From new all-in-one online HR platforms to health management and financial wellness apps, it’s clear that the world of HR and benefits is changing rapidly — and technology is driving much of that transformation. The last year alone saw the introduction of Businessolver’s Sofia, an AI-enabled personal benefits assistant, and SHRM’s Broker Finder, an online platform that provides a national, searchable marketplace of broker candidates — and a myriad of new tech solutions in between.
Meanwhile, HR professionals, benefits managers and brokers are working smarter by using leading-edge tech to increase engagement, help employees understand their benefits and drive down healthcare costs.
Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser’s Digital Innovator Awards recognize the individuals who are driving such technologies and making these innovations possible. After poring through dozens of nominations from EBN and EBA readers, editors consulted with industry experts and called on their own field of knowledge to choose this year’s award recipients.
His innovation: Since Bhavsar joined ConnectYourCare a year ago, he’s overhauled the consumer-directed healthcare account company’s digital operations. Enhancements included embellishing the company’s mobile strategy with gaming technology and launching myCYC, which allows consumers to quickly access their tax-advantaged health account funds. For brokers, he built the BrokerCommand center, which allows them to manage the complete lifecycle of a client’s benefit plan, quickly generate proposals and monitor client stats. For employers, he engineered CYC Insights, a set of tools that aim to provide transparency and control over HSAs, FSAs and HRAs.
Why it matters: Bhavsar’s digital strategies are aimed at making it easier for employers, brokers, employees and healthcare providers to leverage tax-advantaged accounts. It’s an important mission, industry insiders say: Although health savings accounts and other accounts are valuable for saving for medical expenses, about 80% of employees don’t understand them, according to statistics.
Mindy Bradley, Co-Founder, CIO and Lead Analyst, Scripta
Her innovation: Bradley, along with her husband, Dr. Paul Bradley, in 2008 founded Scripta, a technology platform that aims to help self-funded companies better understand — and save on — their pharmacy benefits spending. Scripta’s software analyzes every client’s PBM transactions, monitoring pharmacy benefits spending on an ongoing basis. The proprietary Scripta software is monitored by a panel of more than 60 physicians and pharmacists who provide clinical and industry insights to keep the Scripta database and software rules current with the market and up to date on new drugs, formulary changes and shifting usage patterns.
Why it matters: Prescription drug costs continue to rise — and are among employers’ biggest problems. Scripta takes aim at the issue with its cost-containment program, which the company claims can reduce prescription and specialty drug spend by 10-15% and improve medical outcomes for employees.
Michael Calhoun, Director of Benefit Plan Governance, AT&T
His innovation: Calhoun overhauled AT&T’s summary plan descriptions by partnering with benefits communications firm DirectPath. AT&T moved its SPD into an interactive document format, which made benefits information accessible on any device. Using this format, the information can be continually updated in real time, allowing HR to send benefits information and tips to employees. AT&T’s interactive SPD collects a wealth of data that can be used to create or modify communications. For example, analytics show which sections and terms employees most frequently view, search and click on. With this information, HR may decide to increase communications around a certain element of employee benefits, such as how near-retirees should prepare for healthcare expenses, or how to file a claim. The IDS analytics also give AT&T’s governance team an easy way to report SPD usage and validate the cost of their creation to management.
Why it matters: Previously, AT&T’s HR team would spend hours updating SPDs to maintain compliance. Despite the time and resources invested, traditional SPDs did little to provide employees with useful, actionable information about their healthcare benefits. The electronic SPD has not only boosted engagement, AT&T says, but saved the telecommunications giant $40,000 in print fulfillment costs, and a savings of $1 million overall by distributing SPDs electronically.
Helen Calvin, Chief Revenue Officer and Head of Customer Success, Jellyvision
Her innovation: After hearing feedback from employers and brokers, Calvin recognized that HDHP adoption was no longer the huge priority it was a few years ago. So last year, she helped overhaul Jellyvision’s ALEX — the firm’s popular employee communication platform — to focus more on health savings account education and behavior change.
