Startup seeks to re-imagine benefits, benchmark supply chain

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Veteran HR tech entrepreneur Joe Markland is on a mission to recruit forward-thinking HR, payroll and benefit professionals for a new venture that could disrupt the employee benefits and human capital management space.

Markland wants to do for benefits and HCM what Southwest Airlines did to commercial aviation. As part of that quest for greater operational efficiency and delivering a more personalized benefits experience to employees, he developed a checklist to eliminate 56 obstacles to success in everything from recruiting talent and tracking paid time off to purchasing and administering new benefit products or services.

Chief culprits include disconnected technology, too many disparate systems that manage employee records, a failure to integrate multiple services into the organization as a whole and provide a single resource for fielding all employee inquiries, he says.

In a nutshell, his strategic vision is to benchmark each part of the widening benefits and HCM supply chain, as well as pre-package best-in-class HR and benefit solutions. The approach also would ensure that per employee per month fees from one product or service to the next mirror one another so that no single part of the supply chain is overpriced.

Markland recently co-founded n4one HR and Benefits, an HCM that includes benefits advisory services. He’s seeking franchisees to help leverage in a meaningful way their use of technology and guarantee better outcomes for employers. “Our goal is about 200 locations within two years in the top 100 U.S. markets,” he reports.

Markland believes a combination of un-integrated technologies and services, along with misallocation of financial resources and too many touchpoints, has made the current ecosystem disconnected and costly. As a result, he contends that only 15% to 20% of technology is actually used. These practices are clearly unsustainable for companies that seek better results.

After joining Unum in 1986, Markland started his own benefits technology firm 12 years later and shifted into a consulting role on HR, benefits and payroll. He likens the convergence of these topics to smartphones wrapping voice, music and camera capabilities into a single product. His previous company, ProHCM, was early this year. He’s also CEO of Markland HR Technology Strategies.

The aim of n4one is to “operate in a more unified way than many of the national benefits firms,” according to Markland. “One of the problems with independent organizations is you buy their history, and sometimes their history is an unwillingness to change.”

He also sees inertia as a major hurdle in controlling employee healthcare costs, widely regarded as the biggest P&L expense after payroll. “Healthcare is too complex for the average American to consume,” he says, adding that reference-based pricing and other cost-cutting strategies are symptoms of a much larger problem. “I actually believe most employers do not want to be in the healthcare business, and they would get out if they could.”

An ideal solution would be to offer individuals the same tax deduction of employer-provided health benefits, which Markland believes “would drive down costs significantly.” The trouble with a deduction at the employer level is that it’s regressive, he explains, while lawmakers must show the political will to make these changes.

He’s hopeful that the combination of 5G networks that transfer data 100 times faster and blockchain technology to manage employee records, as well as artificial intelligence and mobile biometrics, will revolutionize healthcare delivery in America.

Beyond rethinking healthcare, Markland intends to redefine employee benefits by determining where money is best spent in small and midsize businesses. For example, a 26-year-old employee may consider a payroll-deducted loan service with no cost to the employer more valuable than a high-deductible health plan they may never even use. Other nontraditional offerings that may carry greater weight than core benefits could include a home care or nutrition program, though he says the key is to effectively communicate these offerings.

“Our current one-size-fits-all benefits system is not meeting the needs of many individuals in an organization,” he explains. A $3,000 deductible with a 30% contribution is hardly a benefit for the many who are living paycheck to paycheck. Employees are coming to work with stress from other areas of their lives that isn’t being addressed resulting in lost productivity, which is much more costly than healthcare costs.”

Noting that his new company’s tagline is, “helping employees have a better day,” Markland says that’s the purpose of employee benefits. “If I get disabled, I have healthcare. Maybe I can’t pay my rent or just crashed my car,” he surmises. “Maybe what break I need in life is not the same as it was before.”

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