How Buck is helping employers dig deep into benefits data

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HR consulting, benefits technology services firm Buck has a storied history. Founded in 1916 as an actuarial firm, one of its first clients was the city of New York when World War I was raging in Europe. More than a century later, it’s still a client.

Late last month, Buck announced that it was bought from Conduent by an investment fund managed by H.I.G. Capital for an undisclosed sum. “The transaction creates a premier, independent organization with a global footprint,” per Buck claims.

EBA spoke with Buck CEO John (Jack) Freker Jr. about the employee benefit admin’s future, what employers are demanding and how data transparency can help drive savings.

EBA: What are your clients demanding in the benefits space? More data? Transparency? Mobile connectivity?

Jack Freker Jr.: All of the above, but to different degrees. The challenge today isn’t about more data, but rather the ability to dig deeper into data, do more things with it, and put it to work behind the scenes. Employers have all the data they need, but they need to make it perform for their business. Regarding mobile connections, that’s a given. And for transparency, it’s about not just talking about it, but finding a way to deliver transparency (for example, in healthcare costs) directly to employees.

Most importantly, our clients are looking for people they trust. HR and benefits are, after all, about human interactions. HR service companies that are trying to go too far with AI and automation are missing an important element of what will always be important in this space for our clients: High quality, trustworthy professionals with integrity to guide them to make the best decisions and design the best offerings for their employee populations.

EBA: How do your modeling and analytics work? What answers are you trying to provide to your clients?

Freker: We leverage analytics to combine individual data, persona trends and employee input to recommend a more personalized suite of plans and services for employees’ physical and financial health. This enables cutting through the overload of long benefit lists to help time-stressed employees learn about and select employer programs that best focus on their unique needs, then take steps that enhance their physical and financial outcomes and, in turn, improve their well-being.

EBA: What is the aim of your tools and services? Is it to make employees better healthcare consumers? How does it work?

Freker: We’re making significant investments in technology, modeling and analytics. In fact we’re excited to share some advance news of a major launch of our new Smart Group Solution (SGS) and LifeConnect platforms. It’s a multi-phase project with the first release in the fourth quarter. These products will integrate engaging user experience, hyper-personalization, robust modeling and decision support leveraging analytics for members as well as employers.

We plan to launch our next generation of modeling tools in the first half of 2019. These tools have been designed for configuration by our consultants. The design is capable of mining a data lake enabling both our consultants and our clients to drive decisions through analytics. Our new technology suite and products are focusing on bringing these large-client solutions to the previously under-served mid-market sector.

EBA: What are the risks of operating a benefits practice today vs. a few years ago?

Freker: Benefits consulting and administration providers have always faced unique risks, given the complex regulatory and compliance environments in which benefits are governed.

Additionally, whenever an actuarial consulting element is involved, the risks take on an even more unique flavor. In today’s current environment, and more pressing than even a few years ago, these risks include cybersecurity and data privacy, actuarial peer review quality and oversight, and also living up to fiduciary requirements and standards in all aspects of providing various forms of financial advice.

EBA: As the dynamics of healthcare spending continue to shift, and benefit plans grow more complex, what will Buck offer for management and administration to help them select, communicate and manage benefit programs to their employees?

Freker: It’s no longer only about the transaction; it’s about the outcome. By analyzing ongoing plan utilization data, demographic information, population health data and end-user experience from the systems we administer, we guide individuals to select and use the right benefits programs to improve their own physical and financial well-being, tie individual well-being outcomes to real organizational value and continually assess impact.

By doing this in a more nimble, yet customized, way, we believe we’ll help both employees and employers find better outcomes than ever before in selecting the right plans and achieving the best outcomes.

EBA: What can Buck do for benefit executives who are trying to hone their expertise and effectively support their companies’ strategic objectives?

Freker: Talk to us. We serve our clients best when we understand their strategic objectives and the challenges they face in meeting those objectives. Nothing gets us more excited than learning about our clients’ challenges and coming up with ways to address those challenges.

EBA: Tell us about the “new” Buck.

Freker: Buck was acquired by H.I.G. Capital and carved out from our former parent, which represents an exciting milestone in our company. After almost 20 years of being part of a larger corporation, Buck is now a freestanding organization with market leading experience, global scale and a full-service platform of technology-enabled services. The difference is we’re now supported by a forward-looking and growth-oriented private equity firm focused on investing in our people, platforms, technology and innovation.

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