Why it matters: Employees often don’t take advantage of HSAs, and employers often struggle with educating them on the savings vehicles. By focusing Alex on HSA education and behavior change, Calvin hopes to change this trend. Since Alex was overhauled last year, users said they would contribute $1,153 more to their HSA than the national average (for $483 million in total contributions). And, on average, employees who used ALEX contributed 64% more than their non-Alex-using colleagues.
Dave Churchill, Co-founder of Elevate Benefits and Creator of SHRM Broker Finder
His innovation: Churchill is the brains behind SHRM’s Broker Finder, announced by the Society for Human Resource Management earlier this year. The online platform provides a national, searchable marketplace of broker candidates and a request for proposal so companies can score and assess candidate responses as part of their evaluation process.
Why it matters: SHRM Broker Finder allows employers to find and vet broker candidates in an effort to help them maximize the ROI on their benefits expenditures. HR solution providers can also be searched in the system, with more than 300 partners building profiles on the site thus far.
Maayan Cohen, CEO and Founder, Hello Heart
Her innovation: Cohen founded Hello Heart, an app-driven platform designed to help employees manage hypertension, heart rate and cardiovascular health. The service also includes tools that help improve medication adherence, import clinical lab results and deliver personalized prompts to drive healthy behavior changes. In May, Hello Heart added diabetes management and activity tracker apps to its platform.
Why it matters: Though Hello Heart began as a consumer product, the company has been in the employer market for the last couple of years. Companies including General Mills, Delta Airlines and Macy’s offer Hello Heart to employees in an effort to combat heart disease, which is both the leading cause of death and the leading health cost driver for employers. The app helps employers in two ways, Cohen says: Helping them save money and helping them save employee lives. The digital health company says it can save up to $2,072 per participant per year.
Ali Diab, CEO and Co-founder, Collective Health
His innovation: Collective Health is a web-based platform that connects and administers the benefits ecosystem — health plans, benefits programs, spending accounts and employee support. Collective Health covers 120,000 people across 30 employers, up from 30,000 people two years ago. This past year, Collective Health launched a series of mobile features that aim to address some of employers’ biggest pain points, such as submitting out-of-network claims and easy cost and quality guidance.
Why it matters: Collective Health’s technology helps employers cut through the tangle of different benefits they typically administer, while also saving them money by offering tools to monitor spending and results in real time. Collective Health says a recent book of business trend analysis reviewed by a third party actuarial firm revealed that Collective Health has helped companies save millions by maintaining a medical trend of 0.1% compared to the industry average of 5%.
Tom Dugan, Vice President of Product Management, Benefitfocus
His innovation: Dugan is responsible for product management at Benefitfocus, which handles benefits for nearly 1,000 of America’s largest employers, meaning its software is used by 20 million people. In March, the benefit management software provider launched BenefitsPlace, a platform aimed at integrating benefits for a wide swath of U.S. employees .
Why it matters: BenefitsPlace has the potential to serve as a one-stop benefits shop for employees. It strives to connect them with brokers, employers and carriers on a single platform, giving them access to the widest possible range of benefits products, while catering to security and individual well-being.
Justin Holland, CEO and Co-Founder, HealthJoy
His innovation: Holland in 2014 helped found HealthJoy, an all-in-one healthcare guidance and engagement platform that aims to empower employees to make better healthcare decisions. At the center of the application experience is JOY, an artificial-intelligence-powered virtual assistant that routes members to appropriate care. The platform also brings online doctors, healthcare advocacy, prescription savings and other cost containment strategies together into an easy-to-use mobile app.
Why it matters: HealthJoy merges traditional service (hand-holding guidance) with new technologies, including AI, in an effort to help employees better understand their healthcare. HealthJoy says it not only helps workers, but employers can benefit as well: The platform and app easily integrate with an employer’s existing benefits package, and companies that use the app, on average, have seen an ROI of 4.5X.
