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Benefits Advisors Remain Relevant In Spite Of So-Called “Disruptors”

Half a decade ago, a cloud of concern loomed over the employee benefits sector as a group of self-proclaimed “disrupters” threatened to transform the space. They planned to revolutionize the provision of employee benefits through the means of improved technology.

Despite the initial apprehension, however, little has since changed. While the last couple of years have brought about tremendous changes to the workplace culture, the design of benefit packages, companies’ relationship with and usage of the online space, and other related technological advances, the personalized touch of advisors remains ever so needed and appreciated. 

Whether the pandemic or the loose usage of the concept of “disruptive innovation” had an impact in slowing down the appearances of these so-called disruptors, one thing is for certain: benefits advisors are not going anywhere.

Technology as a main weapon for disruption

From providing better data collection and analytics tools, to introducing artificial intelligence solutions and automated benefit packages, the disruptors intended to transform the benefits advisor space with technological advancements–something that had been somewhat of a gap in the industry.

But if the disruptors had the upper hand in that respect five years ago, the scale has since tipped in favour of advisors. In fact, Canadian insurers have been doing a much better job adapting to the times and updating their products and services to fit today’s tech expectations. For instance, enrolment tools and apps have been introduced to facilitate plan administration and convenience. Likewise, at Orchard Benefits, we offer a cloud-based health care spending account, a popular alternative to group health and dental plans accessible online and via mobile apps.

Nowadays, technology is necessary to improve product usage and services, even more so in this post-pandemic era. The years 2020 and 2021 have pushed groundbreaking changes to the way the labour force works and communicates, as well as the way customers purchase and use products and services. Those changes increased the importance of technology in our daily lives, encouraging all industries to move to the online sphere one way or another. 

Heightened employee dissatisfaction 

While the COVID-19 pandemic closed the perceived technological distance between the disruptors and advisors, it also brought to light many underlying employee dissatisfactions. As mentioned in previous blog articles, the need for a more flexible work schedule and model, as well as better health and wellness benefits become overwhelmingly apparent.

In turn, the need for benefits advisors to help personalize and reshape benefits packages was pronounced. From employee allowances put toward home office equipment, to virtual counselling, traditional employee benefits packages were revised.

Disruption doesn’t stem from technology

Despite popular belief and, coincidentally, disruptors’ belief, the last two years have shown that technology is not at the root of major disruptions, customer satisfaction is. 

In a Harvard Business Review article, author Thales Teixeira, a Harvard Business School professor who researches digital disruption, set forth his experience meeting with numerous company leaders worldwide who claimed they were being disrupted. “Each time, I’d ask the executives of these incumbent companies the same question: ‘What is disrupting your business?’” he wrote. “No matter who I talked to, I would always get one of two answers: ‘Technology X is disrupting our business’ or ‘Startup Y is disrupting our business.’”

If the rapid and global rise of digital technology during the pandemic is not enough to convince you that tech itself is not enough to disrupt, take a look at Yahoo’s downfall. When Yahoo lost its leading position in the search engine space to Google, instead of looking at what it could do to improve the product from a consumer perspective, its CEO bought between $2.3 to $2.8 billion worth of technologies and startups. Needless to say, this approach was unsuccessful.

When we look at businesses who have successfully disrupted an industry, like Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Amazon, it becomes quite evident that their achievements lie in their consumer-centric approach as they appealed to the unmet needs of their clientele.

Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that the employee benefits disruptors failed to meaningfully disrupt the industry as they heavily relied on technology to take over the space.

Benefits advisors will continue to be relevant

Remember Parker Conrad? The former CEO of Zenefits who was pushed out of the $4.5 billion human resources startup? The same one who hired too many people, grew too fast, faced compliance issues and said he wanted to “eat brokers for lunch?” Fast forward to a few years later where he’s completely out of the benefits space, Zenefits was acquired and then became an HRIS. It shows that just because an industry looks like it’s “ripe for disruption” doesn’t mean that the follow through is going to stick.

Benefits advisors and the space as we know it have and continue to be relevant because employees value the benefits they receive, and brokers know they add value far beyond the stretch of automated technology. For instance, dental and prescription coverage remain extremely important as technology hasn’t yet rendered these services more affordable; technology cannot eliminate the risk of accidents that can lead to short- or long-term disability, hence the continued appreciation for disability insurance; and so on.

Benefits advisors remain in-demand because they actively listen to employees’ ever-changing needs, and in turn, offer appropriate solutions. We discussed the advisors’ responses to the changing needs of employees during the pandemic, but it doesn’t stop there. The growing gig economy is another example of employees’ changing needs, and Orchard Benefits has put together a flexible and affordable Gig Benefits Plan for independent contractors or startup founders who don’t have access to quality coverage.

While there is always room for improvement in any industry including employee benefits, the fact remains that employers continue to value the personalized touch of benefits advisors.