How Do I Select the Best Online Broker Product for my Company's Benefits?

It’s been all over the place for the past year or so: startups are disrupting HR and traditional insurance. Venture capitalists are investing in insurance and benefits distribution platforms like crazy. In my previous post, I laid out a framework to compare a traditional benefits broker vs. technology platforms, so at this point, let's assume that you’ve decided that a tech platform is a viable option for you. Step 1? Check!

There are clearly dozens of technology options out there to help you address your HR needs from payroll to recruiting to benefits. Given that, I’m going to focus primarily on tech platforms that include employee benefits. Even within that subspace of HR Tech, deciding which platform to use can be overwhelming, so below are 7 key steps to inform your tech platform decision.

Note: I assume HIPAA compliance and security are table stakes for every platform out there so this is not a decision criteria. If you have any questions or doubt about a tech platform’s compliance or security, that company should not at all be a consideration for something as critical as employee benefits.

1. Define your objectives for HR (i.e. what do you want?)

If you’re going to narrow down your choice, it’s crucial to clearly lay out what you’re looking for from an HR / administration side of things. Pretty obvious, right? I wouldn’t recommend an extensive list, but three to five key decision factors would be helpful. Here are a few potential examples:

  • Shortest implementation time for HR
  • Access to the widest set of carriers and other vendors to maximize choice
  • Access to a curated set of benefit options to limit choice
  • Lowest costs
  • 100% digital (i.e. no paperwork)
  • Great interface for HR administration
  • A personal touch for onboarding and administration
  • Human consultative services for identifying the best benefits plan
  • Recommendation engine for your benefits plan

Think about some of those key factors and have them top of mind as you evaluate options. Maybe even write them on a Post-It note for a little added irony as you look at tech platforms.

2. Identify what matters to employees (i.e. what does the team want?)

Let’s face it, your benefits are in place to serve your employees. So why not try to understand what best meets their needs? Similar to the above, come up with a short list of factors which would provide the most value to employees. Again, a few potential examples:

  • Fast onboarding time for new employees
  • Mobile experience
  • Beautifully-designed user interface
  • Extensive information available on benefits plan specifics
  • Direct employee member support (i.e. call the platform, not the insurance carrier)
  • Flexibility for employees to manage their own information
  • Comes with free movie tickets and popcorn (just checking to see if you’re reading)
  • Employee guidance for individual enrollment choices

Once your objectives for HR and employees are in place, now it’s time to research and narrow down.

3. Identify which platforms are available

The best way to identify which vendors might work for you to you is to ask friends: other HR benefits managers, founders, or decision-makers at similarly-sized businesses. Makes sense, right? Beyond that, go to resources you trust to build a list of options for you. Since you’ve got your objectives in place from the previous activity, it should be relatively quick to come up with a list of 5 or so options that may make sense for your company to meet your objectives and align with your brand and culture.  Also, because I know you don't have time for this, I've created an example list at the bottom of this post for you.

4. Evaluate if each platform meets some, or all of your benefits needs

Next step is to dig in on a few of them to understand the platform’s benefits offering. This would include things like medical, dental, vision, life, payroll, retirement, etc. Does the platform include some carriers you have your eye on? Does the vendor offer additional perks like massage therapy or pet insurance through its platform? Do you want a full Human Resources Information System (HRIS) in one place to manage recruiting, vacation days, etc. or are you comfortable with a separate HRIS to manage that and using a benefits platform for benefits exclusively?  There are no consistent dividing lines, so you must look at each option independently.

At this point, you’ve mapped your functional benefits needs with a few platforms, so now compare your specific tech platform objectives with their value propositions. Is there alignment? Perhaps get a demo or hop on the phone with a sales rep to ask directly. The time to get tactical is now.

5. Make sure the platform serves clients like you

If you’ve gotten a reference from a friend or colleague, there’s a good chance there’s alignment between your company and the clients that that HR tech platform serves. But if you’re coming in cold, there are a couple simple tactics you can use. This is not rocket science.

First of all, check out the site’s “NASCAR” page or find client testimonials from companies similar to yours. This will give you a starting point to tell you if the vendor is a good fit for you. Secondly, ask for references! Any company worth its salt can provide references of clients similar to a company like yours, and these references will inevitably be much more candid than anything on a vendor’s site. Not only ask for references, but actually follow up to get that input from their clients. Trust me on this one, it’s worth a quick email or a call.

6. Identify what support is like (i.e. make sure it isn't non-existent)

Technology is but one component of a vendor’s solution. How does the platform help you and your employees make decisions? Is it purely an algorithm to point you in the right direction? Does the platform provide consultants / advisors / experts to optimize the benefits package? Or, does the tech platform work with independent brokers that use their software as well? If there is a carrier / plan unavailable on their platform, do they have in-house brokers that will work with carriers to get you a quote? There are many different models, so it’s worth understanding how each tech platform operates so that it can match the level of consultation you’re looking for.

Moreover, what is the client experience like once you’re set up? Is there an app you can download? How easy is it to access features from mobile? How many support people will you have to speak with to resolve an issue? How many different email addresses do your employees need to get the right answer?

You typically only set up benefits annually, but you and your employees will need to use the solutions throughout the year, so it’s important to know what the member experience is like.

7. Know how the solution scales

Are you a small creative agency aiming to stay small? A high growth startup that just did a $10M series A? A local bootstrapped business but with large aspirations?

Be realistic about your company’s aspirations. You don’t want to overinvest time and resources into a complex solution that’s built for a much larger company than yours that will take months to implement. However, it’s important to know that the solution you’re looking at can grow with your business if needed. Not sure how? Just ask your sales rep what changes as you move from 10 to 50 to 200 people. Different functionality? Are you assigned a personal client success specialist? It’s okay to be direct - answering your questions is their job!

Okay, I know that’s a ton to take in, but this is not a 30 minute decision for your company. I can’t tell you which specific platform makes the most sense for your company, but this framework should give you all the info you need to help make that decision. Plus, what I can tell you is that if you’re willing to invest this much time in choosing your platform, you will make a fantastic choice for your company, and the team will love it, so pat yourself on the back in advance.

 

Bonus! Below is a list of just a few of the available benefits platforms for your consideration, each serving a slightly different market in a unique way. Full disclosure: beam® is not currently available on all of these platforms, but we love what each of these companies does from a solution, brand and/or innovation standpoint. Enjoy!

Brought to you by Beam Insurance Services LLC. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only; is not intended to be relied on as complete information; and is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This material is not meant to be a sale of or an offer to purchase an insurance plan from Beam®. Should you have interest in purchasing an insurance plan from or through Beam®®, you should seek the help of a licensed professional.
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Author Chris Prochak

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