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Willis develops app to put a personal touch back in voluntary benefits

Part two of a two-part article: Willis uses PeopleSoft 9.1 to bring back the personal feel to automated insurance selection for voluntary benefits.

Previously we explored how real-time interaction brings back the immediacy of the insurance agent's house call at insurance firm Willis, and now we'll see how it provides the personal touch.

Personalization and customization occur on the voluntary benefits website when the potential plans and the marketing information are transferred to the employee. Benefits X-Change pulls text, rates and videos from the carrier. The employee sees a list of three plans -- high, medium, and low -- several paragraphs explaining a plan, links to marketing brochures and a talking-head video explaining the plan. None of this is anywhere in PeopleSoft. This is all drawn from the carrier website and customized by the carrier.

Of course, there are more than three voluntary benefits plans available to each person, and if the employee wants, they can view more. The employee starts out with three options because, according to Managing Director Tim Stofka, "if you give someone more than three options, they'll never make a decision." So while the carrier sends over the full rate card, Benefits X-Change simplifies it to three voluntary benefits plans with their weekly deduction amounts.

The talking head on the website automates personal interaction. Since the carrier now knows the employee's demographic information from PeopleSoft, they can target the talking-head video to fit the employee's demographic. For instance, Allstate shows anyone under 45 years old a video of "Mayhem," the character played by Dean Winters in popular Allstate commercials, and anyone over 45 a video of actor Dennis Haysbert. According to Stofka, nine out of ten people click on the video.

The key to all of this is that the carrier has to have exposed itself to the Internet for this to work. Aflac, described by Stofka as "the 800-pound gorilla in the voluntary benefit space," had a closed, proprietary system and was not able to expose the back end to the Web.

Willis found a workaround for Aflac and Benefit X-Change. Aflac exposed its front end, allowing Benefits X-Change to access its system. This created an I-framed object inside of PeopleSoft that puts the employee into the Aflac site. Benefits X-Change pushes information to Aflac in real time, enters Aflac's system for rates and purchases, and updates Aflac's system in real time. Benefits X-Change then asks Aflac for the deduction rate, gets it, and displays it for the employee.

"The real reason we designed this is for year two," said Stofka. "We don't want to deal with age changes. Let the carrier handle that." This takes the rate card and its complications out of Willis' hands, leaving it entirely to their employees' insurance carriers.

Willis is not the only company that uses Benefits X-Change. It offers the application for free, but only to clients who use Willis as their insurance broker. Any business that wants access to this system has to work with Willis.

Other types of insurance carriers, such as medical carriers, are interested in having access to Benefits X-Change. In the future, Stofka hopes to go beyond voluntary benefits plans and include them. He said, "I don't have any requirements. I just need to know what you're exposing and I'll perform to your specifications."

The next thing Willis hopes to implement is a system where, through Benefits X-Change, the carrier can tell the employee what voluntary benefits plans people in their demographic favored. The idea, Stofka explained, would be similar to the star rating system on Amazon.

"We want to do like Amazon does," he said. "We want to ask what people like us want. You can ask the carrier, you know everything about me, so what do people like me want."

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