How Technology is Changing the Benefits Broker Landscape [eBook]

Discover the disruptive power of technology for employee benefits initiatives.

Jackie Starr

by Jackie Starr - August 17th, 2023

How Technology is Changing the Benefits Broker Landscape [eBook]

Are the days of paper benefits applications and manual admin over? Not entirely, but there’s no doubt technology is changing the role of benefits brokers as we know it.

We spoke with OneDigital’s Jackie Starr, who has been a benefits broker for 22 years, to see just how much (and how quickly!) the landscape is shifting with the rise of HR technology and how her partnership with GoCo supports these rapid transitions.

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Technology Creates New Challenges and Opportunities for Benefits Broker

Starr has been handling benefits for companies since the days of faxing paper applications. Having worked for large benefits companies, she was among the first to see big tech entering the workplace. Now, she’s noticed more technologies have also trickled down to smaller companies. 

No one wants to deal with paper anymore, shares Starr. They all want easy, digital access for employee enrollment. The younger generation is entering the workforce. Many of them don’t know how to fill out paper applications.

This has placed increased client expectations on benefits brokers — they’re no longer recommending benefits and plans, but also the technology to access them. And in Starr’s case, she’s building partnerships with HR technology companies like GoCo to be able to bring in solutions and services when needed.

It’s easier when I know the system and can do the work for them and have them sign off on it.

Despite HR tech’s availability, some companies are still hesitant to adopt it. There’s both challenge and opportunity here, especially from the broker’s perspective. 

Not everyone is all-in on technology. I still have to go into some places and convince them there’s a better way. There are some groups I manage that are still managing their own COBRA and use paper applications. It’s a work in progress, but I do see the progress. More people are giving up paper systems, but we’re not at 100% yet.

Starr believes this gives her more ways to have valuable conversations with her clients and differentiate OneDigital from other benefits brokers — a necessary move in an evercompetitive landscape.

Moving from Benefits Broker to Benefits Consultant

As a broker, Starr aims to do everything she can to help employees. She’s embraced the technology aspect because it makes her job easier, and she knows it can do the same for her clients. But most notably, it’s also changed her role as a benefits broker, which is now more akin to a consulting role.

In the past, we just did benefits. Now, we’re having technology-related conversations with clients. This is hard for newcomers to benefits admin to wrap their heads around because they’ve never had to manage the tech aspect before. They don’t know why they must take an active role in technology conversations. You can’t put that on the HR person anymore because you might not have a client at the end of it. Even if you don’t think they need it, at least talk to them about it.

Some of Starr’s clients ask about benefits technology; others need a little coaching and proactiveness from Starr.

I mention it every time we talk. And if they’re not on any sort of technology, I’ll follow up with them later in the year and see how they’re getting along without it. Because now is the time to do it instead of waiting until renewal. Waiting isn’t pleasant for anyone involved.

Starr shares that because benefits admins have so much to manage, it’s impossible to know every solution out there. That’s one reason why she likes GoCo — she knows the system well and can apply it to each client’s unique use cases. Taking this proactive approach makes her more competitive as a benefits broker. The industry is highly competitive, and she takes every opportunity to show why OneDigital can add more value to the process beyond the benefits offered.

There are people knocking on my clients’ doors every day, calling them, emailing them, or trying to meet face to face. We have to be on our toes and make sure they’re taken care of from a benefits perspective. We want to be that person that brings solutions to our clients, even though a lot of times they don’t need one. But our goal is to help them see there are other ways to do things and we can go beyond just providing benefits. We can bring them technology that makes their lives easier.

The role has certainly changed, and if clients are asking for things outside of Starr’s scope, she’s searching for solutions for them anyway. Technology has enabled this process at OneDigital, which has divisions for retirement and wealth, property and casualty, PPO, HR consulting, and more. With content and other resources within arm’s reach at all times, it’s easier for Starr to have informed conversations with clients and pass them off to experts in those divisions when needed.

