Since launching in May, Alight Solutions, the ben admin platform that asset management company Blackstone Group acquired from Aon, is focused on improving the company’s ability to respond quicker to industry trends by freeing up consultants’ ability to make business decisions. As the company continues as an independent player, EBA spoke with the firm’s CEO, Chris Michalak, about further expansion plans. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.
EBA: In July, Alight Chief Financial Officer Katie Rooney said she is monitoring market trends to drive the next wave of growth for Alight. So what have you changed since launch?
Michalak: We are changing the underlying culture of the organization as a whole. We launched a set of values and support capabilities that we think are most important for us to be recognized in. As we’ve done that, we’ve started to change the focus of the organization. For example, in our culture you see things like thinking forward and acting now. Those characteristics did not exist in great scale previously. What you see is a group of people starting to innovate more and respond with greater speed when it comes to decision making. When you do that, you enable the company to react to market trends in a more effective and efficient manner.
There are a few market trends shaping the industry in a lot of the ways. The first one is consumerism. The consumer, the end participant, is being asked to make more important and increasingly more difficult decisions about their health and wealth. We are creating advisory capabilities to support that, advancing our advocacy business and our advisory business around wealth.
The cloud space continues to grow and we are fueling investment and innovation in our cloud services and deployment business. We are adapting to a cloud-based environment. The third thing I am seeing is digital innovation, particularly as it relates to business processes. You hear a lot about automation and AI and we are accelerating our investment and efforts in that area.
EBA: How is Alight’s role evolving with employee benefit brokers?
Michalak: When we launched the company, we said our independence now enables us to be a partner with many other players in the marketplace, whether that is brokers or carriers or other players who require a white label solution to help them deliver services.
We’ve started a number of discussions in the marketplace and we’ve spoken with many of the largest brokerage firms and some of the largest carriers about the possibility of us providing a white label capability … that they are able to bring to market for our clients. We haven’t announced any specific partnerships yet, but I see those in our very near future.
EBA: How is HR tech expanding beyond payroll?
Michalak: Across the entire marketplace, there are a lot of players entering the system from a technology perspective. What I see every day is venture capital-backed and angel-funded organizations that are startups in the space. There is a lot of money chasing potential problems in the marketplace and it will be interesting to see who the winners are. We are trying to make sure that we make the absolutely right bet. First and foremost, we believe there are adjacencies to the things we are in today.
For example, in the 401(k) advice space, we think there is an opportunity to apply stronger and better technology to help people make better decisions with respect to their wealth. We also have, what I would call, supplemental applications that we attached into the workday environment and the cloud-based ERP environment that I think makes our ability to service our client more effective than others. I think we are using technology in a lot of different ways adjacent to the services we are already providing. But we are also keeping an eye on the marketplace: What is the breakthrough solution that will solve a customer’s problem in a different way than we are solving it today.
EBA: What is the future of the company?
Michalak: The future for us is around technology. I see us being more tech enabled and I see that in two ways. First of all, I see it on the consumer side. We have to bring the leading-edge consumer technology to help the end participant. At the end of the day, while we have always been in the market of serving an employer, we will be increasingly in the market of serving the end consumer. The way that they interface with us will continue to change. They will be much more connected to their mobile device, much savvier about decision making and more savvy about data and analytics.
The second thing that will be significant on that front for us will be our connection with partners, and I see partners in a lot of different ways. Partners in the marketplace to take our solutions to their clients in a white label. I see partners that I will bring to a curated platform and present to end consumers, so they can choose those capabilities if they need to help them with their health, wealth and job. And then partners that will help me with digital innovation on the operational side. Partners will be crucial to our future as well
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