Real-time communication could transform benefits

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HR and benefits technology isn’t just changing at an incredibly fast pace, it’s also speeding transactions for all key industry stakeholders. One such area is an electronic data interchange (EDI) connection.

On Monday, EaseCentral formally rolled out a real-time EDI connection it expects will streamline the administration of HR enrollment and quoting processes for insurance brokers, agents and employees alike.

David Reid, an ex-insurance broker with about 30 years of experience who runs the company, likens the EDI link to a “reimagining” of employee benefits. His larger hope is that the time brokers save compiling data into spreadsheets and presenting materials in a digestible format with the help of faster and more accurate EDI enrollments can now “be better spent helping employees clearly understand their options.”

Tim Haley, VP of broker sales at HealthPartners, noted in a statement on the EDI announcement how “the ability to shop, quote and enroll from a single source is a great feature for brokers.” His carrier is among several that EaseCentral says already achieved operational efficiencies from these capabilities. Others include beere&purves, Anthem Blue Cross of California and Limelight Health.

Most employers using the company’s platform have fewer than 100 employees, with the average account size at 22 employees. This is the sweet spot sector for which brokers are indispensable, according to Reid, whose HR and benefits SaaS platform was formerly known as Enrollease.

“You’re talking about people that are really not too concerned about the peripheral things like benefit administration and HR,” he says. “They’re cutting hair. They’re fixing cars. They’re making doughnuts, widgets, whatever it is they do.”

Technology transition

Sue Wakamoto-Lee, a senior benefits adviser at Zenefits, acknowledges a significant technology transition that’s under way for the entire industry for which she relishes being on the forefront.

“Because we are the broker, as well as the administrator, it is fantastic that in real time we are able to assist a member who is going through a qualifying life event,” she explains of EDI use. Employees are able to report this information directly to Zenefits and receive assistance on uploading documents or other tasks without interrupting their HR department.

“You’re talking about people that are really not too concerned about the peripheral things like benefit administration and HR."

“It was oftentimes a several-week process,” Wakamoto-Lee notes. “Now, we’re able to help our clients the moment they have that qualifying life event and notify us of it through their own dashboard. The key component is a platform that integrates HR and benefits, which she says are joined at the hip.

Indeed, the HR part of this changing technology equation “is more important than benefits, even for small employers,” says Joe Markland, president of HR Technology Advisors. For example, his small firm had 178 time-off transactions last year, compared with just 14 that were benefits related.

While EaseCentral and Zenefits can tout EDI connections, he cautions that any comparison between the two is almost apples-to-oranges because of payroll capabilities. EaseCentral provides payroll services, but also allows companies to use the platform to connect with one of their choice.

Irrespective of these points, Markland expects all eyes will be glued to $2.1 billion worth of more scrappy startups coming down the pike that will continue to reshape the broker landscape. He cites Namely as more of a potential disruptor now than Zenefits, which he sees as becoming Fidelity’s small employer solution, and includes ADP in that mix.

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