Sometimes you just smack yourself in the head and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" An idea surfaces that is so obvious and so right--and you never saw it coming. That's what makes great entrepreneurs, of course. Entrepreneurs don't know what's impossible or what they can't do. They don't color within the lines or stay stuck in silos. They see what everyone else has seen (and lamented for years); they think about it differently; and they bring a new perspective or approach to the problem. Then, in retrospect, it becomes blindingly clear to all of us. As Nelson Mandela said: it always seems impossible until it's done.
For years, I've been depressed by the fact that millions of people are trapped in crappy, dead-end jobs, yearning to be free to try to do something meaningful and important, because they are imprisoned by their need to preserve their company-based health insurance coverage. It's hard to imagine the economic impact and the creative forces that would be unleashed if the futures of so many weren't fettered by the bonds of the bozos who run the health insurance scams in this country. (See Why Wiki Work is the Future ) This is in part why 1871 became the first mega-incubator to offer health insurance programs for its member companies although-- truth be told-- almost all of our entrepreneurs think they're immortal and indestructible, so they're more concerned about innovation than insurance in their daily lives.
Now I'm not naïve and I do realize that "portable" health insurance and increased employee mobility isn't exactly a high priority of major U.S. corporations. They're more concerned with (a) motivating and hanging on to their good young people and (b) trying to figure out how they can attract the next several generations of smart, skilled newbies to their big, old and somewhat tired businesses. I don't see their HR departments rushing any time soon to get rid of the insurance handcuffs.
But healthcare handcuffs aside, there's actually good news on the benefits front that will serve both the existing young employee workforce and also be a sure-fire attractor for new talent. Forget Friday beer blasts, gym dues and mid-day massages-- the new great employee perk for businesses big and small is right before our eyes. And the best news is that it's something you can get started on tomorrow whether your revenues are billions or bupkes. Even the big guys can do some good for a change by doing good for their employees.
In my daily conversations with dozens of techies in their 20s and 30s, it turns out that the real problem for almost all of them is not insurance, it's their substantial student debt. Frankly, none of these youngsters cares about a 401(k) when they're more worried about foraging for food on a weekly basis. In fact, a staggering number of young workers these days don't make any 401(k) contributions even when their employers are willing to match them. So much for the savings rate.
A new company based at 1871, called Peanut Butter, has come up with a simple, straightforward way for businesses to help their employees (new and old) get this brutal debt burden off their backs. It bears a resemblance to a 401k benefit in that a company can automatically make a payment on an employee's student debt. Keep in mind that 40 million Americans have student debt right now and it averages more than $30,000 per person. This isn't just a new employee recruitment tool; it's also a powerful retention tool to help keep your proven people around the place years longer.
And believe me, in this competitive recruitment market where only a few companies can afford ridiculous signing bonuses and other incentives, this could be a way for your company to offer a helping hand to your best employees and hottest prospects.
Talk about a magnet for Millennials. This is the real deal and these kids in particular are saddled with more student debt than any generation before them. More than 70% of the Class of 2015 graduated with student debt.
By 2020, Millennials will represent almost 50% of the total U.S. workforce. Surveys already indicate that most of the major employment decisions new graduates are making are informed by the impact of their choices on their student debt, including industry selection, job acceptances, and relocation options. If, as an employer, your benefits offerings aren't in the competitive set you can bet that you'll be on the outside looking in as the best candidates head elsewhere.
Peanut Butter (www.getpeanutbutter.com ) is a benefits administration platform geared to let any business make contributions to help employees pay off their student loans. It's all online and everything from establishing the plan, enlisting qualified employees, confirming loan amounts and determining contribution amounts, and even routing, tracking and documenting the payments are all incorporated with detailed real-time reports. Treasury management services are provided by a large and long-established Chicago-based financial institution.
Needless to say, this would be a difficult task for an individual company to undertake regardless of its resources (even with the best of intentions) because every single employee's story is different and there are tens of thousands of different lenders, payers, borrowers, etc. It's an ideal use case for a one-stop, cloud-based platform business where all the investigation, standardization, documentation, payment programs and infrastructure are already built and in place so that it becomes a turnkey solution.
You could always try to do this yourself, I guess, but it would be a stupid use of your energy, time and resources when the solution is already sitting there. And an even dumber thing to do would be to wait until everyone else is already offering the benefit to their people. Just remember the old adage: when it's obvious that you need to change, it's probably already too late to do so.