Employers increasingly have been asking benefit advisers to provide simplified solutions to their HR challenges and meet new reporting requirements under the Affordable Care Act — making 2014 the year of client-focused technology solutions.

Brokers are not spending as much money on technology for themselves in today's market, says Joe Markland president of HR Technology Advisors, LLC., but rather spending more money to remain competitive through the technology they deliver to their customers.

See related: Where your tech dollars are going

In addition to seeking knowledge about benefits, employers now want advisers to provide information and solutions for HR tasks and ACA changes, says Hyatt Erstad, president of the Boise, Idaho-based insurance company Erstad and Company, adding that the marketplace in which the broker works is changing.

Employer clients “are expecting” brokers to provide benefit administration tools and systems, he says.

Markland agrees, saying, “employers are looking for integrated systems,” and standalone solutions will become a thing of the past.

Benefit enrollment systems, for example, are moving past the core competency enrollment system that advisers are currently used to and now incorporating an administration system that offers employers HR tools such as payroll deduction and timesheet tracking, Markland says.

These technology adjustments are "moving the broker to the HR area" in the process, he adds.

2015 tech spending

Advisers also are investing in client-focused technology solutions and tools such as data analytics, which can help advisers identify and tackle an employer's high health care costs, or survey capabilities that allow employees to find out employee wants or needs.

Many respondents to EBA’s first-ever technology survey, released earlier this year, said they plan to invest in data analytics (41.8%) and client survey tools (25.3%).

"There's definitely a need, because of market pressure, for advisers to pay for more things for their customers," Markland says.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents to EBA’s tech survey said their benefit agency increased spending on technology in 2014 and 54% said their firm will increase spending on technology in 2015.

A majority (56%) of large agencies reported spending more than $1 million on technology in 2014, while mid-size agencies most often (44%) reported spending between $50,000 and $99,000. At small agencies, 87% reported spending under $50,000 on technology.

The No. 1 technology investment readers plan to make is with their client management system. Nearly 60% of respondents said their firm plans to increase spending on a client management system, but only one in 10 plans to completely change or replace their system in 2015.

Other technologies that respondents plan to invest in consist mainly of client acquisition tools:

* websites (45.6%)

* social media platforms (40.5%)

* email marketing (39.2%)

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