Technology platforms are changing the way consumers share information about everything – about our friends, family, jobs and even our health benefits. A benefits management platform enables brokers to communicate directly with clients in a method they now prefer, while also simplifying the benefits process for HR administrators. Brokers who use platform technologies stand out from the competition by offering clients the best way to communicate and manage benefits programs with cutting edge technology.

Platforms: Revolutionizing consumer expectations

The term “platform” may be unfamiliar to some, but employees and HR professionals already use various technology platforms in their everyday lives. Twitter, Facebook and Apple’s iPad are platforms that millions of consumers access on a daily basis. Twitter allows more than 200 million registered users to communicate and subscribe to content, creating a community of open conversation and activity. Apple’s platform allows third party developers to build applications for the iPad, transforming it from a simple tablet into a device with thousands of unique functions. More than 750 million active members use Facebook to share content, images and videos with their trusted contacts.

Four important features that made these platforms a success are:

  • Content: Providing information to the consumer
  • Open and extensible: Allowing developers to create applications that extend the platform
  • Adaptive: Scaling to accommodate new users and technology advancements
  • Community: Giving consumers an opportunity to share information with peers

Technology platforms have significantly transformed consumer expectations. The preferred method of communication for many has shifted from reading printed, physical materials to instant, digital messages. Consumers’ preference for providing personal data or performing commons tasks has also transitioned from paper to online. This shift in consumer behavior provides brokers and HR professionals the opportunity to incorporate technology into their benefits programs and simplify the process while meeting employees’ expectations.

Benefits management platforms

HR administrators now use a benefits management platform to simplify benefits administration, streamline enrollment and improve employee communication. Accessed through an online portal, a benefits platform provides one convenient location to manage all benefits, adding significant value for HR administrators, employees and brokers that is not available with the traditional paper-based processes.

For employees, benefits management platforms provide a single, online location to access all their benefits information. Employees can sign into the portal from any computer at any time, allowing them to learn about various plan options and enroll in their benefits from the convenience of their own home. Employees can watch educational videos, compare plans and ask their HR administrators questions directly from the platform. Educated employees make smarter benefits choices, and these tools help employees select the best benefits for their unique situation. Health and wellness information can also be included, giving employees the knowledge to improve their overall health and reduce health care spending.

For employers, there are benefits, too. Using a platform adds value by streamlining benefits administration to a simpler, more cost-efficient process. Employee communication is simplified, exchange of data is seamless and the risk of manual errors associated with paper-based data entry is eliminated. Benefits management platforms provide everything HR administrators need to manage and pay for employee benefits online — from verifying employee eligibility to transferring data to carriers to facilitating electronic billing. Online enrollment features allow HR professionals to add, update and cancel benefits, as well as review and approve any employee changes. Employers can educate employees about their benefits using personalized messages, videos and online tools.

Using a platform to improve your business

Understanding the value that a benefits management platform provides to both employers and employees is essential for brokers to remain competitive in the marketplace. Partnering with a technology platform provider allows brokers to pass along the value of a platform directly to their customers, while positioning themselves at the forefront of benefits management.

Some platforms have expanded to offer a broker-specific portal, which offers features similar to benefits management platforms but focuses on the unique business needs of a broker. Using a broker portal, brokers can generate quotes, shop and compare benefits plans, manage initial and ongoing enrollment and communicate directly with clients. Online tools and videos can help guide clients through the sales process. Broker portals also streamline billing, enabling brokers to manage and pay one consolidated bill, and view clients’ invoices and payment history.

As platform technology continues to transform consumer behavior, it is essential that employers and brokers adapt to the change in employee preference. Using a benefits management platform allows employers and brokers to communicate with employees in a method they prefer, while also streamlining benefits management for HR administrators. Understanding the value their customers gain from a benefits management platform will differentiate brokers from their competition.

Nancy Sansom is the senior vice president of marketing and communications for Benefitfocus, the largest health care and voluntary benefits software provider in the U.S. She can be reached at nancy.sansom@benefitfocus.com.

Past benefits stories from ASJ:

Help Employees Meet Their Challenges

Benefits Agents: Opportunity in the Midst of Health Market Chaos

How to Diversify and Grow Your Employee Benefits Business

Opportunities Ahead for Benefits Agents

Helping Clients Build New DI Benefits in the New Year