THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

Three Key Insights Plan Sponsors and Advisers Should Know About Special Needs Planning

From left: Heather Lavallee, President, Voya Tax-Exempt Markets; Bill Harmon, President, Voya Corporate Markets; Michael De Feo, Managing Director, Retirement and Investment Only Voya Investment Management

An Opportunity Exists to Support Caregivers and their Loved Ones

Heather Lavallee: Our industry has come a long way in recognizing that certain groups, such as women and minorities, can face unique challenges preparing for a successful retirement. Despite the progress in recent years to support them, one sizeable population—people with disabilities and their caregivers—is still largely underserved. Historically, there has been a lack of advocacy to advance retirement policy and financial planning for the disability and special needs community. The landscape is difficult to navigate, with a patchwork of complicated rules and few qualified experts. But an opportunity exists to improve this experience, and for employers and advisers to learn how they can help.

According to population statistics, one in five workers in the U.S. has or will have a disability in their life1, and one in six serves as a caregiver2. These numbers reflect the far-reaching scope of the special needs community which includes people with physical and cognitive disabilities; those with debilitating diseases and conditions resulting from catastrophic events and aging; and the ones most often overlooked—the family members responsible for providing care and financial security.
Caregivers, overall, do not feel confident about their financial wellness. Of those who care for an adult with a disability, 90% say they receive little or no financial support3. These workers are also strapped for time, spending more than 24 hours each week providing care4. Many may even be sandwiched between a child and an ailing parent.

Voya has made a commitment to champion this issue through our Voya Cares® initiative, which we launched two years ago. Our program resources are focused on three critical areas: 1) beneficiary education and planning, which we’ve integrated throughout our entire Retirement experience and across all of Voya’s businesses; 2) helping individuals understand and navigate key government benefits; and 3) providing holistic financial planning support for strategies, such as guardianship options and special needs trusts, which employers can integrate with their existing benefits program.

Voya Cares enables us to make a difference by showing our customers that we’re not just service providers, but we’re also parents and family members. Many of us have our own stories which helps bring this issue to life for more plan sponsors and advisers.

Employers are a Critical Access Point to Special Needs Resources and Benefits

Bill Harmon: Generally, the emotional toll of living with a disability or serving as a caregiver is not deeply understood by an employer and, therefore, not well-integrated into their broader human capital considerations. The result is that it can limit the full potential of an organization’s workforce. One of the main reasons for this challenge is that many individuals don’t freely offer this information up—only 56% of caregivers speak to their supervisors about the caregiving responsibilities they take on outside of their jobs5.

However, once you initiate the dialogue with employees and demonstrate a desire to help, you will find this audience appreciates talking and learning about any support resources, financial or otherwise. My wife and I are caregivers to our 17-year-old son who has Down syndrome. Like me, many workers are managing their own set of life circumstances at home. Yet employers are often unaware of the impact special needs planning issues can create, as well as the opportunities. Consider retirement readiness—almost one-third of caregivers are not saving at all for retirement6, and more than three-quarters are concerned they won’t be able to retire on their terms7.

This is where employers can step in with education, tools and benefits to enhance their broader financial wellness programs. They can begin with education and access to information on fundamental topics. Our Voya Cares resources highlight some of the most important government programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid and Medicare. There are also rules to know about beneficiary designation on financial accounts and insurance policies so that a caregiver does not inadvertently disqualify their loved one from means tested assistance.
Employers can also consider providing additional benefits. These include more established offerings, such as employee assistance programs, emergency caregiving services and flexible personal leave policies. There is also a growing trend to make new services available that help workers take on the burden of managing and coordinating their entire care process, from the creation of a plan to execution. When we bring up these services to sponsors, the response is always positive and they want to know more, especially in a tight employment market where companies strive to be an employer of choice to attract and retain top talent.

By knowing the pressures and anxieties that keep caregivers up at night, employers can adjust their benefits to fit the culture of their organization. This can further talent recruitment and retention efforts, support a diverse and inclusive culture, and make all employees feel integral to the success of the organization.

Advisers Can Add Value to the Special Needs Planning Process

Michael De Feo: When you consider the numbers that are providing care, there’s a good chance someone making a decision about the plan — a benefits manager or plan committee member — may also be part of that group. As an adviser, if you are able to talk to someone about what is happening to them on a personal level, you have an opportunity to make an emotional connection and have a very different conversation.

In an extremely competitive market, advisers can demonstrate distinctive value by raising this topic with current and prospective clients, showing that he or she can comfortably talk about sensitive issues and provide access to training, resources and guidance. All else being equal, this knowledge can be the single differentiator in an otherwise very commoditized landscape.

As we continue to give presentations and speak about this topic, we encounter more advisers who are extremely receptive and engaged. They are also sharing their own personal stories, and we’re finding many want to thank us for being a go-to resource, because it’s not an area that gets a lot of attention as a source of financial stress and anxiety.

Our Voya Cares program is gaining industry recognition8 with many resources that help people navigate their disability situation. This includes a web-based resource center with self-service planning tools, education materials and information to say, “Here’s a checklist; here are different organizations and sites you can access; here’s how to write a letter of intent; because just finding the information can be daunting.” This centralized repository is where advisers can refer individuals to go for information on community resource groups and experts who focus on special needs planning, beneficiary designations and legal and tax assistance.

We could all use a little help planning for the future—and when you have special needs to consider, knowing where to start and what resources are available can be one of the biggest challenges. At Voya, we’re committed to helping all Americans retire better; and this includes making a positive impact in the lives of people with disabilities as well as their families and caregivers.


1. U.S. census Bureau. “Americans with Disabilities: 2010; 2. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 2011; 3. Family Caregiver Alliance: Caregiver Statistics – Work and Caregiving, 2016; 4. National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP: Caregiving in the U.S., 2015; 5. Ibid; 6. The American College of Financial Services study (Greenwald & Associates, 2016); 7. Ibid; 8. Wealth Management Industry Award Winner in CSR/Diversity (2017 and 2018)

Voya Cares® helps Americans living with special needs and disabilities, and their caregivers,
plan for the future they envision by providing resources, education and solutions. For more information, visit VoyaDifference.com/Employers.
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