Why interoperability is the next stage of the insurance digitization journey

Employee benefits space seen a real advent of tech, says CEO

Why interoperability is the next stage of the insurance digitization journey


By Gia Snape

The employee benefits space has not been immune to the wave of technological progress in the insurance industry. But like their colleagues in other sectors, benefits brokers and carriers continue to grapple with siloed systems and data, which make collaboration challenging. It’s a problem that Ryan Sachtjen (pictured) himself experienced working for a major insurer.

“A core problem that brokers and carriers have when they work with each other is that their communication was entirely based off emails, PDF documents, Excel files, phone calls, text messages,” explained Sachtjen, co-founder and CEO of ThreeFlow. ThreeFlow’s benefits placement system aims to help brokers and carriers to work more effectively for employers.

“This was not because these two entities didn’t use technology; they both used a bunch of systems. But those pieces of technology were very siloed from each other. There was no shared system that allowed for these two parties to work together and collaborate more deeply with each other as a result,” Sachtjen observed.

After spending more than a decade at Sun Life Financial as a stop loss specialist, Sachtjen wanted to help build the tools that would deepen and streamline collaboration between brokers and carriers. “The pain points manifested from my own experiences of the way an insurance company would work with a broker,” he told Insurance Business.

“We need to try to solve those core manual processing problems and allow for the two parties to have a shared system, which is a big deal now in insurance. Carriers and companies are trying to de-silo all their data so all the systems can talk to each other.”

Interoperability is the key to unlocking the different systems and data troves in the insurance world, according to Sachtjen. The industry has evolved and invested heavily in modernizing legacy systems over the past few years, but the next level of the digital transformation should focus on integration.

According to the CEO, the employee benefits space has seen a “real advent” of technology that occurs at a certain point in the benefits brokering process. “Within our company, we talk about that as the ‘post-sale decision’, which is after an employer decides what benefits they want to offer their employees,” explained Sachtjen.

“There's been an acceleration of technology and companies that help after that moment in time, such as benefit administration systems, enrolment firms, and payroll companies. Those have been wonderful and helped advanced the industry.”

ThreeFlow’s technology instead focuses on the ‘pre-sale portion,’ which Sachtjen defines as the time an employer is choosing benefits products, plans or insurance companies. At this point in the lifecycle, clients are working closely with benefit brokers, and benefit brokers with their carrier partners.

As someone who jumped from insurance to tech, Sachtjen has been able to see the digitization process from two unique perspectives. “It's accelerating. But I don't think it's moving fast enough quite yet,” he said. “It’s fun to watch [the digital transformation] materialize in the market.”

The technological innovation in the benefits space also provides insight into the changing relationship between employers and employees. Agile processes allow benefits brokers and carriers to see trends develop in real-time, allowing them to adapt and respond to clients’ needs.

Sachtjen explained: “One of the things that we’ve observed is the generational shift in the labor force. We can see employers have different thoughts about how to provide employee benefits, based on the products they seek from their benefit brokers. We’re seeing a real movement towards self-funding on the medical side, for example, and that helps push things forward as employers rethink their benefits structure.

“It leads to more thoughtful interaction in the market, which is helping to advance technology further. It's interesting to watch the market course-correct in real time.”

Aside from these real-time market insights, shared systems can help reduce manual tasks, slash errors, and empower better decision-making. Sachtjen said the next wave of technological innovation will be focused on interoperability. “I think carriers understand that if they don't make the investment now, they are at risk of being left behind,” he told Insurance Business.

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