Slideshow 30 people to watch in employee benefits in 2017

  • January 10 2017, 11:21am EST
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30 people to watch in employee benefits in 2017

From tech firm CEOs to brokers and HR professionals, these industry innovators will help shape the coming year as trends emerge and a new administration takes office.

Matt Aaron

Insurance Agent Mobile App

Customers continue to expect new ways to interact with advisers, and as an advocate for technological advancement through mobile applications and web optimization, Matt Aaron is a leading disruptor of the status quo. Aaron created his own mobile app and now consults with others in the industry on the necessity of having such a platform.

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Alexander Assaley

Lead adviser, retirement plans
AFS 401(k) Retirement Services

Since Joining the firm in 2006, Alex Assaley has specialized in the design, implementation, and management of retirement plans for mid-sized corporations, non-profit organizations, and trade associations. As employers begin to focus on financial wellbeing of employees, Assaley and his team are working to promote financial wellness through engaging and educational digital content. His firm’s MoneyNav website provides a way for employees to get guidance throughout all stages of their financial lives. The impetus behind creating the tool was the intersection of people seeking information in new ways, mostly online and at their convenience, as well as the fact that many employees are struggling to save enough for retirement.

In addition, as the Fiduciary Rule begins in 2017, Assaley is preparing his firm and clients for a rule that is going to “drastically change the industry and some things that are going to be changed are for the better, in terms of removing conflict of inflict and ensuring there is proper disclosure around relationships and conflicts of interests.”

Rick Bates

CEO and co-founder

With SingleCare, Rick Bates is driving a new wave of innovation in healthcare by empowering consumers to purchase medical services online at affordable, pre-negotiated rates, regardless of insurance coverage. On a daily basis, Bates leads the company's strategic vision and execution for a more transparent healthcare option, providing guidance and expertise based on his 20 years of experience in the insurance industry. With the company's founding in 2014, Rick developed a smart and easy-to-use online retail marketplace where consumers and employees can shop for providers, prescriptions and routine health services based on location, area of specialty or price at pre-negotiated rates.

Beverly Beattie

Selden Beattie

Honored for three years in a row as an EBA Most Influential Women in Benefit Advising, Beattie is recognized industry-wide as an innovator, thought leader and pathfinder. She imparts her knowledge at conferences and mentors women at Selden Beattie, teaching them to be holistic thinkers while focusing on the achievement of specific objectives.

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Scott Brown

Managing Director, Healthcare

Scott Brown lead's Accenture’s private health insurance exchange offering and contributes his expertise in the distribution of health and ancillary benefits. One of EBA's 2016 Rising Stars in Advising, Brown believes that the value of a new perspective cannot be overstated. "Every new generation brings new ideas to solving challenges and innovative approaches to deliver value to their clients," he says.

Chris Bruce

Co-Founder and Managing Director
Thomsons Online Benefits

Chris Bruce has his eye on the U.S. benefit technology market, calling it “mature and competitive” — and he knows the pitfalls that keep advisers from taking full advantage of it. But Bruce also knows that in 2017 American firms with subsidiaries and satellite offices overseas face an uphill battle in upgrading their benefit IT up to modern standards. That's why he will continue to push for greater IT investment and modernizations for sectors that still operate as if its 1993.

Saravanan Chettiar

Recode Health

As CEO of Recode Health, the team behind Strive Benefits, Saravanan Chettiar and his team conceived and built a product that has brought healthcare consumerization to small businesses. The mobile app helps employees manage their healthcare (medical, dental, vision) decisions and save money. Using the app, workers can search for providers, store their ID cards and emergency contact information, look up prescription drug pricing and clinical content, and search for details about their specific benefits plan design. Chettiar believes consumerism in benefits will only become more and more commonplace.

“Employees are going to demand greater visibility into their benefits, the choices available to them, and possibly even recommendations based on data and employee behavior,” he says. “The new paradigm of consumerization of benefits is going to evolve in the next decade, and the evolution will gain momentum through technology.

“Brokers and employers need to start focusing on the employee benefit experience, not just at open enrollment but throughout the year," he adds.

