by Rebecca Searles, Wefunder Correspondent, March 26 2013
Sometimes the internet just makes life easier -- from food delivery to finding a doctor to ordering a pair of shoes. So, why couldn't something as tedious as corporate benefits be the same way?
Zenefits founder Parker Conrad believes it can, and it should.
Just as upcoming laws stand to shake up the health care industry, Parker's Y-Combinator-backed startup, Zenefits, makes managing corporate benefits easier than ever. Now, buying and managing employee benefits is as easy as setting up a Gmail account.
Health Insurance Sales Is Broken
Corporate benefits is an industry that has been left behind by the internet age. Buying insurance traditionally requires business owners sitting down with an insurance agent who gives them a few plans to select from. Because of the time it takes for brokers to research each plan, business owners often miss out on the highest value plans by seeing only a fraction of the options available to them. Once selected, the deal is completed offline, with a flurry of back-and-forth paperwork.
Parker experienced the nuisance of this transaction first-hand while managing benefits for SigFig, the last company he founded. Prior to founding SigFig, Parker had just recovered from cancer, and he needed to scramble to purchase company insurance before his existing coverage expired. The inefficient purchase process almost caused him to have a lapse in coverage, which would have been a disaster. Through purchasing a plan and then managing it, Parker learned the nitty-gritty details of the process, and then founded Zenefits to prevent others from going through the same hassles he experienced.
Obamacare Presents an Opportunity
The Obamacare legislation created the impulse Parker needed to solve the corporate benefits problem. Changes in the law are causing many insurance agents that served the small business market to look elsewhere for customers, and those are exactly the customers that Zenefits is going after.
According to the The United States Government Accountability Office, "almost all of the insurers we interviewed were reducing brokers' commissions in response to the PPACA." With commissions coming down, brokers may stop selling to small businesses. Zenefits is stepping in to serve the small business owners that won't have access to agents.
"It is going to be this transformative shift [in healthcare], like how the launch of the iPhone changed consumer software," Parker said. "iOS provided a platform that lets users access apps and services on mobile that were previously unavailable. Zenefits is disrupting the industry by making things straight forward, by bringing a process that used to require paperwork completely online."
How Zenefits Started
Prior to Zenefits, Parker was the co-founder and head of product at SigFig, which is the largest online financial tracker with over $40 billion synched to the platform. After leaving SigFig to solve the challenges of managing insurance, he wasted no time getting started. He searched for a technical co-founder, used Code Academy to teach himself how to code, and got the prototype up and running in just 3 months.
Laks Srini joined as a co-founder, bringing his years of experience building out hedge fund trading systems to the team.
"The insurance industry has been wanting to move towards online enrollment for years," Laks said. "We've built the same online enrollment process with a two-person team in the last six weeks."
Zenefits is now able to provide quotes from dozens of insurance plans and delivers instant results via a browser. It displays all available plans and gives a price-quality comparison that is optimized for the employee's individual needs.
Companies with up to 100 employees can use Zenefits in San Francisco, and can choose from hundreds of different plans in California. Zenefits will launch in New York next month.
So, how does it work? A company signs up with login credentials for their payroll system and chooses a plan that's the best fit for them. When a new employee joins, Zenefits sees the new employee show up in the payroll system and emails him to ask him to select a plan.
In addition, if the employee changes their address, has a child, or gets married, Zenefits can quickly update their insurance provider.
It is common for employers to mistakenly continue to pay insurance for employees who leave for a few months, due to their inability to keep track of changes as they occur. Having made these mistakes himself, Parker designed Zenefits to identify when an employee leaves the company. Zenefits automatically removes the employee from the benefits plan as soon as they are off the payroll, saving employers thousands of dollars.
Zenefits already offers health, vision and dental insurance, and plans to provide 401Ks, pre-tax transportation, and childcare in the near future.