Last week I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Workplace Benefits Renaissance conference in Atlantic City. The conference focused on the issues and solutions that Human Resource professionals and broker/consultants will face in the near future. Many of the speakers, myself included, touched or focused on the greater role that technology will continue to take on in the HR departments in companies of every size.
It’s interesting to be in a banquet room full of folks on their smart phones – checking emails, texting, checking the balance on their bank accounts, staying in constant touch with clients, colleagues, and loved ones – and to watch them as they have such visceral reactions when the conversation turned to how technology is increasingly infiltrating the role of employee benefits. During one session, a presenter brought up one particular benefits technology company in his slideshow. A broker a few tables in front of me, perpetually on his cellphone, blurted out “experience does matter, those guys have no idea what they’re doing,” interrupting the presentation and showing visible disdain for the company that has been sweeping up small group business by providing their technology cost free to employers.
So why this level of discomfort with technology from a group of seemingly connected and contemporary individuals?
- I think most brokers/consultants want to protect their book of business, and they see technology companies (such as the model of taking over Broker Of Record (BOR)) as a direct threat to their bottom line.
- Many are concerned that helping their clients implement technology may make them obsolete in the long run.
- Many don’t understand how technology can complement their roles, and they are afraid of tying themselves to a vendor only to have it be the wrong solution or cause an issue in their relationship with their client.
A deeper understanding of benefits technology can address all of these issues and help a broker/consultant stand out from the pack and have significant impact on the growth of their book of business.
To be clear, benefits technology is not an iPhone. Technology in an HR context is not one size fits all and one solution is not right for every employer. Once brokers begin to understand the nuances in services, structure, cost, and capabilities, they can begin the process of helping their clients really find an appropriate solution.
- Not all technology firms are chasing BOR on group business. In fact, most work on a per employee per month basis (PEPM) and intend to leave broker services to the experts. Know your partners and their intentions; a good technology partner will bring a great solution to the table and leave the brokering to the brokers.
- I ran across a quote the other day that said “Man is a slow, sloppy, and brilliant thinker; the machine is fast, accurate, and stupid.” I believe that technology will never replace humans in devising the kind of strategic and complex solutions to the difficult problems facing organizations and HR departments today. Even if it might one day, that is many, many decades in the future. The role of the strategic, thoughtful broker/consultant is irreplaceable.
- HR technology solutions are as vast as the array of apps on your cell phone. Listening to several of the sessions at the Workplace Benefits Renaissance, I began to get a glimpse of that array. Every company represented had a different outlook on the role technology played for their clients and the gamut of approaches seemed infinite. When you as a broker/consultant start the process of finding a solution for your client, you have to know what they are hoping to achieve, their overall style and culture, and the needs of their demographics — because picking the right partner will be essential in a successful relationship.
At the end of the day, the brokers and consultants that prove capable of helping usher their clients into a more tech-savvy place will ultimately be the ones that succeed in this rapidly changing landscape. No one wants to do business with the only person in the room still using a flip phone.