At the beginning of October, I attended the HR Technology Conference & Expo and walked away with some interesting insights into how benefits brokers are embracing technology. Thousands of HR leaders, vendors, analysts and consultants attend the annual event to learn more about the latest ways to leverage new technologies to drive HR strategies and achieve organizational success. While it was only my second year attending, I noticed the broker community had a very large presence this year.
Not only did I run into brokers at every session I attended, but some even had booths in the exposition hall. One of the more interesting conversations I had was with a large brokerage firm that had just formed a technology ecosystem to create a fully integrated quote-to-enroll-to-payroll/HRIS process. The solution will streamline the quoting process, making it more efficient for clients to get employees to electronically enroll in benefits, thereby eliminating manual efforts of both the client and the account management team.
That benefits data will integrate with a variety of payroll/HRIS systems, closing the loop on data flow, while layering in HR consulting and a centralized service model. In a time where commissions from carriers for small group plans are declining and competition is coming from all sides, this firm may have found a model that achieves operational efficiency while simultaneously delivering an improved client experience.
Progressive benefits brokers like this one are the firms that will thrive in the future. They think holistically and look to partner with vendors that can help them design and deliver better solutions for their clients, beyond streamlining the open enrollment process.
In order for brokers to remain competitive today, they must be experts in everything related to human capital, not just technology — which can be daunting. Given the thousands of options out there, determining the right partners to align with can be tough; but here are a few tips.
1. Rethink your technology lens — it’s about more than just benefits administration
Most brokers have acknowledged that in order to better serve their clients, they need to broaden the conversation beyond benefits and help them assess their holistic needs around human capital. At the conference, I had several conversations with brokers who were comparing the features of various benefits administration systems. They were evaluating things like decision support and the employee experience, which of course are important since they can increase employee usage and impact enrollment rates. But it doesn’t matter how flashy a demo is — any benefits technology that lacks integration capabilities with a business’s payroll, HRIS and timekeeping system of record potentially leaves room for error and frustration. More importantly, it may cause clients (and their brokers) to miss valuable insights. They may be able to see how much benefits enrollment increased year over year, but they won’t be able to see how that correlates with other business metrics, such as increased employee retention. When brokers combine benefits data with other HCM-related data, they can help clients drive business performance and move the conversation from wellness, to well-being, to employee (and business) performance.
2. Expand your data expertise with Big Data
Big Data and analytics were definitely the hot topics at the show. While working with claims and benefits data is nothing new for brokers, more are starting to realize the value of Big Data as a way to extend the HCM conversation with clients. Some of the larger brokers at the conference even announced new proprietary data sets that add to their workforce planning and compensation offerings.
The good news for smaller and midsized brokers is they can also get into the Big Data game without making a huge investment. They can provide valuable insights to clients by partnering with a third party to leverage its workforce data. Armed with vast amounts of HR information, brokers can help clients see how their companies stack up to the competition in such areas as compensation, workforce change and workforce demographics. It’s all about putting Big Data to work to help clients gain insights to make better informed workforce decisions on everything from compensation to benefits.
3. Make data actionable through analytics
According to the Agents for Technology (ACT) Strategic Future Issues Work Group Hard Trends Report, “[n]ew technologies and techniques are enabling the capture and analysis of more and more data (big data) and the creation of more useful business intelligence from it. Agencies and carriers are able to integrate this business intelligence into their decision-making in real time, enabling them to understand their consumers and operations better.”
Both brokers and their clients are in somewhat uncharted territory when it comes to analytics — the gathering of important internal and external data and the use of that data in a meaningful way. After hearing the “analytics buzz” from HR leaders at the show, it’s not surprising that a survey by Deloitte found that 36 percent of HR leaders said that analytics was an urgent area of focus, up from 29 percent in 2015.
With this level of urgency and uncertainty, companies need partners that know their business and how to help them achieve their short- and long-term goals. This is a natural extension of the role that brokers play. Creating strategy, designing policy, processes and procedures and deploying change management to be able to make the analytics actionable is key. Brokers can help their clients maximize the return on investment they make in their people by offering additional consulting, implementation and deployment resources within ongoing service models that can be customized based on the workforce.
Brokers are starting to show up more and more in the holistic HCM conversation, and their increased presence at HR Tech was a manifestation of that. We’ve only scratched the surface with Big Data solutions. Firms who embrace the power of Big Data and analytics will certainly gain a competitive edge in growing their reputations as trusted HCM advisors.