In review: 21 benefits technology innovators

Published
  • December 22 2017, 4:46am EST
Employee benefits are no longer predictable. Visionaries and entrepreneurs are using technology to disrupt the industry, creating new offerings for employees — think healthy food management and reducing student loan debt — and payroll and administrative solutions to remove as many burdens as possible for overworked employers. Meanwhile, benefit executives are working smarter by using leading-edge tech to increase engagement, help employees understand their benefits and drive down healthcare costs.

Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser’s Technology Innovator Awards recognize the individuals who are driving such technologies and making these innovations possible. After poring through dozens of nominations from EBN and EBA readers, editors consulted with industry experts and called on their own field of knowledge to choose this year’s award recipients.

Employee benefits are no longer predictable. Visionaries and entrepreneurs are using technology to disrupt the industry, creating new offerings for employees — think healthy food management and reducing student loan debt — and payroll and administrative solutions to remove as many burdens as possible for overworked employers. Meanwhile, benefit executives are working smarter by using leading-edge tech to increase engagement, help employees understand their benefits and drive down healthcare costs.

Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser’s Technology Innovator Awards recognize the individuals who are driving such technologies and making these innovations possible. After poring through dozens of nominations from EBN and EBA readers, editors consulted with industry experts and called on their own field of knowledge to choose this year’s award recipients.

Arisa Amano

Vice President of Product, Zenefits

Amano oversees Zenefits’ software suite, including benefits, HR and payroll, managing a team that spans product design, product management and product marketing. She led her teams in the complete redesign of the overall product and the delivery of a platform for third-party integrations, culminating in the launch of Z2 in October 2016, and the company’s significant HR One Winter Release in January 2017.

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Tom Avery

Owner and Founder, Innovative Broker Services

Avery doesn’t believe in taking products off the shelf to meet employer needs. Instead, the founder of benefit firm Innovative Broker Services in Folsom, Calif., builds customized technology platforms to address specific employer goals and objectives. In May 2014, Avery launched PaperlessHR, a product designed to help businesses manage their HR onboarding process, benefits enrollment and payroll data. It is fully automated and keeps employers in compliance based on their specific company needs. He developed PaperlessHR because he saw a gap in the market that no broker was filling, he says, as large-scale HRIS benefit administration software is often unaffordable for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Rachel Carlson

Co-Founder and CEO, Guild Education

Since founding Guild Education in 2015, Carlson has led the education-as-a-benefit tech company’s growth — from three full-time employees to 51 today — and secured $8.5 million in Series A funding last fall. She continues to lead aspects of business development and strategic partnerships with universities and employers. Guild Education’s online platform has gained traction among major employers, such as Chipotle, Denver Public Schools and the Public Service Credit Union. Guild’s innovative approach provides a double-bottom-line service that gives employees the opportunity to pursue their educational aspirations while providing meaningful business value to employers.

Norman Coppinger

Director of Administrative Services, League of California Cities

The control of healthcare expenditures, including those of retired employees, is a significant concern of members of the League of California Cities, an association of 474 member cities representing 98% of the urban areas in California. To address this issue, as well as other business concerns, the organization — under Coppinger’s direction — last summer launched the League of California Cities Health Benefits Marketplace. The exchange features a technology platform powered by Connecture and Willis Towers Watson that provides flexible tools to help all public agencies manage their unique benefits, contributions and eligibility structures.

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Ryan Fay

Global Chief Information Officer, ACI Specialty Benefits

Since joining ACI more than seven years ago, Fay has been on a mission to make certain that ACI’s benefits technology is built for the new workforce. To do so, he successfully implemented mobile optimized benefit websites, text referrals and reminder services, HIPAA-compliant live video chat sessions with ACI’s clinical network, and mobile apps for smartphones and smart wearables. He’s also made it a mission to simplify online access to benefits, with online intake forms and live chat available on ACI’s benefits websites. To improve access and engagement, Fay has developed an integration process that assures all of ACI’s benefits programs and portals can be blended with customers’ existing HR portals and platforms.

Mark Fitzgibbons

Head of Benefit Communication and Engagement, Holmes Murphy & Associates

With more than 20 years of employee engagement under his belt, Fitzgibbons knows the key to success: customization. In 2016, his firm rolled out a new engagement service for a multi-generational workforce. That included a library of short videos for employers to help inform and engage plan participants on smarter ways to utilize their benefit resources, including open enrollment; a “benefits flipbook,” an interactive digital experience that enables plan participants to access relevant content, video and links on a tablet or phone; and a “benefits navigator,” a platform for helping clients identify a style guide that fits their brand.

