– By David Reid, CEO and cofounder of Ease, placed in the 2021 Software Awards.

While industries from health care to retail have embraced the digital revolution over the past few decades, the employee benefits industry has been largely complacent. Insurance brokers routinely rely on paper forms and in-person meetings to win and conduct business. But today’s landscape, and the pandemic’s impact on face-to-face communication, has pushed the benefits industry to rapidly accept digital-first practices. When I started my career as a broker, I quickly realized the industry was falling behind when it came to implementing technology to deliver optimal business and customer results.

Becoming a digital broker

Growing up in St. Paul in the 1960s, I was molded by friends and family that dedicated their careers to making the community stronger. My first job, at age thirteen, was soliciting donations for the Lions Club. Through this experience, I realized my love for sales. Post-college, I found my way into the insurance industry and started my career as a broker.

In the early days, paper forms and hard copies were the way of the industry. When it came to enrollments, workflow, and contract management, brokers relied on in-person and phone conversations alongside physical documentation of customer information. Realizing the advantage technology could have for brokers, employers, and employees alike, I became an early adopter of online benefits enrollment software. But I found the technology available at the time to be lacking. Determined to find a one-stop-shop for brokers and employers — and coming up empty handed — eventually led me and my business partner, Courtney Guertin, to found Ease in 2012. As a cloud-based application, we help brokers bring their small businesses online.

Technology’s impact on the benefits industry

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, brokers were in need of an evolved business model. But when face-to-face meetings ceased overnight in March 2020, the pivot to a myriad of digital solutions became necessary for survival. Additionally, the pandemic and the subsequent “Great Resignation” upended the makeup of employee benefits. Voluntary benefits are becoming the key differentiator for employees looking to make career changes. As the work landscape continues to rapidly change, brokers must adopt technology to not only simplify their own processes, but to meet the demands of a technologically reliant generation.

According to a recent study from the Guardian, two out of three employers are now more digital than paper-based in managing their benefits. For brokers without a digital solution, several  considerations can help them land on a technology platform and ultimately expand their business. First, research benefits administration and HR SaaS options and understand the solutions competing brokers use. Determine the best platform for their current (and future) book of business. Small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) have vastly different needs than larger organizations, and they require different digital approaches and tailored solutions. . But it doesn’t stop there: Once a solution launches, consistently monitoring customer and employee feedback will be paramount to continue providing the service today’s clients demand.

SaaS gives rise to first-class customer service

Benefits have a reputation for being expensive, confusing, and often disappointing. Every year, costs go up, services go down, and employees end up unhappy. Those in the benefits administration and HR industry often face a thankless, uphill battle. Leveraging technology for backend, operations tasks, especially those that involve copious amounts of paperwork, allows brokers to focus more on relationships and providing optimal customer service.

Digitalization with a solution like Ease makes it easier to climb that hill. Today, technology is at the forefront of everything we do. And benefits administration should not be the exception. Ease disrupted the benefits space by creating an efficient and easy-to-use system for SMBs, brokers, and HR leaders. Instead of utilizing multiple platforms, Ease streamlines the benefits administration process and aggregates all the data for HR management. Utilizing Ease’s SaaS platform means brokers can focus on the future needs of customers and stay ahead of trends in this rapidly changing landscape.

Looking ahead, we can further take advantage of digitization by implementing even newer technologies to help further inform employee benefits strategies. Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) technology, the most advanced neural-network-powered language model, utilizes machine learning to produce human-like text. This could play a greater role in creating new enrollment packages based on data from previous years. What’s more, this technology could lead to better health outcomes by creating personalized communications and benefits packages catered to each individual’s health needs. For SMBs without the time or resources to filter through multiple benefits packages and address their individual employees’ needs, adopting technologies like this further help them deliver the white-glove customer service experience their customers expect.

The future of benefits administration

From those with ten employees to 10,000 employees, having a well-equipped HR team is an essential part of every business. The HR team hires, trains, and retains top talent, in addition to managing payroll, benefits, and culture initiatives. However, many small and mid-size businesses do not have the people, time, or resources to successfully maintain all of this. Often, SMBs’ HR “teams” may only consist of a single individual constantly juggling and struggling with these processes. This is where benefits administration and HR platforms come in and truly make all the difference.

Utilizing a SaaS platform simplifies benefits set up and management, new hire onboarding, compliance requirements, and offers employees one destination for all their human resources information. HR teams can in turn  empower employees to take control of their health benefits and employees are given a faster enrollment experience and the ability to access their benefits information whenever, wherever.

As the work landscape continues to evolve, and voluntary benefits offerings maintain their position at the forefront of hiring and retention, brokers can no longer ignore the industry’s digital transformation.