The Benefits of GoCo from a Consulting Perspective

Working extensively with solutions like GoCo allows benefits admins to learn the system inside and out. More importantly, it also allows consultants to build strong people relationships with vendors who can help them become more effective in their roles. 

As Starr mentioned, the consulting aspect is new for many in the benefits arena, given the evolving landscape. Leaning heavily on GoCo’s customer success team takes much of the pressure off by having experts within arm’s reach to answer questions and create solutions for clients.

Some vendors have nobody to call. A client of mine had to wait 10 days to get an email answered. But the people at GoCo have been so responsive. I get that we’re in the era of technology, but GoCo also adds the human aspect. We get to hear real people on the phone, and that voice of reassurance is wonderful.

The attention to detail and person-to-person customer service make Starr feel more confident recommending her clients to GoCo. She takes pride in knowing GoCo will not only meet their needs but also give them the support they need to implement and maintain their solution over time.

How to Build the Technology Function into Benefits Consulting

The need for benefits brokers to function like a consultant is growing. Technology provides a good starting point for brokers like Starr to create a comprehensive approach to benefits and make life easier for the HRs she serves.
Adding technology into the benefits conversation starts with knowing your client’s needs and how technology can support them.

For example, many companies are partially or fully remote. With people no longer under the same roof, collecting paper applications isn’t as easy as it used to be. They have to figure out how to email them, fax them, take photos with their phones, and hope we can read them. I think bringing to light these struggles and suggesting how to solve them is helpful.

Recommending HR technology to clients doesn’t have to take a one-vendor-fits-all approach. At OneDigital, for example, each broker is a consultant and recommends vendors and products based on what they’re comfortable working with. Gaining familiarity with multiple solutions helps them recommend vendors that will fit clients’ needs. Starr also says she leans on solid relationships with vendors, so the vendor will be proactive about finding solutions for clients.

Knowing what your clients are doing is the biggest factor to me. We have so much that we manage, and trying to know everything about every vendor is difficult. So if we can form these strong partnerships with vendors like GoCo, we feel confident that our vendors will be proactive in coming up with solutions and telling us how else they can help.

Proactiveness is one of Starr's top reasons for choosing GoCo for her clients. She leans on the expertise of her demo partner, who handles the sales presentation, engages clients with questions, and makes them feel comfortable. She also leverages GoCo’s ready-made resources to share with clients alongside her personal experience.

Embracing the Benefits Consulting Role: Next Steps

The need for benefits brokers to function like a consultant is growing. Technology provides a good starting point for brokers like Starr to create a comprehensive approach to benefits and make life easier for the HRs she serves.
For benefits brokers looking to take on more of an HR technology consulting role, Starr suggests diving in and getting information about vendors first. Learn how they work and what they offer before referring any client to them.

If a client is already using a technology vendor, we try to learn about them through the client’s eyes. We ask about their experiences or why they prefer that vendor. If there are issues with that vendor that we know someone else can solve, we try to guide them there.

For Starr, getting started is the most challenging part of infusing HR technology into benefits admin. But once it’s set up and running:

You’re done for the year at renewal. As the broker, we get clients everything they need, so all they have to do is review it and sign off.

GoCo makes this process fluid for benefits brokers with ready-made resources and dedicated Customer Success managers that can onboard and set up clients for success. Our demo partners handle the sales piece to show clients exactly what they’re getting and what they can expect from their benefits software. It’s a true partnership, giving brokers one more way to compete in their industry.

Final Thoughts

In a world reshaped by technology, benefits brokers have evolved from paper processes to technology-driven consultants. Jackie Starr's partnership with GoCo exemplifies this transformation, showcasing how integrating HR technology enhances the broker's role.

Benefits brokers are now tech-savvy consultants, bridging the gap between clients and streamlined solutions. By embracing this shift and forging strategic partnerships, brokers can elevate their expertise and provide unparalleled value.

Are you ready to navigate this tech-driven landscape?

Learn how to partner with GoCo and our technology for the modern workplace.