Employee Benefit Advisor

More brokers embracing industry automation

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By Joel Kranc

Despite a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute stating that automation is set to “change the vast majority of jobs” — affecting 45% of all work activities in the U.S. — within the insurance industry, advisers say they are happy with efficiency-creating technology that is reducing costs and only displacing skills needed by workers, rather than the workers themselves.

On the ground, many in the industry are singing the praises of automation and what it can do for advising. Onboarding employee groups and manually dealing with rate tables, for example, can be time consuming and costly for the provider and the employer. Coupled with that, quotes must be generated from insurance carriers for various health and medical needs.

Jason Andrew, CEO with San Francisco, Calif.-based Limelight Health, says products like the one his company provides — QuotePad 2.0 — can work as a go-between, with agency management platforms and other systems and payroll. “This can reduce the friction,” he says. “Users can get real time quotes for any size group, push all the workflow into their CRM. That triggers downstream work and pushes all the enrollment, which probably reduces the work and effort by about 60%,” he adds.

Why have brokerages and insurance companies been more ready to adopt automated services than in the recent past? Dennis Carlson, president and CEO of Bespoke Benefits, says employers are using more subscription software tools to run their benefit plans. “I think the ‘fear factor’ of ‘what’s it going to do to my business?’ has washed away … [Many] HR platforms have come on the scene that have started with small businesses, where most of this used to be for the enterprise.”

Rethinking priorities

At the insurance company-level, the McKinsey report says 25% of full-time positions in the industry may be consolidated or replaced over the next 10 years. Because of this, the report states insurers need to “begin to rethink their priorities right now … including retraining and redeploying the talent they currently have.”

Limelight Health’s Andrew says it takes fewer people to do some of the work under automated systems – thereby creating efficiencies.

“[Many] HR platforms have come on the scene that have started with small businesses, where most of this used to be for the enterprise.”

“From a staffing standpoint,” adds Carlson, “we’ve gone from having one full-time person handling eligibility with one person backing it up to where we can actually manage that eligibility with one person in half the time.”

He notes that rather than let go of any staff, his firm has been able to raise people up to account management or client-facing roles. Previously, those people might have been dealing with back office administration or enrollment work.

Going forward, agencies and brokerages of any size can and will use automation to offer clients a more streamlined process. Carlson says adoption is still low and the opportunity is still great to incorporate it. “It’s inevitable that you will have to automate or you won’t be able to compete in this market … but at the top levels none of that [automation] replaces client contact.”