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Mark Gaunya

Co-owner & chief innovation officer
Borislow Insurance

As health care costs continue to rise into 2017, Mark Gaunya remains on a mission to cut back on the costs nationwide by making the system more transparent and user-friendly. He speaks to lawmakers both in his home state of Massachusetts and in the nation’s capital to cut back on what he views as the major problem of the healthcare system.

Greg Golub

CEO & founder
Sequoia Benefits

Sequioa Benefits was the No. 1 fastest-growing brokerage with revenue between $10 million and $50 million in EBA's 2016 rankings. As CEO, Greg Golub is responsible for constituting the vision and future of the company, leading the management team, and strengthening the brokerage's client-centric culture as Sequoia scales. Golub also spends much of his time studying industry trends, serving on advisory boards and figuring out what changes in our industry will serve as opportunities for Squoia's clients.

Brian Hetherington

CEO and Co-Chairman
The ABD Team

Head of the fastest-growing brokerage with revenue under $10 million in EBA's 2016 rankings, Brian Hetherington lead's The ABD Team of 200-plus employees from seven San Francisco Bay Area offices.

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Bertrand Janin

Chief Technology Officer

As chief technology officer of Truveris, Bertrand Janin oversees a team of 35 engineers, product designers and analysts who create and maintain the healthcare startup’s six flagship products that service the pharmacy value chain. Among his accomplishments, Janin created OneRx — a free prescription benefits and savings app that offers employees drug coverage information at the point of care regardless of the network or plan.

Looking toward the future, Janin believes that technology will change benefits even more. “The future is in customization — gone are the days of one-size-fits-all benefits offerings,” he says. “Privacy and cryptography will also take on larger roles in the benefits world as data is increasingly used to power new solutions. Technological advancements will make it easier to comply with evolving privacy standards and regulations so that we can continue to develop leading-edge products.”

Roger Lee


The online platform helps small businesses open 401(k) plans for their employees easily and quickly. The system connects directly with a firm’s payroll provider, automates the tedious data entry process and handles the filing of legal forms. “With 401(k)s in particular, technological developments around automation in 401(k) administration and maintenance will open up the availability of this benefit to many more companies than before,” says Lee, whose company closed a $3.5 million seed round of financing earlier this year.

Mike Levin


Along with co-founder Dan Langevin, Mike Levin launched Vericred in 2014 with a vision of creating a centralized, continuously verified, database of health provider information that can be used for applications ranging from provider directories to credentialing.

“We believe employee benefits will follow a similar trajectory as the migration from pensions to 401(k)s,” says Levin. “Benefits will be less patriarchal, more transportable and be actively managed by the individual. With a shift from defined benefit to defined contribution associated with this transition, employees will demand choice, transparency and tools to manage their benefits. Technology will enable this transition.”

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Cynthia Loh

General Manager
Betterment for Business

As general manager for Betterment for Business, Cynthia Loh is part of the team behind the robo-advisor’s new 401(k) platform, which officially launched earlier this year. In the platform, enrolled participants are invested in a globally diversified portfolio of index-tracking exchange-traded funds and benefit from personalized advice in a goal-based investing framework. The firm now manages $4.5 billion for more than 160,000 clients

Loh says she envisions customization being the future of benefits. “We hosted a great event in San Francisco ... with Nate Randall, who led Tesla’s benefit team,” Loh explains. “When he was at Tesla, they grew from 900 to 13,000 employees. You can imagine with a fast-growing and diverse workforce, one benefits solution that will make all employees happy is fairly challenging. Tesla’s response was to offer a fixed dollar amount in benefits, and an employee can choose what to spend their money on — whether it’s a gym membership or a match to their 401(k). The future of benefits likely looks a lot like this program — an exchange-based solution where employees are getting their highest-value needs met.”

Michael Lujan

Chief Strategy Officer
Limelight Health

Michael Lujan is committed to disrupting and re-imagining employee benefits. A former broker and California state-run exchange official, Lujan helps advisers navigate the constantly changing technology landscape. In 2017, he looks to deliver innovative solutions for carriers and the whole benefits ecosystem to help achieve their goals through technology.

Brendon McQueen

CEO and founder

As companies strive to find new and better ways to attract and retain skilled workers, many have explored student loan debt repayment options as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. Nearly 40 million Americans carrying over $1.2 trillion in student debt, it is not surprising that experts have identified student loan repayment as a hot new employee benefit.

