A great way for benefit brokers to add new clients and retain current ones is to go beyond a consulting role and bring technology to those clients. Selecting the right partner is key, says Joe Donlan, president of ConnectedHealth, which is based in Chicago.

Brokers, who have a history of providing great service and finding ways to reduce costs, can’t be an expert on everything. That’s why they need to find likeminded technology partners — not vendors — Donlan says. A technology partner and broker should have the same goals, such as easing the administrative burden and creating great capabilities that enable employees to shop for benefits, he says.

Technology can assist all parties involved in benefits — brokers, employers, employees, HR managers — and Donlan recommends that all brokers add it to their tool kit. “If you don’t embrace technology, then you’re going to be behind the curve,” he says.

Along with the broker and technology partner, the employer, too, has to be on the same page, Donlan says. “We all benefit … when we’re all mutually aligned,” he says.

The same advice goes when using a private exchange. Education and training are essential — everyone involved with an exchange must know what it is, what it isn’t, what it does and what it doesn’t do — says Rhonda Marcucci, an HR benefit and technology consultant at Chicago-based Gruppo Marcucci.

The AA problem

Exchanges deliver a package of products with a package of technology, and the latter is fairly new to brokers, Marcucci says. Many employers and brokers suffer from the AA (Apple Android) problem — they expect to download an app and it goes to work, she says.

However, private exchanges aren’t that simple. “It’s complicated,” Marcucci says. “There are a lot of moving parts.” That’s why it’s critical brokers and their clients understand the entire process from the initial quote to the time employee’s receive their ID cards “and all those 52 things that go on in between to make that happen,” she says.

If a broker sells an exchange without fully understanding all the details, there can be a breakdown during implementation due to assumptions made by the broker, the client or both, Marcucci says. Since many clients don’t have an adviser specifically for HR and benefits technology, “They are relying on and expect their benefit broker to be that adviser,” she says.

A strategic broker will fill that need with a resource, such as a third party or internal person devoted to technology, Marcucci says, and other brokers are partnering with private exchanges, which handle the technology aspect.

Today, employers are turning to their benefit adviser more than ever for technology support due compliance regulations in the Affordable Care Act, Marcucci says. “Clients have never needed more help,” she says. “There’s so much going on.”

That’s why brokers need to have a technology resource, Marcucci says. “They have to be part of the discussion,” she says. “It’s touching the thing that they do.”  

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