Lisa Forman Johnson, Vice President, Human Resources, MVM
Her innovation: To combat a “strikingly low” benefits participation rate among MVM employees, Johnson developed a digital communication campaign to inform the privately owned federal government contractor’s 2,500-person workforceabout their benefit offerings.
Why it matters: MVM had almost zero participation in its employee assistance program and was below 20% enrollment in health benefits. Johnson helped create an innovative communication strategy that combined a 45-day multi-channel, multi-touch marketing campaign with an interactive digital experience where employees could learn more and immediately select benefits using MVM’s online HRIS. The result: 78% of employees reached by the campaign took action, and benefits enrollment increased by 50%.
Avi Karnani, Cofounder & CEO, Alice
His innovation: Karnani is co-founder and CEO of Alice, software that helps employees keep more of what they earn while reducing employer payroll taxes. Alice does this by automating pre-tax spending on commuting (such as transit passes, parking and ridesharing), healthcare (such as glasses, contact and copays) and dependent care (such as daycare, summer camps and senior care). Alice connects to an employers’ payroll system, and employees are invited by text message or email to connect their own credit or debit cards.
Why it matters: Karnani started Alice to help employees, particularly hourly workers who don’t have access to high-value benefits, keep more of what they earn without having to do anything different. The software is paying off, the company contends: Employees that use Alice keep, on average, about $600 more per year of what they earned. Meanwhile, employers are reducing their payroll taxes by as much as 12%. Alice also is reducing employee turnover by about one-third, the company claims.
Keith Kitani, Co-founder and CEO, GuideSpark
His innovation: In an effort to help employees better understand and take advantage of their benefit offerings, Kitani created the GuideSpark Communicate Cloud, which offers multi-channel, multi-touch benefits communications tools, including short smart phone-friendly videos and other interactive content experiences.
Why it matters: Guidespark is working with 600 employers to help workers better understand and take advantage of their benefits — helping to solve a major problem for employers. GuideSpark claims its customers are seeing measurable results. Optical manufacturer Essilor, for example, saw employee engagement with benefits material reach 96% after working with GuideSpark to deliver a four-week communication campaign.
Nir Leibovich, Co-Founder and CEO, GoCo
His innovation: GoCo is an all-in-one HR platform that balances all aspects of internal HR: hiring, onboarding, tax forms, document management, paid time off tracking and benefits management. It also syncs with an employer’s existing payroll for a seamless experience.
Why it matters: The GoCo platform can help companies embrace tech solutions, even if they don’t have much human resources support. The GoCo platform is used by employers with up to 1,500 employees, but its sweet spot is smaller to medium-sized businesses with a limited HR department, Leibovich says. It streamlines routine HR processes like employee onboarding through the use of electronic signatures and automated document management.
Rick Lindquist, CEO of PeopleKeep
His innovation: In January 2017, Lindquist launched PeopleKeep’s personalized benefits automation software for small businesses.
Why it matters: Though benefits are a top reason for employees to remain at a job, many small businesses struggle with offering traditional group benefits due to cost and complexity. PeopleKeep hopes to tackle that problem. More than 3,000 small businesses hire and keep their workers through PeopleKeep software.
Peter Marcia, CEO, YouDecide.com
His innovation: Under Marcia’s leadership, YouDecide launched its voluntary benefit outsourcing solution that provides a suite of consulting services and technology solutions to support large employers in the design, integration, communication, deployment and administration of voluntary benefit programs. The web-based platform provides a portal to communicate and deliver voluntary benefits and consumer discount programs to employees, retirees and family members alike.
Why it matters: YouDecide’s biggest selling point for employers is perhaps that it significantly reduces human resources, technology, communications, payroll and administrative costs of managing such voluntary programs. YouDecide manages nearly 50 active VBO platform installations for Fortune 1000 employers representing approximately 1 million eligible employees.