As CEO of, a platform that enables global companies to offer student loan payments as an employee benefit, Brendon McQueen has secured strategic clients of all sizes — from Fortune 500 companies to tech startups — and has raised $8.2 million to date from investors, including MassMutual Ventures LLC and Wildcat Venture Partners. is one of the nation’s leading student loan management platforms and has organized more than $2 billion in outstanding loans since launching in 2013.

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Isaac Oates

Founder & CEO

Isaac Oates’ own run-in with clunky HR processes at his previous startup company, Adtuitive, made him realize there needed to be a better solution for small businesses. So Oates created one in 2012 when he founded Justworks— an HR and payroll management company that manages compliance with local, state and federal regulations, including payroll tax filing, 1099 filings, state and unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation insurance.

Oates believes technology will have some exciting consequences for small businesses, especially. “In the next 10 years, [technology will] democratize some of the benefits that have traditionally only been available to larger organizations — things like comprehensive and affordable health plans and gym memberships,” he says. “Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, but as the next generation enters the workforce, expectations for benefits are high. A side effect of the technology boom and the workplace perks that have come along with it is that millennial workers expect a broad range of benefits that generations past wouldn’t have dreamed of.”

Jeff Oldham

Vice President of Consumer Strategy

According to Trustmark Solutions. voluntary benefits will continue to expand in 2017. Jeff Oldham is a strong advocate for these benefits that assist millennials with student loan debt, and believes that physical and mental wellness can be achieved through relieving the financial burden first. Through the use of nontraditional benefits, Oldham says employers should expand the use of debt assistance to more than just education loans, but home, auto and other forms of debt.

Crystal Porras

Employee Benefits Supervisor
John O. Bronson Co., a Division of HUB Internatonal

As ACA compliance becomes more burdensome in 2017, Crystal Porras is a leader in client service, who streamlines the Affordable Care Act reporting process for employers. At the same time, she schedules regular training sessions to keep her team knowledgeable and up to date. She mentors colleagues and has a “fantastic reputation” within the company.

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Julio Portalatin

President & CEO

In EBA's 2016 listing of top large-group employee benefit firms in the country, ranked exclusively on health and welfare revenue, Mercer Health & Benefits remained in the No. 1 spot of top revenue with $227.1 million in revenue. In a 2014 interview with EBA, Mercer's CEO Julio Portalatin said that it’s imperative to be able to growth both organically and inorganically. Mercer takes a consultative approach to the health and benefits marketplace: “"This means that we go way beyond the basic brokerage services and really act as a trusted adviser," Portalatin says. “"So, we’re always interested in adding firms that also fit that consultative broking model.” Such examples in the U.S. include Mercer’s acquisition of Washington, D.C.-based Alicia Smith & Associates and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Mahoney & Associates."

Karin Rettger

President & founder
Principal Resource Group, Inc.

As the Fiducary Rule comes into effect in 2017, Karin Marrs Rettger is a non-profit retirement plan expert, author and speaker. She is the only adviser on the Plan Sponsor Council of America’s board and always puts client and plan participant interests first. She heads a LinkedIn group for suburban Chicago business leaders.

Rusty Reid

Chairman and CEO
Higginbotham Companies

Higginbotham had the highest percentage growth year-over-year in EBA's 2016 listing of top large-group employee benefit firms in the country, ranked exclusively on health and welfare revenue, at 39.2%, rising to No. 33 on the ranking with $11 million in 2016 revenue from $7.9 million in revenue and No. 44 on the 2015 list. Rusty Reid, CEO of the brokerage's parent company says its people are the firm’s most important asset.

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Kristi Savacool

Aon Hewitt

Kristi Savacool is CEO of Aon Hewitt, the global HR solutions business of Aon plc. Aon Hewitt serves more than 20,000 clients around the world across more than 100 solutions. Her firm was the No. 1 fastest-growing brokerage with at least $50 million in large-group revenue in EBA's 2016 rankings with 20.79% of growth year-over-year.