Carolyn Gordon

Director of Benefits, Fujifilm

In 2011, Gordon was experiencing difficulty engaging Fujifilm’s employees. Only 17% of eligible employees participated in their health risk assessment, incentive reward programs weren’t being utilized, and healthcare cost growth stood at 12%. She saw it was time for a change and decided to pilot an early-stage employee communication platform called Airbo. Within the first year of Airbo’s adoption, health assessment completion rates increased from 17% to 54%. Incentive reward program participation jumped, and healthcare cost growth decreased from 12% in 2011 to 0% in 2012. By 2013, healthcare trend dropped even further to -5%. According to Gordon, the adoption of an employee communication platform contributed to Fujifilm saving more than $5 million of their $565 million medical budget.

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Dean Harris

Chief Technology Officer, iGrad

Financial wellness is quickly becoming a necessity for both workers and workplaces as salaries stagnate, debt accrues and savings deplete. While financial literacy is a desired benefit for most employees, many employers still don’t offer the benefit. Harris realized that in order to make financial wellness appealing to both employers and employees, he had to design a platform that delivered flexible, multi-layered and comprehensive financial education in a way that’s enjoyable for the user. Harris created and maintains the iGrad and Enrich platforms, which deliver choices to make financial wellness the backbone of any benefit program. The product aims to offer the financial wellness benefits with minimal cost and time to the employer.udget.

Bill Hennessey

Founder and CEO, Pratter

Driven by his experience as a physician, Hennessey founded Pratter, a medical cost savings and transparency company, to empower healthcare consumers to save thousands of dollars per year by searching and comparing prices for a medical test or procedure, including blood work, imaging and elective procedures. The Pratter technology solution includes engaging and re-directing consumers to low-cost and high-quality providers in network. Pratter, which is available as an employee benefit with per-employee-per-month pricing, also provides employers with a medical cost-savings analysis of their de-identified medical claims data focusing on outpatient care, giving employers the knowledge and power to manage their claims and reduce healthcare costs.

David Klein

Co-Founder and CEO, CommonBond

Klein is the brains behind CommonBond, a company that aims to lower the cost of student loans using data and technology. Since he co-founded CommonBond five years ago, Klein has led the company in helping thousands to save millions of dollars on higher education. In October 2016, Klein led the launch of CommonBond for Business, a new SaaS benefits platform that empowers employers to help their employees better manage and pay down their student loans. Also in 2016, CommonBond signed more than 100 new partnerships across the U.S. and acquired personal finance management startup Gradible, in large part to incorporate Gradible’s proprietary student loan evaluation tool into CommonBond For Business. The evaluation tool enables employees to get personalized recommendations about how best to pay off their student loans.

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Jason Langheier

CEO and Founder, Zipongo

Langheier, a physician, knew that poor diet was a major problem in the U.S. But he also knew employers could be part of the solution. That’s why he created Zipongo. Through technology, it reshapes the food landscape for employees and health plan members by surfacing the healthiest options via mobile device, whether users are grocery shopping, eating in their workplace cafeteria or out at a restaurant. At home, Zipongo offers healthy recipes customized to the user’s biometric data, food allergies and preferences. Zipongo’s solutions are currently in use at more than 150 companies, including Google and IBM. The company offers food benefits management services as a new employee benefit, similar to pharmacy benefit management. The program includes digital nutrition coaching, diabetes management and a “step therapy” approach to prescribe healthy food as a first-line therapy before prescribing pharmaceutical drugs where medically appropriate.

Ofer Leidner

Co-Founder and President, Happify

Leidner helped create Happify, which aims to disrupt the mental health space by providing a digital platform that helps employees understand the source of their feelings. Then, it teaches them how to turn negative feelings into positive ones. The company recently launched Happify Health, which offers evidence-based emotional health solutions for employers, health plans and enterprise organizations. Based on decades of scientific research on interventions that foster well-being and resilience in individuals, Happify Health provides more than 60 programs created by leading experts through its online platform. Topic areas include resilience and mindfulness, as well as conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain and insomnia.

Dave O’Brien

CEO, Zywave

O’Brien is all about driving growth, retention and efficiency with the right technology. Zywave’s software products for insurance brokers are used by more than 4,000 agencies around the world to help them differentiate themselves from the competition, enhance client services, improve efficiencies and achieve organic growth.

