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Data and HSA Personalization

Drive a better HSA experience using data and personalization.

HSA Personalization and Your Employees’ Goals

Put yourself in the shoes of a member of your company’s human resources team. You’re walking into the annual benefits kickoff meeting (coffee in hand, of course) to strategize on your employee benefits offering. You will determine how to engage each person so they are aware of their options, understand their perks, and take full advantage of their value.

Every year, this meeting is about trying to do more for your employees despite the rising cost of healthcare. It’s a challenge!

Now take a step back. What are your employees’ goals? After all, if they aren’t achieving their goals, you won’t achieve yours. Chances are, they’re hoping your benefits:

  • Support their specific needs
  • Save them money
  • Help them feel more secure about their future

Want to learn more about personalization at WEX?

Support. Save. Security.

Each can mean different things to different people. Having the technology and resources in place to personalize your benefits for every single employee throughout the year — and not just in open enrollment — is vital.

Personalization takes on even greater importance with health savings accounts (HSAs), because the accounts have a wide range of benefits, including short-term savings to pay for health expenses, retirement-planning, and investing. People’s ability to take advantage of these HSA benefits varies – and changes over time – according to their health, family size, age, and ability to save. Their needs change as circumstances change.

Our History with HSA Personalization

HSAs have been around for less than 20 years, yet they’ve quickly become one of the most popular ways for employees to save money today and prepare for retirement in the future. Americans now hold more than $80 billion in HSA assets, which is up tenfold from just 11 years ago.

More HSAs are powered by WEX than any other technology platform. That puts WEX in a unique position to analyze a large pool of account data (when partners have granted us permission to do so), and help create a positive HSA participant experience.

WEX has also invested in its data, including creating an applied artificial intelligence team to help us better support those who work with us. In 2018, our teams embarked on a sweeping analysis of HSA participant account behaviors that remains ongoing to this day. The analysis was performed on de-identified HSA data using HIPAA’s de-identification safe harbor.

From this analysis, we’ve identified behavioral trends, that have remained remarkably consistent since 2018, to help us identify how to best reach certain participants.

Mari Whittaker

”We began this work with the broad goal of better understanding consumer behavior by intentionally exploring just transaction data,” said Mari Whittaker, senior product manager of analytics for the benefits division of WEX. “The data revealed patterns of consumer behavior that are more nuanced than the well-known spender/saver paradigm. From there, we looked at demographic characteristics to gain an even better understanding of the people behind the accounts.”
Mari Whittaker, Senior. Product Manager, Analytics – WEX

Mari Whittaker

“From a data science perspective, this was an extremely exciting opportunity,” said Austin Smith, data scientist at WEX. “Since WEX has so many HSA participants across a wide variety of locations and industries, we’re well-positioned to conduct meaningful research that produces significant results. Our cutting-edge data architecture and machine-learning techniques let us truly understand our customers’ behavior so we can improve their experience.”
Austin Smith, Data Scientist, Applied AI – WEX

Want to learn more about personalization at WEX?

Why Is This Research Important?

Despite the growth in HSA usage, these accounts are still relatively new when compared with other health benefits and retirement-planning counterparts. And because some participants use them like an FSA and others use them like a 401(k), new HSA participants might find it challenging to know how to get started.

Our 2019 “Paying for Healthcare in America” report revealed similar findings. In that report, we found that consumer satisfaction with consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) that included an HSA was lower than the satisfaction rate for those participating in traditional HSA-ineligible plans, but only for the first three years. After that, consumers viewed CDHPs and HSAs much more favorably.

“When it finally clicked, (an HSA) became the obvious choice,”

– one consumer told us at the time.

How Employers Benefit From Higher HSA Engagement

HSA-eligible health plans typically have lower premiums to help employers and employees save.

80 percent of employers say that employee financial stress is reducing workplace performance, at an estimated cost of half a trillion dollars. HSAs can support employees’ financial wellness.

Lack of engagement costs money. For example, our research shows that each non-user HSA costs about $25 annually to the administrator or their customers.

7 Behavior Segments

Through our research, we’ve found that HSA participants’ behavior falls into seven different segments. By tailoring messaging to each segment, you can equip the participant with the information they need to get more out of their HSAs.

It’s important to understand that these segments aren’t personas. HSA participants can shift from one segment to another, based on a variety of reasons including their understanding of HSAs, how much their employer contributes to the account, and their own individual circumstances.

Investor

The investor invests all of their funds and doesn’t use their HSA to pay for healthcare expenses, treating the account as a long-term savings vehicle, like it’s a “healthcare 401k.”

  • $16,900 average yearly ending balance
  • $3,500 average yearly contribution
  • 41% of investors contribute 90% or more of the annual IRS max
  • 92% of investor accounts receive employer contributions

Cash saver

Cash savers, like their investor counterparts, don’t withdraw funds from their HSA to pay for healthcare. But unlike investors, they don’t invest – they keep all their funds in cash.

  • $2,900 average yearly ending balance
  • $900 average yearly contribution
  • 5% of cash savers contribute 90% or more of the annual IRS max
  • 77% of cash saver accounts receive employer contributions

Hybrid

The hybrid segment, as its name suggests, is a mixed bag. Their average contribution amounts are very similar to investors, but hybrids use their HSAs to pay for healthcare and some of them also invest. Of the segments that do spend HSA funds, hybrids have the highest average balances.

