There’s one word to describe today’s benefits administration space: complex. Benefit managers have a number of areas to handle, including administration, payroll and compliance, not to mention a host of different products — from employee benefit offerings to an emerging world of unique consumer-oriented services that support the health and financial well-being of the employee. Then there’s the challenge of gathering employee data and getting it to the ecosystem of third parties that support these services. And, of course, all of this has to be done while trying to control benefits-related costs.

As a result, employers are looking toward technology solutions to better help manage their benefits. Benefits technology systems can greatly reduce the administrative burden on the HR team. An effective system helps sort through the necessary paperwork that’s part of the process and allows for seamless interaction with multiple third parties, including insurance carriers, payroll vendors and other consumer products such as Health Advocate or Teladoc. Technology systems can also enable easy-to-implement interactive wellness programs.

While many employers currently use benefit technology, not all are realizing success in the form of lower benefits administration costs. This may have to do with lack of preparation and ongoing training designed for taking advantage of new technologies. This underscores how important it is for brokers and advisers to help clients sort through the complexity of benefits technology, and to thoroughly educate and advise them about the best options so they know exactly what they’re getting and are prepared to take full advantage. But how can ambitious brokers and advisers exploit these opportunities to the fullest?

A student of the space
The first thing is to understand your target market as an adviser. Look at your current block of business for commonalities. Do you have a natural niche in a particular industry or do you work with clients of a similar employer size? Even with a focused approach, however, each client and prospect is unique in how they prioritize their financial and HR objectives. You’ll have to dig deep to understand the likely needs of each potential client.

Once you have a sense of your target market, you need to become a student of the benefits technology space. Ideally, you’d start with a set of market-proven technologies that provide a nice mix of HR and administration tools and then choose the ones that offer a broad set of combined capabilities, since no single technology solution has everything. Aim to gain an understanding of the capabilities offered by each vendor and platform. Does the technology offer carrier connectivity so that there’s ease of integration with the benefits carriers you trust to support your business? Learn about the cost model to determine if the program can even work for the client. If the broker is absorbing the cost initially, how can it ultimately be shared with the client? And remember that customization itself has a cost. You need to understand what each technology platform does and what it has the potential to do.

Given the number and types of available solutions in the benefits technology environment, it can be challenging to figure out the role you want to pursue so you can add value and ultimately build and protect your revenue stream. As a broker, do you want to be a consultant for a particular model? Do you want to try to connect people and be a facilitator? Do you want to broker services? Or perhaps you want to be a provider of services and include that offering as part of your value proposition. Ultimately, where do you see your role going forward?

Once you’ve determined your place in the benefits administration world, be prepared to distill the ABCs of your knowledge into a first conversation that brings you from a presenter of partner technology options to a point where you’re recommending one that that’s the best fit. This discussion sets a consultative tone from which you can build a trusting relationship.

According to Guardian research, 85% of brokers expect to partner with a third-party provider over the next three years to better support their client needs. If your agency doesn’t have the capital to support multiple partnerships, you’ll want to pick one partner and focus your resources on that. This requires that you have the discipline to do the preparation necessary to understand the situation rapidly, quickly evaluate the fit, and then be objective as to whether or not you can help.

You may find that you can offer solutions for certain types of clients but are unable to help others. It’s also possible that your partner or partners may not be appropriate for your prospect. When that’s the case, you may benefit most from having the professionalism to admit that to the benefits administrator. The new benefits industry and the benefits technology area are clearly complex. Brokers who are the best schooled in the space can provide options, create confidence and shoulder the complexity are most likely to win the technology race. It’s truly an ever-changing marathon that requires pace and nimbleness, not a sprint.

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