Tips & Trends from the Assurex Employee Benefits Group Meeting

A team from Benefit Technology Resources (BTR) traveled to Orlando in late February to present and participate in the 2019 Assurex Employee Benefits Group Meeting. The theme of the event was business growth — agency growth, partnership growth, producer growth and producers’ growing use of resources and skills. Assurex top leaders provided a general update and overview of 2019 initiatives.

Attracting and retaining talent remains a top challenge.

The talent war is driving employers to look for ways to fine-tune their benefit packages to help remain competitive and have the desired impact on their workforce. Assurex highlights four core benefit trends for 2019. Here’s a few thoughts about each. Many of these points were reinforced throughout the program by other speakers:

  • Affordability: Thanks to cost-shifting from employers to employees and rising deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, employees will have a hard time affording their benefits. This can have unintended consequences, including financial stress resulting in reduced productivity.
  • Transition from Wellness to Well-being: Employers increasingly understand the need to take a holistic approach to employee wellness. This means consideration for more than just physical health, but also mental, social and financial health…along with programs to support the transition to overall well-being.
  • Employee engagement: Related to well-being, employers want employees to view work as a positive experience. A benefit program that supports work/life balance will help shape employee engagement in the workplace. This includes creating a culture of health and well-being initiatives that unites employees and employers.
  • Preparing for Gen Z: The latest generation to join the workforce is Gen Z (born after 1996). While millennials still garner a lot of attention, employers must not assume these groups are the same and should use benefits to help build loyalty with this group. Gen Zers will expect benefits to be mobile and flexible and will look for reviews on their benefit package options before choosing one. In a session on competing for talent, Scott Cawood, president & CEO of WorldatWork, shared an insightful snapshot of the differences between millennials and Gen Z. These include that Gen Z wants to customize the rules (versus millennials wanting to change them), training needs to be technology-based (versus collaborative and networked) and decision-making will be team-persuaded (versus team-decided, for millennials).

Technology trends identified by BTR:

Trends was also the focus of a panel that included BTR’s CEO Jamie Hawkins. In a TED Talk-style session, each panelist addressed market trends, what to expect in 2019 and how to tackle the challenges. Jamie shared BTR’s view of what’s happening in the HR technology arena, including these key points:

  • HCM utilization is transitioning from being tactical to strategic. We say, it’s about time. Benefits administration is a critical piece of that transition. BTR consultants see more stand-alone benefits administration than ever before, stemming from the fact that benefits are getting more complicated. At the industry matures, we’re also seeing more second-generation buyers, which means more savvy buyers. This is good for the industry.
  • Vendor support matters more today than in the past. If you read our BAN Winter Conference blog,  you know that clients are looking for more from their vendors, and vendors that deliver are rewarded with improved client retention. The Sierra-Cedar 2018-2019 HR Systems Survey White Paper, 21st Annual Edition is a great source of data regarding all things HR systems, and speaks to the changing role of vendors, including, among other things, strategy and guidance. While we applaud vendors that engage with their client’s around strategy, we caution not to let technology lead the discussion. As we’ve stated before (and worth repeating), tech should not drive business strategy; business strategy should drive tech decisions. Our team is available to help identify solutions that deliver service and support business strategy.
  • AI is big within benefits administration. Artificial intelligence (AI) is big everywhere in HR tech, including on the benefits side, where benefit administration vendor Businessolver is leading the initiative with “Sophia,” its personal benefits assistant chat bot. Sophia uses AI and machine learning to answer employee benefits questions through text-to-text or voice recognition online and via a mobile app. During the 2019 annual enrollment season, Sophia handled some 51,000 chats (nearly 1,000 per day!). Of these, 40% were at night or on weekends. Not surprisingly, younger generations were the biggest users: 46% millennials, 33% Gen Xers and 21% baby boomers. Most impressive, perhaps, is that Sophia’s knowledge set has quadrupled to 130 benefit topics in 20 languages. Watch for more of this use of technology across the benefits administration sector.

Be specific to make an impact.

BTR consultant Kelly Zimmerman left the session “Optimizing Benefit Practice Growth” feeling the impact of speaker Jenn Walsh, founder of GenuineShift. Ms. Walsh spoke to what makes an impact in this business, addressing market verticals, employee well-being initiatives and defined action plans, among others. But the point that resonated most with Kelly was on market differentiation and the importance of communicating specifics. Her example was real estate focused: Instead of saying “I’m an expert in homes sales,” say “I’ve sold 500 homes in the last five years.” The same can be applied in our industry, including for brokers looking to solidify their role as an advisor, e.g., “In preparation for 2019 OE, I helped 10 employers move 35,000 employees from paper to an online process, saving these companies and estimated $15,000 in administrative expense while increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.”  The point is to qualify and quantify what you deliver that’s of value to a client or prospect. Kelly tweeted some great quotes from this session. Read these and all our tweets from the Assurex Meeting on Twitter (scroll to Feb 20). Follow us @bentechre.

Advice for Brokers:

We leave you one of our favorite quotes from Barry Burks, VP, Ross & Yerger Insurance, who spoke on a panel of Assurex partners sharing their success stories in the small employer market: “No Pain, No Change. No Change, No Sale.” Our spin on this is that the role of the broker has changed, and clients look to you for guidance on HR and benefit technology. If you’re not prepared to respond, they will look elsewhere, including to their vendor. Change can be painful, but BTR is here to support you with change. Reach out if we can assist you or your clients with their benefit technology needs.