxing a request for document #27005 to 888-217-5960; or by sending an e-mail request for the survey to