Zenefits: Only the Start for Brokerages

Whether you agree with what Zenefits did or not, you can’t argue with its results -- so more brokerages will follow its example.

As this election year unfolds, many are questioning what created Donald Trump. Why him? Why now? On the other end of the spectrum, the same could be said of Bernie Sanders. In the benefits world, I relate the political landscape to Zenefits and former CEO Parker Conrad. What is it that allowed Zenefits to come to be? As Zenefits now regroups to begin its post-Conrad journey, firms like Namely are getting press and stepping into the market in a similar way. Some say Silicon Valley breeds arrogance and often enables young entrepreneurs to create companies and attack the market and competitors with a vengeance. These young guns want to disrupt the market and change the rules of the game to deliver something new and better. See Also: How Likely Is Zenefits to Change? Whether you agree with the Zenefits model or not, you can’t argue with its results. According to Bloomberg, the company's revenue was close to $63 million annually as of the fourth quarter of 2015. This means: • $63 million in customers fired their broker because Zenefits promised something their current broker was not delivering; • $63 million in customers valued what I think is the equivalent of a $5 per-employee-per-month (PEPM) technology more than they valued the services delivered by their $25-$35 PEPM benefit broker; and • $63 million in customers did not care that there was no local service. While Conrad has left this stage, the conditions that allowed him to grow his business still exist. And I am sure the Zenefits executives and investors — including Andreessen Horowitz and Fidelity — are not going to let $63 million in revenue slip away without a fight. What Zenefits accomplished is to let the world know there are many employers out there that value what Zenefits promised to deliver. In fact, according to industry analyst and marketing guru Mark Mitchell of the Starr Conspiracy, there was $2.1 billion invested in the human capital management technology and services space in 2015 and $600 million in the first quarter of 2016. As Mitchell said at a recent conference, “Those checks are being cashed.” Soon, there will be a tsunami of new products, services and marketing in the human capital management (HCM) technology and service areas that are going to hit the market. Employers will be getting phone calls and webinar invites and attending conferences where these new solutions will be heavily promoted. Case in point: Have you ever seen a TV commercial or heard a radio commercial about HR technology before Zenefits and Namely? This is a hot market, and as one venture capital firm representative said to me, “We are only interested in investing in firms that go after the benefits commissions.” The commission is in play, and $2.1 billion in investment capital knows it. I have been in the benefit business since 1986, and many of the same problems still exist. Administration is still complex. Benefits are still confusing and are only getting more confusing. Costs are still going up. And now, in today’s world, cost shifting onto employees is creating financial stress on them. It is getting worse, not better. As long as the current market does not solve these problems, then there is an opportunity for someone else to do so. In the political arena, whether Trump wins or loses, the conditions that allowed him to secure the nomination aren’t going away. Certainly, the millions who support him won’t disappear overnight. They are still Americans living in our society. In the benefits world, whether Zenefits survives also doesn’t matter. The conditions that enabled it to enter the market and grow still exist. Employers still want what Zenefits promised. Managing benefits is still burdensome. Costs are still going up. People still don’t understand their health insurance. The market conditions have not changed. The opportunity for another company like Zenefits — or 10 of them or 100 of them -- still exists. And while Parker Conrad is in the rear view mirror, others are coming. And it will be a tsunami. This was originally written for Employee Benefit Advisor Magazine. The post can be seen here.

Joe Markland

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Joe Markland

Joe Markland is president and founder of HR Technology Advisors (HRT). HRT consults with benefits brokers and their customers on how to leverage technology to simplify HR and benefits administration.


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