Battling big data: how brokers can compete with AI and automation

A startling statistic is rattling industries worldwide: 7 percent of jobs will cease to exist due to automation. The fear that underlies this unspoken truth is that no job or industry is immune to machine learning. This is becoming even more apparent in the world of insurance where major groundwork and investment is being devoted to the mining of big data and consumer analytics automation.

While technology powers the automation of data-driven results and decision support in the insurance industry, many things can’t be solved by an algorithm. What brokers can do today to compete with AI and automation is to simply tap into what is already allowing them to thrive: expertise, education and explanation, empathy, and embracing what will accelerate their business into the future.

Expertise

When it comes to a major financial decision like insurance coverage, it comes as no surprise that group or individuals look to experts in the field to help. Brokers are the go-to expert for thousands of individuals and businesses and provide years of invested knowledge and field experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere, including the smartest of technology. With their honed expertise, brokers are able to assist their clients with their current needs and anticipate what lies ahead.

Education and explanation

The expertise of brokers leads to their most cited need when it comes to insurance: education. The complexity of the insurance industry, coupled with the lack of transparency, means that brokers are not only the window into insurance policies but also the chief communicator to their clients. Being the “chief communicator” also comes with the responsibility of the role of the “translator.” While businesses and individuals are bombarded with information from insurance companies or details on their policies, brokers act as the guide to answer questions and synthesize the information provided in clear language. 

Empathy

Perhaps the most human experience of all is that of empathy. Empathy may be a buzz word in the tech world, where developers are striving to keep up with the user experience or decision support, yet no technology can tap the conscious human experience of relating to one another. When it comes to clients struggling with managing payroll, growing a business, and understanding and complying with regulations, brokers are on the front lines to manage it all. Not only can brokers relate to their clients’ struggles, they see these struggles every day and can offer trusted support, not just services, to their clients. 

Embrace

Good brokers are able to tap into their expertise to provide education, explanation and empathy to their clients; but truly great brokers take it one step further: they embrace the future of their industry. Instead of fearing change, these brokers are change agents, constantly looking for better and faster ways to deliver better and faster results for their clients. Change agents are empowered by the potential of technology.

These brokers thrive because they embrace the combination of technology and human interaction and are ready to be the brokers of the future.

This post originally appeared in BenefitsPro Broker Innovation Lab.

Sales Secrets of Top Producing Brokers

As a broker, one of your most important assets is your time. On top of all the lead scouting, sales calls, enrollment meetings, and compliance duties, brokers are often left with an overwhelming schedule. The best insurance brokers are the most productive and are able to manage their schedules. Here are 3 sales secrets of top producing brokers.

Leverage digital tools

The most important question top-producing brokers ask daily is, “How can I sell more, faster?” Digital technologies are the easy answer. Whether you’re looking for a quoting engine, a payment system, simple CRM software, or any other system to boost your productivity, we live in an age of many options for digital technologies, each designed to enhance your ability to communicate and sell with ease.

The key is finding exactly which tools and technologies – or which combination of them – will make you more effective. For top brokers, experimenting with several technologies is critical. Any great technology provider today will give you the opportunity to try their programs at no cost so you can design a technology suite that suits your needs. While many brokers are still in the early stages of using digital technologies, top-producing brokers admit that applying these tools is an easy way to drive efficiency, profitability, and competitive advantage.

Streamline repeat activities

Selling often requires the completion of time-consuming and repetitive tasks: quoting, emailing, proposal generation, client relationship management, and so on. However, the most successful brokers identify the tasks that they are repeating on a daily basis and find automated solutions to streamline those activities. Automated proposal templates allow you to respond to prospects faster, email templates save time and improve consistency, CRM software helps to organize your prospects and follow up with leads; the benefits are endless.

While many solutions exist to address these activities on a standalone basis, there are also broker-centric solutions that address them with a more holistic view. Identifying the repeat activities – especially those that are paper-based processes – and matching solutions to those can save you massive effort. What’s crucial is that having automated processes in place to streamline your repeat activities allows you to focus your time where it’s needed most – on your clients.

Stay ahead of regulatory concerns

Insurance brokers are faced with an ever-changing and increasingly complex regulatory landscape. The sheer volume of these updates can be overwhelming, and for clients, understanding how the legislation may affect their business is not only confusing, but unsustainable.

To support clients’ needs to stay ahead of legislative risk, top-performing brokers prioritize preempting the questions their business clients have. In order to do so, they stay up-to-date on industry regulations by reading broker-centric blogs, attending broker conferences and panels, and talking to broker partners focused on developing thought leadership around regulatory issues. For top-performing brokers, the ability to stay ahead of clients’ regulatory concerns, and the velocity with which they can respond to them, is the key to maintaining successful and long-term relationships.

