Alexa, the benefits broker. How advisers can survive the rise of AI

NEW ORLEANS — Is there a future where digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri could replace a broker in the benefits selection process?

If you’re doing your job well, the answer is most likely a no, says Reid Rasmussen, co-founder and chief executive of benefits consulting firm freshbenies at the Benefits Forum & Expo, but if you can learn to leverage new technology to your advantage, it can help you be a better broker.

“It isn’t about finding a ‘techier’ way to do something, but how do you use it to improve business and the way you interact with people,” he said on Tuesday.

Technology is getting smarter, particularly in the healthcare industry, he says, and big tech companies like Google and Apple are investing money in the space. There’s buzz surrounding big partnerships, like the deal between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, he said, and everyone is holding their breath to see how these companies plan to streamline health benefits for employees.

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An attendee photographs an autonomous parcel delivery robot, developed by Starship Technologies Ltd. at the AI Congress in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. After decades of premature promises, artificial intelligence (AI) is finding its way into businesses from hedge funds to law firms tobeer makers, as the line between ordinary software and AI software has blurred and cloud computingmakes AI available to small companies as well as large. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

But tech isn’t just reserved for Silicon Valley. Big data, he said, can help brokers learn more about their clients and give them the opportunity to personalize the conversation surrounding health insurance.

For example, brokers could use data scraped from social media profiles to learn more about their employee clients. If they learn that an employee just had a baby from a Facebook post, he said, that allows them to come to the conversation with more targeted information about what that individual may be looking for in a health plan. This creates a better employee experience and makes it more likely that the individual will actually select that plan.

“It’s so we can have very specific conversations with them,” he said.

Employees aren’t usually coming to the table with a lot of background knowledge on health insurance and many are confused when it comes to selecting a health plan. A poorly designed platform, he noted, will only exacerbate the problem. So brokers should be mindful that they only recommend healthcare technology when it improves the member experience.

“Are they feeling empowered? Or are they feeling completely out of control every time they touch the system?” he said.

For example, if a digital assistant or a chat bot is intuitive and improves the overall experience for employees, then it’s probably worth the investment, he said. If the technology doesn’t work well, then it’s likely employees won’t use it anyway.

“People are looking at this, and they’re saying this member experience is horrible,” he said.

While technology could help a broker do a better job, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. At the end of the day brokers can differentiate themselves from machines by providing employers with thoughtful information about benefits that can help them make the best choices for their employees and potentially save them money, he said.

“If we don’t learn to help our people be better consumers, it’s coming back on us as our issue,” he said.

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