Jon Schlossberg, CEO, Even
His innovation: Schlossberg founded Even, a financial wellness app offered as a benefit for hourly and mid-level employees. Even provides automatic budget planning, savings and Instapay — the ability to withdraw up to 50% of earned wages ahead of payday to help with short-term cash needs.
Why it matters: Many workers live paycheck to paycheck — and nearly half of Americans don’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency, according to the Federal Reserve. That’s causing many to bridge short-term cash needs with payday loans and bank overdrafts, which drive them deeper in debt. Even addresses this problem and is catching the attention of big employers. In December, Walmart pioneered the deployment of Even as a benefit nationally to its 1.4 million employees.
Raj Singh, CEO and Co-Founder, Flock
His innovation: Singh co-founded Flock, which provides a mobile-optimized, broker-backed online HR platform. The technology was developed, in part, to help brokers combat Zenefits, Namely and various other technology brokers.
Why it matters: Brokers were struggling as Zenefits and other technology brokers entered the marketplace. But Flock aimed to help them defend their business by helping them compete in the new world. In the two-plus years since launch, Flock has signed up a lot of small brokers but a lot of larger ones as well, including Marsh & McLennan Agency and United Healthcare. Meanwhile, Flock’s partnership with ADP enables integration with ADP’s payroll systems.
Anna Steffeney, President and Founder, LeaveLogic
Her innovation: Steffeney founded LeaveLogic, a platform that allows employees to create a leave plan that consolidates all leave benefits and lists the tasks needed to ensure proper planning and a successful return to work. It also educates HR managers by training them on supporting the employee through their leave event. Insurer Unum acquired LeaveLogic earlier this year.
Why it matters: Whether they allow time off to bond with a new child or care for an ill parent, leave policies have become an increasingly popular way for companies to attract and retain employees. But the policies can be time-intensive to manage. The LeaveLogic platform aims to simplify this while also saving employers time and money. LeaveLogic contends that an employer of 20,000, averaging 1,000 leaves per year with an annual LeaveLogic contract, would average a savings of more than $2 million.
Sony SungChu, Head of Applied Data Science, Businessolver
His innovation: SungChu and his team built Businessolver’s Sofia, the industry’s first virtual personal benefits assistant. Launched in October 2017, Sofia makes use of machine learning to provide users with important information about their benefits, including what plans they are enrolled in, how to enroll, what tasks are required of them and more.
Why it matters: Unlike many existing decision-support tools, Sofia is an AI solution that builds capabilities and knowledge over time. The program responds to the user’s emotions and learns how to elicit positive responses by adjusting the way it services a user based on their current state. Sofia’s aim is to provide real-time support to employees using Businessolver’s benefits platform, while giving HR professionals more time to handle more complex questions. Clients can use it as a standalone service , even if they don’t make use of Businessolver’s service center.
Scott Thompson, CEO, Tuition.io
His innovation: Under Thompson’s leadership over the past year and a half, Tuition.io — the student debt assistance platform — has added over 100 new employers to its platform, helping thousands of employees pay down millions in student debt. Tuition.io works with a variety of employers, from Fortune 500 companies such as Live Nation, Estee Lauder Companies and Staples to public entities such as the city of Memphis, the first city in the country to offer a student loan debt reduction program for its employees.
Why it matters: The market for student loan help is huge: There are around 44 million people in the U.S. with outstanding student loans. In 2015, graduates who took out student loans finished with an average of $34,000 in debt. Employers are increasingly adding student loan repayment benefits as a way to not only attract and retain talent, but also to help ease their financial stress. Although only 4% of employers currently offer student loan repayment benefits, according to the Society of Human Resource Management, that number is poised to grow quickly. Companies like Tuition.io make it easy for employers to administer the benefits.
Bosses should do more to make the work-from-home experiment palatable and safe for all involved by subsidizing utility bills and workspace equipment, and changing managerial habits, with more trust given to employees.