Beam Dental Takeaways from BenefitsPRO Expo 2018: Think Ahead

First of all, I had an amazing time at BenefitsPRO 2018. I met with consultants from large regional firms, independent brokers, existing and potential partners, and everyone in between. It was an incredible opportunity to have so many benefits experts under one roof, all sharing their thoughts on where the industry is going. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the key themes I heard.

Speaker Highlights: Think for the Future

One of the consistent themes across the Expo this year centered around industry change and how to think for the future.

Tuesday afternoon's reception kicked off with an incredibly entertaining presentation by Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal on "Future Trends in Healthcare." There were some interesting points around electronic health records (EHR) and the pain points for both patients and providers, which can clearly be improved. He also discussed the idea of technology helping doctors make better decisions, rather than replacing doctors through A.I., and that technology can improve patient diagnosis and treatment. Overall, the key theme is that technology can be used to drive better outcomes at lower costs.

Wednesday morning's keynote was a fantastic presentation by Bobby Jindal, discussing the future of healthcare. He discussed many of the complexities of healthcare, and the complexities of healthcare change, but two key messages really stood out to me. First of all, "healthcare is intensely personal." I think this is an important theme that many industry incumbents forget. An actual claims experience is often centered around an important life event (e.g., illness, birth), yet the current member experience is entirely focused on the claim and facts and figures. Companies that shift their mindset in how they approach that experience will create true member connection and value going forward.

His second key takeaway was that, "We need transparency on price and transparency on outcomes. With today’s technology, there’s no reason that can’t happen." I couldn't agree more. As healthcare has become increasingly complex, there is an increased reliance on data, but how that data is used creates a difference both for the business and their customers. Companies leveraging this to increase transparency and drive better outcomes will ultimately be the winners in tomorrow's world.

On Wednesday afternoon, I had the personal honor of introducing Donna Brazile, a veteran political strategist who has big thoughts on healthcare with a perspective from the country's capital. She brought up a number of points supporting the fact that we are in political turmoil and the future will look far different from today. Relevant to healthcare, she believes "millennials are going to take more interest in politics than recently." How does that impact future healthcare bills with changing seats in Congress? She later discussed that "Democrats want Medicare for All as well as maintaining private insurance" with the inference being that healthcare will change and one must be prepared to survive in a changing future.

We are experiencing continual changes in the industry; some are incremental, while others have the potential to create a seismic shift in how you operate your business. Speakers throughout the expo reiterated this point and challenged you to think bigger and for the future.

Industry trend: Use technology or be left behind

As you walked around the expo floor throughout the event, there was a noticeable divide between those companies leveraging technology first and foremost and those simply maintaining the status quo. There is certainly no lack of innovation or new technology being used in insurance and other employee benefits, but how do you or a client determine which vendors to use? How do you think strategically about using technology for both your business and your clients?

Tuesday morning included a technology workshop led by Brian Slütz of UZIO. He began with a great comparison of Borders (the book store) vs. Amazon and how Amazon removed the friction in purchasing books. This is a great analogy to what's happening with benefits distribution today where a traditional broker is swamped by work while a modern broker is leveraging technology to create efficiencies and "empower the underdog reseller and deliver more value to clients." He continued down this path with a message that "technology platforms should free up your time, rather than have you spending more time within the platform." Those adopting the right technology will continue to find competitive advantage vs. their peers, ultimately driving revenue for their business.

On Thursday, Vinay Gidwaney from Maxwell Health led a great conversation along the same lines, comparing our industry to travel and banking, among others. Those industries were disrupted by technology quickly, and both product and distribution today look nothing like they did in the past. From robo-advisers to Kayak to even Amazon, technology has left many incumbents struggling for survival (if they're even still operating). Vinay makes the case that brokers are in a great position to weather changes in technology because they own the relationship with the consumer. But he encourages brokers to look at the employees, not just the employers, as the consumer.
By orienting their business to the consumer (employee), brokers are in a good spot to partner with new disruptors.

As a benefits broker, it's your responsibility to stay apprised of changing technology in the industry to adapt and latch onto what can be most beneficial to you and your clients. You must understand your business deeply and develop a framework for what works best for you and your clients. Every broker, as well as every client, is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It's up to you to make the best decision for how you operate your business, but there is a clear impetus to continually take steps forward.

Technology is no longer a "nice to have" — it's a necessity. Those that adopt will not only survive but thrive as they stay ahead of the curve in an evolving industry.

What we heard from brokers: "We're looking for something innovative to bring to clients."

Throughout the expo, we were lucky enough to speak with a wide range of consultants, brokers, and account managers, many of whom realize the opportunity that technology brings and are actively pursuing new solutions.

As I circled up with the Beam Dental team to discuss conference takeaways, a consistent message we heard was that brokers are "looking for something innovative to bring to clients." This is not only true in dental insurance. There has been a relative commoditization of benefits plans from medical through LTD, STD, and group life. It can be truly difficult for a brokerage to differentiate and add value to its clients through specific vendor relationships that they maintain. And if there's little differentiation from a product standpoint, then consultants must fall back on their strategic insights and their brokerage's service quality to continue driving value for their clients. But if "strategic thinking" and "service" are the value propositions all brokerages are using to win prospects and serve existing clients, where is the differentiation? That's where innovation comes into play.

In speaking with these brokers, both at the Expo and through pre-existing relationships, the brokers we observe as being most successful are embracing change. They are constantly speaking with new vendors across a range of products, both core and ancillary, to evaluate and offer the best solutions to their clients. This search and need for innovation is what is helping these firms win, both in the short and long-term.

Are you thinking ahead?

Given the themes we heard last week, I want to pose this question to you (and your firm): how are you investing in technology and using innovation to expand your business and drive value for clients? How are you staying ahead of the curve? If you don't have a succinct answer top of mind, then perhaps it's time to re-think your strategy, and perhaps Beam can help.

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Chris Prochak

Author Chris Prochak

CRO, Beam Dental

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