Simply a Better HR and Benefits World

Those who read my blogs and some of the publications that I write for know when news such as Zenefits firing their CEO hits the street I am more than likely going to have an opinion. In fact, I get calls all the time to comment on the news of the day. I guess I am as qualified as anyone to comment but all this writing I do and the webinars I conduct sometimes obscures one’s perception of what my real mission is. My “Why” has been consistent since February of 2001 when, while on the beach in Jamaica, I found out that our investors were not going to fund the needed next round of capital for our business and I had to sell the assets and find a new job. My mission that started that day continues today.

What I don’t want is to have outsiders define me or the mission of the company my partner Don Rowe have built. Just today I had one broker comment that I am telling everyone that brokers are going out of business. I don’t think that at all. In fact, I wrote an article on this blog titled, The Demise of Small and Mid-sized Benefits Brokers is Greatly Exaggerated . What I do believe is that if brokers don’t change with the times they will lose to brokers who do change or are more creative. Like any industry there will be some companies that go out of business. Capitalism rewards those that provide more value and create new things. It is responsible for innovation.

So what is driving me? As someone who understands insurance, understands the technology business, and is an employer myself, I simply think that there is a much better way to deliver and manage HR and Benefits. The problem, and I guess opportunity, is that the current structure of our delivery system is not really designed to make the changes that are possible. Some simply are protecting the status quo while others simply don’t have the capacity or maybe the vision to enact change. Heck, I may not either, but I am going to try.

I will say one of the frustrating parts is when people try to protect the status quo. I don’t think those in the industry have done enough to impact change. Maybe that is why the government got into the middle of health insurance and why firms like Zenefits pop-up. Therefore, when some change comes from an outsider that I think has a good idea I applaud it. When people try to protect the statuus quo I think they are part of the problem and not the solution.

I think the idea of Zenefits is a good idea. As a small employer their value proposition is strong. Does that mean I think they are a great company or think their founder is a great guy? No! Would I move my business to a company that made the management of my HR/Benefits/Payroll easier for me and my employees? Sure I would. Not to Zenefits but someone who did what Zenefits is promising well. Maybe it is Namely or Gusto. In fact, I have told people I would pay someone pretty good money if they provided more help in the HR/Benefits/Payroll areas. I really could use PEO like services. I only had two companies ever call me and offer to help me in this area and that is Zenefits and Paychex.

I think Fidelity entering the benefits business is a good idea too. I think that my employees should have a single place to call if they have a question about their 401K or benefits. I think that there is a relationship between which medical plan I should choose and how much I am contributing to my 401K. These decisions are related. So if Fidelity delivers a single point of contact for my employees then that would be progress. Nobody has ever offered that to my company.

When I see bad ideas I call them out too. Private Exchanges are a somewhat of a farce. The idea of giving employees more options is not a bad idea but the promise that this is real change is a joke. I sold cafeteria plans in 1987 which look like today’s private exchanges. Boy have we come a long way since 1987.

Most Wellness programs are pretty bad too. Many of these programs alienate people, probably lead to discrimination, and don’t save 10 cents in health care costs. Plus, I would not want my employer ever putting their nose in my personal business. This is getting out of hand and I think it will create friction between employers and employees. Does that mean all wellness programs are bad? No. If they make people feel better, improve productivity, or maybe build morale then that is fine. There are too many negatives in the corporate wellness programs.

I think benefits are too confusing too. Nobody understands their benefits yet nobody tries to make things easier. If I read another article about Benefits Communication I will die. I feel like yelling very loudly –  STOP MAKING HEALTH INSURANCE SO CONFUSING. Who is going to stand up and make things easier? You know who will? Apple.

The HR and Benefits world that I envision looks much different than today. As an employer I want things to be easy. I really don’t want the stress of going through a medical renewal every year. I want my employees to access information easy, on the web, at home, and on their cell phone. I want productive, happy, and engaged employees so if they are stressed financially, physically, or mentally, I would love to give them a place to call or go to get help. I don’t want my business to be at risk either. There are so many rules and laws I simply don’t know what I don’t know. I want someone I can depend on to give me good advice. I don’t want to work this hard to build a business only to have it blow up because I did something wrong that I wasn’t even aware of. I want people paid the right way. I want to record time-off the right way. I want all my benefits bills to be right and my payroll deductions to be accurate. All this stuff does not move my business forward a bit but needs to get done. Make it easy and get it out of my way.

As an employee I want health insurance that makes sense. I want my doctor to care if I am healthy or living the right way and not my employer. I would like to talk to a doctor at 1 in the morning via my cell phone when my son has an ear infection. Why do I have to go to the emergency room just to get a prescription? I always wonder why Jiffy Lube can send me an email when my car is due for an oil change but I don’t get an email from my doctor that I am due for a check-up or some other test. I would want to know how many vacation days I have left so when I am planning my vacation on a Sunday night with my wife I could look it up. I want to know the company holidays and how much time I get off if a relative died. I want to easily access my pay-stub if I want to apply for a loan. I want to have the balance of my FSA, HSA, and 401K on my cell phone. I want all this stuff in one place with one log-in, one app on my cell phone, and with one 800 number to call if I have a question. I have enough passwords in my life already so please don’t give me too many more. I already have my Excel file with my passwords list and I forgot where I put that.

And as an employer and employee I want my health insurance to stop going up 5%-10% per year. That is a dream.

In many other aspects of our lives things are getting easier. Paying my bills; managing my money and banking; communicating with my kids and my elderly parents; buying airline tickets; reserving hotels; avoiding speeding tickets (Waze App); I can go on and on. Yet, while everything I listed for above employers is available and possible today, few have achieved even a fraction of what is possible. Why is that? Why is it that people are selling “Private Exchanges” as something new when I was selling them in 1987?

Is it inertia? Is it people protecting the status quo? We are in an age where if those in any industry don’t make things better opportunist from the outside will. Trust me, people like me are thinking this way every day. Zenefits, Namely, Gusto, and Fidelity are going to try. Tomorrow it may be Google or Apple. Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Well I am not waiting.  The change I am talking about is going to be tough. It is going to take “out-of-the- box” thinking. It could take significant capital. It will require scale and resources. It may require one to blow up their own business model to move it to a better place. As the old saying goes, “if it were easy everyone would do it.” It will be tough but my partner and I are going to try. We think it will be fun too. Join us!

One response to “Simply a Better HR and Benefits World

  1. Stockton, John C

    Inspiring Joe. We are launching new risk product ACO deals now in OKC, Tulsa, Des Moines, Omaha, New Jersey, and Chicago. 75 and counting. No status quo at Aetna!

    Best Regards,


    Sent with Good (



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