Investors, Incumbents, and Innovators

Today we’re thrilled to share that we have raised $5M in a Series A financing. The round is led by IA Capital Group, with participation from Aflac Ventures, other institutional investors, and some of the insurance industry’s top executives and luminaries.

Our institutional investors are pros at backing companies that have successfully scaled innovations in the gigantic industries of insurance and healthcare. We’re proud to have the support of our advisors and investors – the industry’s top executives and veterans – who understand that lasting transformation in our industry takes a concerted and collaborative effort from incumbents and innovators.

With this new round of funding, we’re excited to take on this transformation and accelerate our growth by helping brokers and carriers deliver an intuitive and engaging shopping experience to small businesses and individuals. With our health insurance e-commerce marketplace, small businesses and individuals can easily find the affordable health coverage best fit for their needs and preferences.

Guidance from brokers and carriers is essential, regardless of how the healthcare regulatory landscape unfolds. Now, given industry’s push towards simple and modern selling technologies that simplify distribution for all insurance stakeholders, Wellthie’s ability to provide simple navigation, shopping, and support is critical for small businesses and individuals to make the optimal choice about their health insurance.

It is only through the joint and deliberate effort of incumbents and innovators that we can bring simplicity and ease to the complex world of insurance for millions of small businesses and individuals. So, if you are a forward-thinking broker or carrier, reach out to us to see how we can help you engage customers and maximize your sales today.

And, if you are a smart, passionate individual looking to transform the health insurance industry from the ground-up, we need your help by joining our rapidly expanding team!

From the entire Wellthie team, thank you for all of your support!

Brokers are here to stay

sunsetLast week, President Donald Trump withdrew the healthcare bill intended to replace Obamacare from the House floor, leaving the Affordable Care Act here to stay. While the back and forth of anticipated regulatory change was confusing for consumers, one overlooked segment of the health insurance community was faced with a major opportunity: health insurance brokers.

There are several hundred thousand brokers in the U.S. today, and the vast majority of small businesses and consumers rely on them to guide their benefit decisions. In times of regulatory change, particularly when consumers are surrounded by confusion and uncertainty, the role of the broker is valued more than ever before. Brokers will be relied upon to help their clients navigate the evolving healthcare landscape and ease the transition for millions of businesses and consumers. For health insurance brokers, this is a massive opportunity to meet new clients and secure the trust of their customers.

In order to successfully serve the needs of their customers, brokers must invest in innovative technology solutions and digitally-enabled partners to stay competitive and keep up with the increased demand for services in the coming year.

As the specifics of President-elect Trump’s health care agenda post last week’s defeat are made clear and the legislation comes into effect, business owners and consumers will continue looking for ways to connect with their broker to understand the implications of the regulatory change on purchasing and compliance. Brokers will be needed to help educate their clients on the nuances of the law that directly affect their pursuit of available health insurance options. Therefore, the role of the broker — a trusted and valuable resource for consumers and small businesses — in an uncertain and ever-changing environment remains strong.

This post originally appeared in BenefitsPro Broker Innovation Lab.

What Small Businesses Want from the New Administration

Repeal!

Replace!

Partial repeal?

Delayed replace?

Reform?

Although the energy that charged the Republican led government to prioritize the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been met with more questions than answers, make no mistake: change is on its way.

For many small business owners, this is welcomed change. During the policy formation process of the ACA, small business advocacy organizations, associations, and small business owners themselves felt excluded from the process. The result of which was not only a deep-seated skepticism of the law, but legitimate concerns that the law did not do enough to address their needs. The energy and unknown surrounding the future of the law is an opportunity for these small business stakeholders to make their voices heard and gain a long-awaited seat at the table in a way forward.

On February 7th, the House Small Business Committee led a hearing to do just that calling upon health policy experts, the National Small Business Association (NSBA), The National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). The conclusions from the hearing clearly stated what small businesses want from the new administration: affordability, flexibility, and predictability of health care and coverage.

Affordability:

Cost remains the top cited reason why small businesses do not offer health coverage to their employees. This was true before the ACA, during the implementation of ACA, and now years after it. This unwavering historical truth points to the looming problem the ACA and the insurance market itself stepped away from addressing: if America’s health care delivery system through an employer is both efficient and effective means to covering the population, we are ignoring the largest source of employment to reach this goal.

In its current state, major medical small group plans are far from an attainable reality for the majority of small businesses. Per the NFIB, of the 60% of small businesses not offering health coverage to their employees, 52% said the cost of coverage itself was the deciding factor. This coupled with the cost of complying with coverage legislation, like the ACA, makes offering the benefit all the more unattractive.

If the industry really wants to move the needle on small group health insurance, this is the sticking point: make coverage options more affordable to the small businesses owner, and give them additional cost saving options, or less volatility in year over year premiums, to sustain it.

Flexibility:

Make no mistake, the ACA has effectively covered more American’s than ever before, reduced coverage discrimination, worked towards stabilizing health care costs, spurred industry innovation, and placed regulatory guardrails enhancing the quality of health coverage. Yet much, if not most, of these positives directly benefited those in the individual market, a market that small businesses have been inhibited in taking advantage of.

