Many employers acknowledge that finding and retaining the right talent is increasingly the key to their business’ success. But how many know that while investments in new technology typically return 10%, investments in people, corporate culture and leadership can yield up to a 60%?

Brokers need to provide their clients with those kinds of eye-openers, if they want to engage their clients more deeply, says Bruce Whittredge, VP of Broker Strategy at ADP. Employee Benefit Adviser spoke with Whittredge about this and other ways advisers can demonstrate their value. What follows are edited highlights from the interview.

EBA: How can brokers have better conversations with their clients?

Bruce Whittredge

Whittredge: The conversation definitely changes as a broker moves from the role of a trusted adviser to that of a ‘strategic’ adviser.

What I mean is that, five to seven years ago, building a strong plan design was the core of and fundamental to a broker’s strategy. But today it’s centered around talent and engaging an employer’s population in what we call ‘talent activation.’ For brokers to have productive conversations, they need to be well versed in not just plan design, but in compliance, technology, talent — and how to activate that talent. Strategic advisers have experience and expertise in all those areas.

EBA: What do you mean by talent activation?

Whittredge: It means engaging a multi-generational employee population. Activating that talent means motivating it and making it productive, but also managing through the issues of having a millennial population that coexists with an aging population within your organization.

How do you engage both segments of your workforce? What is important to a millennial is going to be completely different from a Gen Xer or a baby boomer. Finding that right balance means making sure that you have the right types of programs in place to motivate the right type of people.

For a millennial, it may be more about a work life balance and access to social media. Whereas, for a different segment of a working population, it may be about retirement benefits or wellness programs.

EBA: What are you paying attention to with regards to regulation?

Whittredge: Everybody has their eye on where compliance is going, where is the Trump administration going to lead us.

Another thing we are looking at is how we go to market and work with firms that are moving away from commission-based offerings to fee-for-services type of offerings. How do we work with those types of firms as they morph from making a commission from a carrier because they installed their benefit plan, to a fee-for-services model, where the client hires them because of their expertise in compliance, technology and so forth.

EBA: What’s trending in the benefits industry?

Whittredge: I don’t think you can go through a day without hearing something about Amazon’s Alexa. I see artificial intelligence playing a role in the buying experience, the user’s experience in the benefit world.

Instead of trying to use a decision support tool to tell you what the best benefit plan might be for your family, you might use artificial intelligence. It might be Alexa who tells an employee what the right benefit plan is based on certain criteria. You might see artificial intelligence playing a role in tailoring the user experience with buying benefits. I’m really curious to see how AI weaves itself into the benefit world.

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