Three types of stories dominated the attention of Employee Benefit Adviser’s audience in 2017, based on top pageviews: regulatory issues, benefit trends, and the saga of Zenefits, which announced in mid-September it would exit the broker of record business.

The Zenefits news was by far EBA’s most viewed story of 2017, when the San Francisco-based firm said in September its existing book of 7,000 accounts would be transferred to OneDigital, an Atlanta-based brokerage, as Zenefits underwent a transformation “to embracing the broker community and partnering with them in a pretty significant way,” according to Zenefits Chairman and CEO Jay Fulcher.

After that news broke, EBA spoke with OneDigital’s Chief Growth Officer Mike Sullivan to understand more about the deal and what it means for both his company and Zenefits. That article was also among the most viewed, with Sullivan calling the deal “really good for our clients.”

Zenefits office in San Francisco
Zenefits office in San Francisco

Zenefits had another story on the list with the May news that it was launching a level payment self-funded health plan in cooperation with Aetna for groups of two-to-50 lives. Before exiting the broker of record business, Zenefits estimated premium savings on these plans may be up to 30% lower than what some small businesses were paying at the time.

Other brokerages’ business moves were also among the top stories of the year. Making the top 15 stories was the January news that 24 independent employee benefit, P&C, risk management and wealth management firms across 15 states — with $158 million in annual revenues and 20,000-plus clients at the time —joined together to form Alera Group.

The details behind that new business formation also made the list. EBA spoke with Rob Lieblein, Alera’s chief development officer, on how the firm came together and where it plans to grow next. He explained the industry as a whole —P&C, employee benefits, wealth management — has evolved over the years from what started off as ‘lifestyle businesses’ with recurring revenue.

“The reality is, it was easy to be a $3-$5 million firm 10-15 years ago,” he said at the time. “But, times have changed, particularly in the employee benefits space. This business totally shifted from a broker business — which is really not a good term to use — to a consulting business. ... What you needed to succeed has greatly changed.”

As President Donald J. Trump took office, stories related to activities taking place in Washington were also top of mind, with three of them making the top 15.

The second most-viewed article for all of 2017 was the May news that the Internal Revenue Service announced that the annual limit on deductible contributions to a health savings account would jump by $50 in calendar year 2018 for individuals and $150 for families.

Although it failed to pass the Senate, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act in May. A story on what employers needed to know about the proposed revamped healthcare plan was among the top viewed of the year. One of the biggest proposed changes was elimination of the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers provide health insurance to employees.

Then, in October on a webcast put on by Mercer, the consultancy said the Department of Labor plans to audit DB pension plans to ensure plan sponsors are getting benefits paid out to terminated vested participants. It’s something “completely new” that started as a pilot program out of the Philadelphia DOL office, explained Norma Sharara, a principal in Mercer’s employment practices risk management group.

Here is a full list of the top 15 stories of 2017:

1. Zenefits to exit BOR business, work with agencies to license its technology
2. IRS announces bump in 2018 HSA limits
3. 9 benefit trends to watch in 2018
4. DOL to increase DB audits
5. What the new GOP healthcare bill means for employers
6. Vacation time can boost employee performance
7. Financial wellness program adds bite to Delta Dental’s benefits
8. How Fujifilm uses gamification to communicate benefits
9. Why Alera Group brought 24 independent agencies together
10. Why OneDigital is partnering with Zenefits
11. Zenefits to offer level-funded health plans
12. Employer-provided benefit costs vary widely by industry
13. Amazon threat causes shakeout in the healthcare industry
14. 24 brokerages merge to form nation’s 7th largest private employee benefit firm
15. How Aetna eased its employees’ financial worries

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