Digital brokerage League aims to disrupt an outdated benefits model

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League Inc. believes it is a different kind of brokerage, focused on offering unique customized health plans to employees and providing onsite services, such as yoga and biometric screenings.

Serial entrepreneur Michael Serbinis founded the Canadian company three years ago and started operating in the United States in late June by opening a Chicago office and hiring Brian Ancell, former president of Welltok Inc., as president of U.S. operations.

What Serbinis thinks makes League unique is the firm’s mission not to build a better HR solution but rather build a way to empower employees and employers through improved health. While the company declined to discuss specific client numbers, it says it has hundreds of customers and is experiencing triple-digit growth, quarter-over-quarter.

League is a traditional broker in that the company sells benefits and provides related administration, but it also focuses on the entire experience around a health plan. “The health insurance industry is stuck in the stone age,” Serbinis says. “Employees and employers are overwhelmed with paper forms, confusing terms, lack of transparency and lack of choice. Too often people don't know what they [are] covered for, how much they have spent and what is left. “

League overcomes that lack of knowledge by providing complete digital HR support, from admin tools, onboarding and HR integration to paperless claims, real-time reports and consolidated billing. League also brings health inside the office through its health@work services that include programs such as in-office yoga, nutrition consultants, biometric screenings and/or flu clinics.

“Today's consumers see health as more than just sick care,” Serbinis says. “Our platform is a destination for today's employee to prioritize their health day-to-day, in the personalized and digital way we've come to expect from every other aspect of our lives.”

League primarily focuses on mid-market companies of 50 to 1,000 employees, but is also bringing on clients up market in larger, enterprise organizations.

The company sells directly to employers and serves as broker of record. Serbinis explains they debated the decision to go on their own versus partner with outside brokers. “It turns out going through existing people in the business to all of a sudden sell a completely digital [offering] is not what they do or have done for the last couple of decades,” he says.

While the company may sound similar to Zenefits, Serbinis says they have a different view on the industry and their mission, which isn’t focused on HR. “We aren’t building HR,” he explains. “We are building a way to empower employees and employers with employee health.”

A different industry
After founding several successful companies in Canada, including eReading service Kobo Inc., Serbinis says he decided to focus on healthcare because he saw an industry that was very different from others he had experienced.

In the United States, healthcare represents 17% of GDP. “It's a massive industry that has not transformed into a consumer-centric, digital, always-on model,” Serbinis says. “I saw an opportunity to re-imagine the experience the average person receives with their healthcare and health coverage when I was at a conference showcasing the future of medicine. I quickly realized these incredible advancements could transform lives, but my general experience with the healthcare system didn't line up. So, I decided to change that.”

He started League as a platform for consumers to find, book and pay for health services such as massage or physio. As the product evolved, so did the focus, as League quickly discovered employers were eager to bring these health services into the office.

Kevin Torkey, partner and coach at brokerage consultancy Q4intellegence, says that companies like League are where all employee benefit brokers need to move.

“What brokers need to recognize is they need to be an overall business solution,” he says. “The role of the broker has to continue to evolve into one where you don’t find success solely based on what you do with … insurance. That’s still a big piece of it, but to recognize the role of broker is evolving into one that helps with the overall employee experience.”

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The focus on employees and not building a HR solution is what attracted GeekWire, a Seattle-based technology news website, to leave its current brokerage and sign with League.

How the majority of employee benefit brokers operate is still an old-school process, says John Cook, Geekwire’s founder. “The thing that resonated with League was this idea of infusing technology into what is, frankly, a mundane and painful process as a business owner,” he says. “Anything to make that easier for us will hopefully make life easier for our organization.”

Cook explains that he liked his former broker, but that person would show up once a year, go through the “painful process” of picking benefits, disappear and come back 12 months later.

While League declined to discuss costs for its service, the company notes that it has a pay-per-use model, where employers only pay for what their teams use.

Cook says his old contract didn’t have a per employee fee, which League charges, and League is costing him more money. But, “it is an … investment we are making,” he says. “We are hopeful the experience for our employees with a system that is little techier is going to appeal and the efficiencies that we can get on the backend” will free a staffer that previously focused on HR services and benefits to focus on more long-term strategy, such as employee morale.

“It’s a little bit more money, but in the long term, we think additional benefits to us will make it cheaper because we don’t have a staffer tied up,” he adds.

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