Breaking Trends Disrupting The Employee Benefits Industry

Posted in Human Capital Management By Chris Haley

General sessions were organized around specific themes with a non-technology expert providing an overview of a situation and need and three technology providers elaborating on the theme by introducing their platform and approaches to address each need.  In addition to the general sessions, Digital Benefits announced its Technology Innovator Awards to over 50 recipients.  The conference was attended by a mix of technology providers, brokers and employers.

Key Themes

  • Solving benefits administration for small businesses
  • Rethinking health care with data, technology & design
  • Growing 401(k) nest eggs with Robo-advisors
  • Helping employees become financially fit
  • Digital wellness tools—catalysts for real change
  • Digital employee engagement—shining a new light on feedback, recognition and culture building
  • Benefits analytics—getting to smart choices through the power of data


Technology as a means of empowering brokers to engage and communicate: 
Having been responsible a number of times for managing/administering a benefits program, I fully appreciate the effort involved in addressing employee questions about benefits. From the open enrollment education period to the day-to-day questions regarding reimbursements and co-pays, the world of employee benefits feels complicated and confusing.  While there seems to be a number of technologies attempting to address this administration burden from the employer perspective, I was intrigued by STRIVE Benefits ( and its broker portal, which places brokers in a better position to engage their clients' employees directly.

Employee Benefits expansion in the age of technology and millennials: 
From paying student loans to wellness initiatives to engagement and recognition, the world of traditional employee benefits is expanding to address the evolving workforce.  While health care and other voluntary benefits will continue to be a core part of any employee benefits program, attracting and retaining talent will require a fresh perspective on what employees want and where their priorities are.

Wellness (both financial and health): 
The conference devoted two panels to wellness topics—one for financial wellness and one for health wellness.  While the health wellness initiatives have been around for a few years, I was intrigued by what entrepreneurs are addressing from a financial wellness perspective. In particular,

  • DoubleNetPay automates short-term savings and cash flow management.  The technology allows employees to quickly understand how much discretionary spending they may have after first deducting taxes and then deducting savings.
  • allows employers to contribute in paying back their employees’ student loans.  Working with employers to craft these programs and then providing the technology to route payments directly to loan servicers, is providing employees with a needed benefit at a time of exploding student loan debt.  As CEO Chris Costello mentioned during his presentation, “While at times it can be difficult to explain deductibles and co-pays to young, healthy employees, it is a pretty easy benefit for employees to understand when you tell them that you are going to help them pay off their student loans.”
  • Kashable provides both the technology and the underwriting for employee loans.  By using Kashable, employees can build credit, borrow money in a more cost-effective manner than borrowing from a 401(k) and leverage technology for friction-free transactions.

While the Betterments, Wealthfronts and Personal Capitals of the world get all of the press, I was impressed with Blooom and Financial Guard.

Technology as a continued driver of disruption: I spoke with an entrepreneur who felt strongly that technology will eventually disrupt the benefits market.  As I mentioned Zenefits to establish our bearings in the conversation, he astutely acknowledged that, while Zenefits has an interesting approach, it is the same business model (i.e., it is the broker of record that simply gives away technology) that has been around for decades.  The market seems ripe for disruption, particularly with the speed at which technology can be deployed.  While I didn’t necessarily see anything disruptive at this conference, I do think it’s no longer a question of if, but when.

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