If you are a small group benefits broker, then chances are someone has been trying to sell you a benefits technology system. Chances are that at some point over the past few years (or perhaps repeatedly), someone has called you and said, “Hi. I have a benefits technology system that you should consider.” As the ACA’s exchange model has crept into the private marketplace, brokers have been the “belle of the ball.” Technology suitors have lined up to tout online enrollment systems with everything from complex decision support modules to direct carrier and payroll interfaces. Of course, the pressure on brokers to actually commit to any of these systems has been pretty low (especially when one considers the number of small groups that have yet to come out from their “grandmothered” hiding place). So, the savvy broker has spent the past few years drifting through tech webinars, reading PDF brochures, and watching their competition very closely to see who is investing in what systems, and which     agencies appear to be building the process that “sells in your sleep.” Many brokers felt that they would not need to change processes until their competitors began to do so. But now that story appears to be changing, and brokers are being forced to ask themselves, “Who is my competition here, anyway?” Several of the technology companies promoting services to small group health insurance agencies have changed course. Some have been purchased by carriers, seeking to tip the table towards their own product offerings. Others have expressed a desire to work independently of insurance agents (and even consider insurance agents to be a competitor). So the next call you get may be someone saying, “Hi. I have a benefits technology system…and it’s making you irrelevant.” But that call won’t come from the technology company. It will come from your employer groups. Consider the case of bswift, purchased by Aetna early last week. For years, bswift has positioned itself as champions of the broker community. Moving forward, however, their state-of-the-art decision support module, Ask Emma, will likely be pushing your employer groups toward Aetna medical and ancillary products exclusively. And who really needs a broker, that might push other ancillary carriers, when a group can just Ask Aetna…I mean Emma? Consider also Zenefits, a company that is sending chills up the spine of many small group brokers. “That company is like a spider in the center of a web,” one broker told me, “they connect many points and bring them all in towards themselves. They scare me.” Rightfully so, given that when asked by Bloomberg in September who Zenefits saw as their competitors, CEO Parker Conrad answered, “insurance brokers.” See the interview here. The game is changing, and the machines are rising. Brokers feel more pressure than ever to move forward with a digital business process. But make sure the tech companies you align yourself with appreciate and value the unique role brokers play in the market. Choose wisely…or face the prospect of becoming a fly in someone else’s digital web. The best place to begin is to look practically at the problem and focus your thinking around your agency’s goals for the pivotal year of 2015:

  • How do you see an online marketplace being effective and valuable for your business goals?
  • What types of groups do you feel should be offered this approach right now so they are prepared, or protected from future competitive moves?
  • What lines of coverage do you think will be the most practical to offer these groups online?

If the above questions strike you as significant, then join the club…LITERALLY! At FormFire, we see 2015 as a breakthrough year for the private, INDEPENDENTLY BROKER-DRIVEN, health insurance marketplace. Brokers will not have to operate off of their back foot any longer, and can go on the offensive to drive change, new sales & efficiency of process. And—unlike some other technology companies—we are offering brokers the opportunity to join us. We believe that the small group’s interests are best served through the collaboration of qualified insurance professionals and experienced technology providers. If you believe in small group, and are serious about moving forward, then we invite you to be a part of these collaborative developments in 2015. At FormFire, we believe that the future is bright and worth the fighting for.