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Sally Poblete

CEO, Wellthie

After years of wearing multiple hats in the healthcare industry, Poblete wanted to act on her true passion: making healthcare and insurance simpler. In 2013, she founded Wellthie, a healthcare technology company that offers a comprehensive software and analytics platform to help employees understand their health insurance options and bottom-line costs in a simple way with the help of their brokers. Last year, Wellthie launched the “Affordable Care Advisor for Business,” a product that gives brokers the online storefront they need to sell faster and more efficiently while simultaneously expanding market opportunities with small businesses that previously considered coverage out of reach.

Myron Prevatt

Head of Product Development, Consumer-Directed Accounts, Exchange Solutions, Willis Towers Watson

After conducting a survey with more than 300 healthcare industry professionals, Willis Towers Watson found that consumers are still very much behind the curve in understanding health savings and reimbursement accounts. That educational gap led the Willis consumer-directed accounts product team — led by Prevatt — to develop a pre-enrollment “Welcome Center,” as well as a post-enrollment interface set to roll out over the next several months. The consumer education center is available to the general public at myhealthsavingsinfo.org. The site includes a variety of account-specific content to help employees make the right choices for themselves and their families. In addition to informational videos about the spending accounts, the site has quick start guides, calculators, answers to frequently asked questions, infographics explaining the account types and other educational content.

Rod Reasen

Co-Founder and CEO, Springbuk Analytics

Springbuk, an employer-facing health intelligence platform, was born out of the national “Healthiest Employer” award program that it conducts in 45 U.S. cities and attracts 8,000 employers nationally. Reasen leads product innovation and develops strategic partnerships with industry benefits, wellness and clinic leaders. The health analytics platform unifies mountains of data generated by a company’s workforce — such as medical claims, pharmacy, labs, dental, biometrics, wearables, workers compensation, disability, vision and payroll information — and turns it into a decision dashboard that’s designed with non-medical, HR users in mind.

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Eric Schuchman

Head of Product Management, Benefits Team, Gusto

Schuchman is leading the charge to bring new benefit account capabilities to Gusto, a provider of payroll, benefits and HR to more than 40,000 small businesses. Under Schuchman’s leadership, Gusto delivers health benefit accounts that streamline the entire consumer healthcare funding experience. All of Gusto’s benefit account offerings (HSAs, FSAs, HRAs and others) are managed in one place, with a single smart debit card payment solution, mobile application, and sophisticated and integrated electronic banking technology. This gives employees an easy way to enroll, plus an account they can access any time.

Nate Sassano

Statewide Wellness Coordinator, State of Colorado

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is on a mission for the Centennial State to be the healthiest in the nation. Sassano was brought on board in 2013 to launch the state’s employee wellness program and he recognized immediately that the best way to engage a diverse and mobile employee base was with technology. From a pedometer program to a health platform powered by IBM Watson, Sassano has successfully grown the state’s wellness initiatives with the use of several innovative technologies. One such offering is the CaféWell Concierge application, developed with IBM, that guides and inspires employees to be healthier. They can receive personalized recommendations that will help them achieve optimal health and get the most out of state health plan benefits. Concierge is available via the web as well as through a downloadable app.

Dennis Weinberg

CEO, Hixme

Weinberg’s Hixme officially launched last year, and its platform enables large employers — generally those with 500 or more employees — to set their benefits contributions and then facilitates employee access to the retail health insurance marketplace. Employees don’t buy from public exchanges, but from carriers.

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Richard Wolfe

CEO and Co-Founder, Empyrean Benefit Solutions

Since co-founding Empyrean in 2006, Wolfe has overseen development of the Empyrean Platform, which offers employers a suite of technology and services that help them meet regulatory compliance standards and streamline benefits administration.As part of the platform, Wolfe led Empyrean to build a comprehensive host of new ACA tools and processes — which helped its employer clients to navigate the law’s reporting requirements. As a result of this effort, Empyrean and its clients achieved unparalleled ACA success during the first year: All mailings were sent out on time; all filings were submitted ahead of the June 30 deadline; and 100% of clients’ Empyrean-derived data was accepted as compliant by the IRS.

Jeff Young

Senior Vice President and General Manager, WEX Health

Young leads WEX Health’s efforts to simplify the business of consumer-driven healthcare so that employees better understand HSAs, HRAs, wellness plans, health exchanges and more. The main way he does so? Through WEX Health Cloud, an online healthcare financial management platform that drives efficiency for benefit administration technology, consumer engagement and advanced billing and payments. Through its network of partner organizations, WEX Health delivers its service to 225,000 employers and more than 24 million employees across the United States and Canada.