  • $4,200 average yearly ending balance
  • $3,400 average yearly contribution
  • $1,900 average yearly distribution
  • 27% of hybrids contribute 90% or more of the annual IRS max
  • 90% of hybrid accounts receive employer contributions

Maintainer

Cash savers, like their investor counterparts, don’t withdraw funds from their HSA to pay for healthcare. But unlike investors, they don’t invest – they keep all their funds in cash.

  • $1,250 average yearly ending balance
  • $2,100 average yearly contribution
  • $2,100 average yearly distribution
  • 7% of maintainers contribute 90% or more of the annual IRS max
  • 84% of maintainer accounts receive employer contributions

Planner

Those in the planner segment typically spend more of their HSA funds than they contribute while still keeping a balance in their HSA from year to year. Nearly 90 percent of these participants receive an employer contribution, and they use much of it to pay for healthcare expenses in the short term. On average, they spend $2,300 in HSA funds each year and contribute (employer and employee combined) $1,700 each year.

  • $4,200 average yearly ending balance
  • $3,400 average yearly contribution
  • $1,900 average yearly distribution
  • 27% of hybrids contribute 90% or more of the annual IRS max
  • 90% of hybrid accounts receive employer contributions

Spend downer

Like their name suggests, spend downers start with a relatively high balance at the beginning of the year but spend it down by the end of the year. They use their HSA much like they would a flexible spending account (FSA), possibly because they don’t understand they can build and carry over their balance or they need the funds to pay for health expenses. The average spend downer starts the year with an HSA balance of $2,000 and ends the year with $80.

  • $80 average yearly ending balance
  • $1,200 average yearly contribution
  • $2,100 average yearly distribution
  • 5% of spend downers contribute 90% or more of the annual IRS max
  • 82% of spend downer accounts receive employer contributions

Non-user

Non-users have HSA accounts that are open but they don’t spend funds or contribute to it. Why? Could be for a variety of reasons, such as not realizing they have one, lack of incentive to contribute to it, or lack of confidence in using it.

The 3 E’s to Support Participants

Encourage

Employers’ HSA participants probably include many or all of these segments. And that’s OK. One of the key differentiators for HSAs is that they work as short-term savings tools, long-term retirement accounts, and somewhere in between. Encourage your employees to use an HSA in the way that works best for them, knowing that their behavior can shift depending on how their life changes.

Educate

Easy access to education will help participants adopt new behaviors with confidence. How do you currently communicate your HSA’s perks? In some ways, HSAs are like FSAs. In other ways, they’re like a 401(k) or IRA, with mutual funds and other investment options available as ways to grow funds. Make sure your employees understand all the ways they can use an HSA so they can choose the path to HSA success that’s right for them.

Empower

Our research shows that HSA participants will move from one segment to another as their needs change or their understanding of HSAs changes. Give them the tools they need to use their HSA however they’d like, such as:

  • An easy-to-use debit card for spending.
  • A mobile app/online account experience that simplifies investing.
  • Handouts, guides, help articles, and other resources to help them learn more.

Employer Contributions: What’s the Sweet Spot?

Problem

You’ve noticed that your participants either aren’t contributing as much to their HSA as you would expect, or your HSA participation rate in general is low or has declined because people are concerned about being hit with a health care expense before they’ve had time to build up enough savings in their HSA.

Solution

The employer decides to contribute to their employees’ HSAs to encourage participation and ease cash flow concerns. But how much is the right amount?

Takeaway

Our data research team has found that certain employer contribution amounts lead to the highest levels of employee contributions.

Just as importantly, any employer contribution of $50 or more will lead to increased HSA payroll deductions from employees, based on our research.

Note: Statistics are based on a sample of data from the WEX benefits platform, which supports 6 ½ million HSAs.

Using Data to Support HSA Participants

Data can make a big difference for HSA participants. Oftentimes, all they need for a better experience is education and confidence. With targeted messaging based on their behavior, HSA participants can feel equipped with the knowledge they need to make the best decisions regarding their use of these versatile accounts.

5 Key Takeaways

  • Support HSA participants, no matter how they use their HSA.
  • Take advantage of personalized messaging capabilities (if offered on your platform) to easily educate HSA participants based on how they interact with their account.
  • Start discussions regarding employer contributions of the “sweet spot” number to employees’ HSAs.
  • Choose an HSA partner who continues to invest in technology and research to improve the consumer experience.
  • Watch for trends within your HSA analytics to identify employee education opportunities.

About WEX

Powered by the belief that complex payment systems can be made simple, WEX (NYSE: WEX) is a leading financial technology service provider across a wide spectrum of sectors, including fleet, travel, and healthcare.

WEX operates in more than 10 countries and in more than 20 currencies through more than 5,000 associates around the world. WEX fleet cards offer 15 million vehicles exceptional payment security and control; purchase volume in its travel and corporate solutions grew to $40 billion in 2019; and the WEX health financial technology platform helps 408,000 employers and more than 33 million consumers better manage healthcare expenses.

WEX has the technology and data to provide participants with the education, resources, and simplified experience they need to get the most out of their HSAs. That includes:

  • One mobile app, one online account, and one debit card for all their health and commuter benefits.
  • A variety of ways to be reimbursed for HSA purchases.
  • Easy-to-use HSA investing and tracking on their app and online account.
  • HSA personalization within our platform, with continued investments in this area.

Meet Our Data Science Team

Mari Whittaker

Mari Whittaker
Sr. Product Manager, Analytics

Austin Smith

Austin Smith
Data Scientist, Applied AI

Chris Michel

Chris Michel
Senior Business Analyst, Analytics

Dave Howe

Dave Howe
Data Warehouse Specialist

Rick Natoli

Rick Natoli
Director, Data Product Delivery