She leads a team of more than 35,000 professionals in offices across six continents that collaborate with organizations to solve their most complex challenges in talent, retirement and health. Savacool is responsible for setting the firm’s strategy, sponsoring relationships with its largest clients and overseeing its operations. Under her leadership, the firm is continually developing innovative solutions, including Aon Hewitt’s pension risk transfer and delegated investment consulting offers and the Aon Active Health Exchange, the industry’s largest private health exchange solution for active employees.

Stuart Schulman

Principal and consulting actuary
Conduent HR Services

As a principal with Conduent HR Services, Stuart Schulman was instrumental in the development of Pension Risk Navigator, an interactive plan management tool that enables plan sponsors to monitor the effectiveness of their retirement program in real time, specifically targeting their unique concerns.

Mobile computing devices will soon become the preferred platform for most people, as the technology improves and the workforce becomes more tech-literate, believes Schulman, adding that employee benefit portals will need to be more and more accessible using smartphones and tablets.

And, “as firms enter broader global markets, distinctions between on-shoring and offshoring will begin to disappear as connectivity improves and teams work together globally,” he says. “Coordinating benefits across multiple jurisdictions, cultures and languages will become an enormous technological challenge.”

Craig Schmidt

Senior Wellness Consultant

Within the past year at EPIC, Craig Schmidt has been hitting the wellness grindstone hard, building the company’s employee benefits specialty consulting practice, developing content for client-facing webinars, educating staff on wellness productivity planning and writing a whole chapter in EPIC’s wellness playbook tool for internal account teams. He will continue this as new regulations come into play in 2017.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, "final regulations issued by the EEOC reinterpret ADA standards for voluntary wellness programs. For programs offered on or after Jan. 1, 2017, the rule requires any wellness program that involves medical inquiries to be reasonably designed, and the rule also specifies a reasonably designed wellness program must not be designed mainly to shift costs onto employees based on their health," according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Brian Sideris

National Sales Director
MetLife Expatriate Benefits

Brian Sideris has his finger on the pulse of the growing expatriate market and how benefits are evolving to assist this niche employee market. Under expat benefits, Sideris says healthcare needs to be universal no matter where the client might be and should be provided with a translator, should the need arise. As more Americans seek employment outside the U.S. borders, expat benefits are starting to play a larger role in the benefits market.

Mark Smith

Founder & CEO

Mark Smith is an insurance broker veteran with more than 20 years of experience. He founded business data analytics firm miEdge and uses the company's unique formula to break down the meaning behind the data in Form 5500 filings, finding trends that will influence the future of benefits. miEdge partners with EBA and EBN to provide lists of the top benefit brokerages in the country.

Marnie Vaughan

Global Benefits Manager
Severn Trent Services

Marnie Vaughan has used technology in her role as global benefits manager at Severn Trent Services, in everything from sharing benefits information to introducing the company’s wellness program last year.

“The promise that the exponential proliferation of technology holds to transform our world over the next 10 years is truly exciting. In the employee benefits space, this manifests itself in everything from interactive communications and personalized tools that engage employees in understanding how their health insurance works to mobile technologies that provide access to key just-in-time information like pharmacy formularies, pricing transparency and quality metrics,” Vaughan says. “All of these empower individuals to make effective decisions, advocate for themselves and strive toward optimal health and financial outcomes.

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Troy Underwood

Former CEO

Troy Underwood has no plans to slow down after selling his company benefitsCONNECT to cloud-based benefit provider benefitexpress in August. The serial entrepreneur plans to invest in another startup or benefits agency to continue serving the industry he loves soon. No fan of the complexity and sweep of the Affordable Care Act, Underwood believes that good health and nutrition should be the cornerstone to solving the nation's health woes. "We spend too much on healthcare because we eat poorly and don’t work out," he says.

Dayne Williams


As CEO of PlanSource, Dayne Williams has advanced the use of benefits technology by driving several product innovations, including a mobile app that gives employees quick and easy access to their benefits, a solution for employers navigating the maze of regulations under the Affordable Care Act, four major software releases a year with enhancements that streamline benefits administration for employers and new tools for educating and engaging employees.

“Technology has already made a big impact on the employee benefits landscape, but there is much more to come,” says Williams. “I think in the next 10 years, we will see the full realization of the vision of a consumer-driven retail marketplace for employee benefits.”