There is a big concern in the broker community that within the next three years they may be competing with an entity that might not call itself a broker on the surface, a panel of experts said Monday at EBA’s Workplace Benefits Summit.

Sixty percent of brokers think they will be competing with a ben admin platform and 56% an outsourcing platform, Adam Feltes, distribution channel manager, specialty markets at Guardian, said during a pre-conference workshop in Boca Raton, Fla., citing his company’s data.

Although brokers fear such a reality, they also know they need help with technology. Sixty-four percent said they need support or help with a ben admin platform, 53% said they need help with payroll integration, 53% with enrollment and 51% with Affordable Care Act compliance.

To find that help, 85% of brokers said they would be looking to a third-party provider for that support, with 38% looking to a ben admin provider, 32% an enrollment provider, 21% a general agent and 17% a private benefit exchange.

But what matters most is being able to meet client needs, said Bradley Taylor, executive vice president of business development at HR tech company PlanSource.

Brokers should “really understand what a client is looking for,” especially as tech programs move down market, explained Scott Robb, assistant vice president, customer eligibility and payment services at Guardian.

Employers are looking for these offerings. Guardian found that 50% of employers believe expanding benefits web technology is a top strategy this year. Eight-in-10 employers told Guardian that lowering ben admin costs is a top priority, but only half reporting being successful with it.

“These are stats that tell us long way to go, we are only at the beginning of the ben tech era,” Feltes explained.

Employers are willing to outsource these technologies. In 2014, 2-in-3 employers used an outsourced solution, rising to 3-in-4 in 2016. While on the surface those numbers may see average, “that’s a 13% increase, and if that continues for another two-year trend, 95% of employers in 2018,” will use outsourced technology, Feltes added.

Who they want to be
Brokers need to figure out who they are and want they want to be, Taylor said. “To dive head-first in to ben admin could be an issue,” he explained. “Instead of consulting a vendor, it is … a different relationship with a client, where a broker [should] on the strategic side.”

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“Find where your passion lies,” Taylor added. “Brokers, who are savvy in this space, remain successful.”

Building systems internally can be done, he added, but is a 10-year learning curve, as clients are looking for complex, detailed systems that are more than plug and pay. “Payroll systems are not specialized to be good at ben admin,” he explained. “They may be good at time and attendance, but are not good for managing supplemental life plans across different carriers.”

He suggested partnering with companies that know how to manage everything and help the client’s HR team think like a marketer. “You have a marketing division that sells products, but we have this whole benefit program, do our employees know about it?,” he asked. “Technology does a ton of that, customized to the employee level.”

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