With technology solutions like Zenefits piquing the interest of employers nationwide, brokers and agents will need to compete on a new level, industry experts say. Trusted advisers will have to offer innovative technology solutions coupled with exemplary service, or be prepared to become extinct, they warn.
The traditional broker model in which agents write contracts and renewals during open enrollment then disappear for the better part of the year, cannot survive in today’s marketplace, says, Ernie Harris, executive vice president of corporate development at Maestro Health. Still, neither can the new age tech-only broker, he says, in which someone identifies a market opportunity and simply throws out a tech solution with little to no consultation, mostly acting as a vendor, not a partner.
Brokers hoping to not just survive, but thrive, in a post-ACA marketplace riddled with myriad tech solutions and employers in dire need of quality advice and consultation, will need to find a way to offer not one or the other, but both: solutions and service, Harris says.
“Technology alone cannot provide the level of service that a broker is available to provide,” he says, adding that innovative and more forward-thinking brokers, which he calls “premier-school brokers,” know technology, and can provide consultation at a moment’s notice.
Steve Blumenfield, senior consultant for senior consultant for health and group benefits at Towers Watson, says the thing that hasn’t changed for brokers and consultants is the need to add value.
A lot of technology solution vendors have begun to inundate employer clients with products and solutions, he says.
When employers suddenly have dozens of new vendors coming to them with technology solutions and every one of these solutions claims to save money, how do they know if it really works? How do they know which ones are good, he asks.
“If you as the broker have a good relationship with your client then you become the trusted adviser that helps employers sort these solutions out, helps them know which ones save money and why. There are lot of things out there coming out that sound exciting, but pragmatically have a lot of challenges,” he adds.
A lot of these vendors are untested or have few clients, he also says, so also include some risk, but is that risk worth it? Are these vendors willing to guarantee?
“These are questions an employer client might not think about, but as a broker, you do,” he says.
Brokers should also be proactive about technology solutions with their clients, the experts agree.
“A lot of brokers are just trying to protect what they have. They’re taking a defensive play that is probably doomed to fail,” he says. “Premier-school brokers are more consultative, more growth oriented and tend to be more problem solvers.”
Also see: “Should brokers be thanking Zenefits?”
Tanya Boyd, president of the independent agency Tanya Boyd & Associates, agrees a trusted adviser cannot be replaced by technology, and told attendees of a recent EBA conference that it’s incumbent upon brokers to demonstrate their value to clients.
“I am out there talking to my clients. I’m talking to them about technology. I’m telling them, ‘I want you to know that whatever you need, we will deliver it. You want a tech platform, we will find one,’” she said.
For brokers who want to achieve premier-school broker status, Harris suggests they must first evaluate their current business/broker model and see where they stand on the continuum now.
“To get somewhere else, you have to know where you are already,” he says. “For some brokers, they are already there and little change is needed, but for others they are not there yet.”
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