14 Words I Heard at EBN’s 2016 Dig|Benefits Conference
I heard a lot about digital innovation in benefits at Employee Benefit News’ inaugural Dig|Benefits conference in Austin last week. Perhaps most striking, apart from the benefits-focused tech startups featured as speakers, in the exhibitor hall, or as recipients of the Technology Innovator Awards (of which Liazon’s Director of Product, Amit Ghorawat, was one) was the number of companies vying to gain market share in an area everyone agreed was in dire need of disrupting – the employee benefits space.
Rather than rehash each of the companies represented (you can find a full list of the speakers here) I think I can best summarize the takeaways by listing the terms I kept hearing throughout the two-day event, and why they are important for us to reconsider in light of this emerging arena.
Technology – I know, duh, right? But while we typically think of technology in terms of accelerating every other aspect of our lives, we don’t think a lot about what it can do for our system of employer-sponsored benefits. But these innovators do. And they all have unique value propositions that are fueled by their personal passion and experiences.
Robo – This was one of my favorite words to come out of the conference and it was used largely in reference to financial automation tools. “Robo” is just a C3PO-ish way of saying that systems in 2016 can know more things about a person and therefore recommend the best retirement plans for them, which is what companies like blooom and Betterment do. It’s a term that goes hand in hand with…
Data – Without the industry “data” that these companies incorporate into their platforms, customization, personalization, and concierge-type services wouldn’t be able to deliver the results they promise. For example, HealthLucid is all about “leveraging big data analytics to revolutionize healthcare for large employers and their employees.” (Liazon uses data too – public usage data on benefits utilization as part of our decision support methodology to customize each individual’s benefits portfolio.)
Mobile – May be another “duh” word but when you consider that 68% of Americans own a smartphone, no true benefits innovator of 2016 would be complete without mobile capabilities. In fact, a large number of companies at Dig|Benefits were mobile-first companies – apps that integrate with other systems to provide an even more robust experience, like Withings, which makes wearable wellness watches (my alliteration, not theirs). And this is really important because so much of the workforce today is comprised of…
Millennials – Before you skip to the next word, please consider that Millennials are the new Boomers (you heard it here first.) Tuition.io (can you guess what they do?) relayed that most “millennials” stay at a job for only 18 months; their career grid looks more like a spider web than a pyramid. So when you’re targeting a new innovation platform in benefits or anything else, remember, millennials are taking over the world, or at least the workforce. And speaking of millennials…
App – You may not think of the next cool app coming out of the benefits world but if the 2016 innovators coming out of Dig|Ben have anything to say about it, you’d be wrong. Companies like Kudos and EveryoneSocial design “apps” that promise to help take the sting out of benefits for employees, one click at a time.
Algorithm – Okay, I’m going to offer up Liazon as an example here; specifically, the recommendation engine that powers our decision support tool which guides employees to the right combination of benefits for them on our private exchanges. Maybe some of these newer innovators are following in our footsteps when it comes to sophisticated algorithms, which is great, because the more we can all help benefits consumers make better choices, the more they can get out of it in terms of…
Personalization – Clearly, the benefits innovators of 2016 are “personalizing” the experience of health care and benefits in new ways, like Hello Heart, a mobile therapeutics solution that offers personalized dashboards to track progress toward healthy heart goals.
Transparency – Right up there with personalization is the idea of transparency, not just about procedure and treatment costs and quality from a company like Castlight, but about what’s at stake with benefits decisions and what can be done to help alleviate the frustration and confusion around them. Hiding behind industry jargon and omitting key information points no longer cuts it in an age of consumerism.
Holistic – Practically every presenter talked about the need for a “holistic” solution to help fix the broken system of benefits, like One Medical Group that takes “a holistic approach to medicine” by offering a variety of integrative services. But with so many entrants into the field, can any of them be truly holistic? Can one system do everything? Unlikely. But as long as a system is optimized such that any as-of-yet undiscovered offering can seamlessly fit within it, that’s real progress.
Integrated – And so, hand in hand with holistic solutions are those that are “integrated.” For example, Financial Guard “puts all of your investments in one place.” Liazon takes the idea of integration even further – we integrate platforms that track and manage health care expenses, as well as offer wellness incentives, price transparency tools and advocacy services. We’re sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to where these solutions are headed and we’ll be at the ready to identify the next big thing in benefits and bring it to the employers and employees who rely on our private exchanges going forward. (There were also lots of iceberg graphics on display at Dig|Ben, must be a cutting-edge thing.)
Education – Okay, you’re still reading, so stick with me. Lots of the companies talked about everything that’s wrong with the current system (confusion, apathy, disengagement) and the need for education to help employees make sense of it. They all had different ideas for how that education can be transmitted, like Obeo, which develops tools to make health care information more accessible to employees – but no one disputes the need for education when it comes to revolutionizing the benefits industry.
Engagement – Education alone will not the ills of health care and benefits cure. Employees need to first be engaged with the idea of benefits before they will take the time to get educated about them. That’s where cool apps like Airbo come in to make benefits fun, and reward employees who, well, engage.
Customer Lifecycle – This age-old marketing term takes on new meaning when applied to health care and benefits, according to Chris Chan, Innovation Imagineer of Mercer Labs. Because in a perfect benefits world, the customer’s lifecycle is also the person’s lifecycle. Ideally, your benefits shouldn’t end when you leave your job.
What words will be heard at next year’s Dig|Ben conference? I’m guessing one of them will be “marketplace” because as private exchanges further evolve to become true marketplaces that encompass new products and solutions and encourage them to thrive – innovation will triumph.
 Pew Research Center, “Technology Device Ownership: 2015”