Here’s the Diehl: Surviving the Shift . . . to Online

“So, what will it take to get brokers to adopt online systems for customer enrollment and benefits administration?” This question was recently posed to me by a late-entrant vendor looking to capture the market, or even break into the market.

Regrettably, the market has been slow to unfold, and rightly so. Early adopters to online enrollment have suffered the knocks of all early adopters of any technology. They paved the path that has allowed contributing organizations – like Word & Brown – to identify the ways in which we can create and foster the emergence of this new era.

I watched in dismay as the first case I attempted to set up took my entire Saturday; eight hours later, the eligibility buckets were set, the plans were applied as were SBCs and SOBs, links to videos, a two-class program display, and employer contribution. It was a hefty undertaking, but I was euphoric to have identified the right solution – the one that would work to satisfy nearly any customer’s need. The best new solutions are built on a foundation of flexibility, defined by their customers’ needs. The worst are those who try to fit everyone into their solution by identifying workarounds to satisfy customer wants and wishes. In the end, the ability to be nimble in one’s product approach to a marketplace wins fortune’s hand.

Since that first time, we at Word & Brown have pursued online enrollment by working in the trenches – where we have always been – alongside our allies, the brokers we serve.

But the online adoption has not truly amounted to much more than a tiny fraction of our business.

It has nothing to do with the market demand for the promise of efficiencies gained by taking electronic applications and routing them to the carrier without having the burden of the time-intensive paper process of enrollment. I’ll never forget the voices, afraid, who asked us to provide a solution to combat the mighty tech giant that might one day usurp their relationship with a customer – one steeped in a tradition of service and not built on the uncertain pile of ones and zeros that are software.

We’ve witnessed the most public implosions of software applications meant for this very purpose.  That, of course, has rendered those who tried to use these means for enrollment entirely unsuccessful in their bid to embrace technology. In sharp contrast, others I know (who employed the traditional paper approach) landed client after client, all based on the assurance of enrollment, a result of the ineffable certainty of … paper.

But it is only a matter of time. As we’ve observed in other areas, technology is not something that will simply go away. It will improve. And in the end, it will win. It will become ubiquitous. And paper will fade into our past.

The efficiencies we gain by processing enrollments online are tremendous. Customer satisfaction hasn’t always been perfect – but, truly, this is a massive improvement over customer dissatisfaction with the paper process (which could result from any number of potential contributors to the long processing timeline that has become our new industry norm for paper, especially during the fourth quarter).

We will build connectivity and channels for routing data electronically, applying our industry to the Internet of Things in a way so as to connect us to and from one another: brokers to General Agencies, General Agencies to Carriers, and online systems to all and one another. Payroll integrations, currently in development across the board, will tear asunder the separation of benefits administration and payroll systems, which today require double-entry for the online HR professional or business owner. Upkeep will occur in one system, not a few.

If we, as service organizations and professionals within the industry, agree to connect, agree to offer our very best parts for use by adjoining systems and vendors, we can deliver the promises of efficiencies that saw so many early adopters excited to be able to process their application on the screen.

We see the future. We’re reaching for it. We’re offering our support to the world of online providers, and we hope to play our part and be a party to our technology revolution.

Will you join us?


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