What small businesses are looking for are a better way of taking advantage of the individual market for their employees. Per the NFIB, in 2015, 16% of small businesses attempted to do just that by helping pay for individual plans of their employees, and under the ACA, were penalized for it. Additionally, little was done to assist those contracted or self-employed benefit from the tax advantages of employer sponsored insurance. This compounded with the regulatory compliance headache left many small businesses wavering in the new health insurance landscape.

Flexibility, as small business stakeholders see it, comes as innovation in the insurance market. New models for cost-sharing, like Section 18001 of the 21st Century Cures Act’s approach to HRA’s was cited as a direct example of this, with hopes of more to come.

Predictability:

Another side effect of what many small business owners viewed as convoluted legislation was confusion. Per the NSBA, 14% of small business owners spend more than 20 hours a month on federal regulations, noting the ACA as one of the most burdensome. Many were left feeling not only unsure of their compliance with the law, but also unsure of how to take advantage of it. The Small Business Tax Credit was one such example that small businesses felt was not simple nor broad enough to take full advantage of.

The confusion for small businesses owners was not aided in the fact that their current health plans were being “grandfathered,” their premiums were still greatly rising now along with deductibles, and they were unable to gain transparency into health care costs for themselves and their employees. This uncertainty stifled the growth in the small group market despite the ACA’s opposing intention with the inclusion of SHOP, the small business tax credit, and leaving small businesses without a coverage mandate.

For the small business owner, predictability comes in two forms: increased transparency to health care costs year over year and less convoluted legislation.

By prioritizing affordability, flexibility, and predictability of health care and coverage, small business are looking to be part of the solution in reducing the current barriers preventing mass entry into the health insurance market. And it looks like the new administration is listening.

Why Zenefits is a Blessing in Disguise

43hWe’re sure you’ve heard of Zenefits. We’re also certain that what you’ve heard follows a narrative of lessons learned from the rise and fall of this unicorn, once lauded for its innovative technology in a paper driven insurance industry. Industry brokers, who felt the most threatened by Zenefits, were also the most outspoken on the errors made by the company. Although brokers have rightfully expressed how shortcuts cannot be made in such a complex industry, they have wrongfully forgotten how Zenefits paved the way for needed innovation.

Before brokers were pointing out Zenefits’ errors, they were fearing its success. Zenefits provides a solution to a problem in an industry that was previously void of disruption. By streamlining the arduous task of employee benefits management, Zenefits provides the accessibility and transparency that businesses had long been searching for. Additionally, their tools gives employer groups their time back, freeing them from administrative complexities to focus more on their business. Employee groups were not only expecting more from their brokers, they were ready for technological solutions.

These technological solutions are nothing to be feared, and they are far from signaling an end to the broker industry. In fact, technology is working to solve the biggest pain points of the health insurance industry, including those of brokers. And, despite its missteps, there are lessons to be learned from a disruptor like Zenefits:

1. Give small businesses their time back
The core of Zenefits business was taking the administrative burden off the shoulders of small business owners and simplifying the vast complexities of insurance. By nearly automating human resources, small businesses saved time and hassle. Brokers must do the same for their clients. Employers want to deal with brokers in the most efficient way to understand their insurance options. Streamlining the process itself helps employer groups effectively do that and make a faster decision- saving them, and their brokers, valuable time.

2. Tout your expertise and (free) service
Perhaps the largest value added to small businesses of the Zenefits model is that the software was provided to them at no cost. For small businesses, saving on overhead expenses is an enormous value add. Brokers must find innovative ways to highlight the free value add they provide their small business clients if they expect to keep them. For brokers, the value add is clear: small businesses gain an expert business advisor to support their insurance needs.

3. Invest in technology
The complexities of streamlining benefits for small businesses go further than time and regulation. Outdated technology has forced employers and brokers into needless paperwork, faxing, spreadsheeting, and juggling multiple systems simultaneously to understand and obtain the best insurance option for their group. Technology is an effective solution that simplifies insurance administration at the click of a button.
In insurance, where the role of the broker is essential, technology provides the access point to improve the process brokers and their small business clients want. And its adoption is what makes insurance more approachable and convenient. Now more than ever, employers are expecting it.

Identifying why Zenefits grew so large so quickly in the first place comes with the recognition of the value it brings to an industry ripe for innovation. Brokers must embrace the role Zenefits and similar insurance disrupters play in the changing landscape, and adopt the latest technologies to stay ahead of client’s needs. While technology will never replace the brokers mastery of regulation, carrier offerings, and inside industry trends, it will elevate the role of the broker business in the eyes of the industry, small business clients, and the technology disrupters to come.

This article was originally published in BenefitsPRO’s Broker Innovation Lab.