When it comes to adoption of technology, simple is most often better than complex. Steve Jobs and Apple went to great lengths to make their products simple. Without user adoption, products fail. Current technology trends continue the move toward simplicity with the advent of artificial intelligence and personal assistant tools like Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home. Before you know it, these tools will enter the benefits world. The question is, who is going to be first and best? And if I am a benefits broker, how does this affect my business?
While many brokers are aware of the vendors that call on them or have booths at industry conferences, I believe the benefits technology race is going to heat up, with new competition entering the market. These new competitors see the market opportunity to automate large segments of our economy, including health insurance and healthcare. You may have heard of some of these companies, like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com
and Apple. This would be in addition to current leaders such as ADP and Paychex. The stakes of the game will change, and the price of entry, from an investment standpoint, is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Those with the capital will quickly outpace those with less capital.
Don't be surprised when you start to see major mergers and acquisitions in the HR and benefits space. Could Microsoft buy Ultimate Software? Why not? Microsoft already purchased LinkedIn and recently hinted at getting deeper into the HR space.
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When I look at products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, I see products that have very quickly grabbed market share, with high rates of adoption. My wife, who is not an early adopter of technology, quickly became a user of Google Home. Why? Because it is easy. Would she have a better understanding of her health insurance if she could simply ask Google? Absolutely!
Benefits technology, on the other hand, has not had broad adoption by employees. Yes, employers have bought systems or brokers have given them away, but when you look at utilization on the employee side it is abysmal. I believe the reason for this is because there is not enough value as a stand-alone solution to generate broad adoption. Keep in mind that the majority of people hardly use their healthcare in a given year, so there is little need to access such a system. I don't know about you, but I can hardly remember the login to my computer, never mind something I may not use for six months.
The next generation of technology in the HR and benefits area is going to have broader and "everyday" value, while being much easier to use. Market-leading vendors, especially those with a great deal of capital, will invest in the latest technologies to try to win the technology race and gain more customers. And before you know it, you will be saying the following:
“Alexa, is Dr. John Smith from Boston in the Blue Cross network?”
“Ok, Google, request Friday off from work.”
“Hey, Siri, how much does the average office visit cost?”
“Alexa, what is the balance of my 401k?”
“Ok, Google, transfer $500 from my savings to checking.”
The advancement of technology and artificial intelligence has enabled many to have more personalized user experiences. Your Amazon Echo will "get to know you." Maybe in the near future your doctor will get to know you a little better, too.
Many benefits brokers have chosen some technology vendor with a mission of putting as many clients on the system as possible. This is a risky position competitively as more advanced solutions from highly capitalized companies come along. I don't know many sales people or business owners in any industry who like running around with the eighth best product. Even more so when it is not necessary. The market and your customers do not care if you have invested thousands of dollars on some technology that may quickly fall out of favor.
One should take the advice of Jack Welch, ex- CEO of General Electric, who once said,
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
For those who have purchased the Amazon Echo or Google Home, you don't have to look far to see that the outside world is changing faster than the inside. The health insurance and healthcare industries often feel like they are moving at a snail’s pace. Private exchanges were lauded as change, when they really are a reincarnation of cafeteria plans from the '80s.
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With the Trump administration, changes in health insurance legislation may create a shift that empowers the consumer. The industry may need an army of people on the front lines to help the industry move to a whole new paradigm. The vendors will need help and the employers, and employees will need it, too. The technology is there. Alexa is ready. Are you?