Please note that this article originally appeared in the July 2017 edition of “Benefit Specialist, The Official Publication of the National Association of Health Underwriters.”
In February, Zenefits appointed Jay Fulcher its chief executive officer and chairman of the board. Before joining Zenefits, Fulcher was the president and CEO at Ooyala, an online video platform company. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of Agile Software, executive vice president at Peoplesoft and vice president at SAP. His career includes 20 years of managing all the business functions of global software businesses. Fulcher has also helped launch several start-ups, including HotChalk, SkillsVillage and Compass.
At a unique time in the healthcare industry, we wanted to learn more about the new leader of one of the industry’s most innovative and disruptive companies.
ABS: What attracted you to Zenefits?
JF: Zenefits has a huge opportunity to transform how companies interact with and empower their employees. We are in the middle of several big shifts that will determine the future of HR and the new norms of the modern workforce – and technology is at the center. This is such an exciting time. Benefits is one of the most critical ways that companies show they care about their employees. We think there’s an enormous opportunity to use technology to enhance benefits management by integrating it with a robust human resources software platform – for the betterment of employees, HR leaders and businesses.
ABS: Do you see the company evolving or changing its focus in the next several years?
JF: Zenefits has been a unique catalyst for the industry, which was sorely needed, but as with all catalytic change, the instigator must evolve. We have reflected a lot over the last few months on the customer experience, and how we can work collaboratively within the HR industry to improve it. In our early years, we felt it was “us against the world.” But we’ve matured. We are committed to being a responsible member of the broker community: In fact, every producer at Zenefits is a member of NAHU.
We realize now that the key to best serving our customers is flexibility. You’ve seen this approach in how we’ve developed the Zenefits App Directory as part of our HR software platform – leveraging best-of-breed HR apps to enable our customers to deliver the ideal experience to their employees. Expect to see this strategy expand as we optimize our value and provide customers what they need to meet today’s challenges.
ABS: Are small and midsize businesses still the target audience for your products?
JF: Yes. We are focused on companies with 1 to 1,000 employees.
ABS: What products are you most excited about?
JF: Last month, we announced general availability of our Spring release, which includes several industry-first capabilities, including a Benefits Deductions App with full integration into Zenefits Payroll software, and new mobile HR capabilities for company administrators. We continued to build out our partner app directory with Microsoft Teams and Slack integrations and a planned integration with Google Hangouts Chat. We also announced a seamless level funded sales experience on the insurance side.
We’re continually enhancing our Benefits experience to leverage three core themes:
ABS: By design, Zenefits is a bit of an outsider in the healthcare world. Is that changing? And do you sometimes find it hard to find peers in our industry?
JF: “Outsider” is a nice way of describing our early days operating with the industry! As I mentioned earlier, we have evolved. And now, we’ve seen a wave of business models similar to Zenefits enter the market. We see this as validation of our model, but more importantly, it has helped further our goal of pushing the industry to automate. The industry has come a long way in a short while…carrier API roadmaps for small and mid-market companies have gone from being four to five years away to being imminent. That is exciting.
ABS: Agents, brokers, and anyone involved in HR knows that it’s an interesting/challenging time for “people” issues. What’s the culture like at Zenefits’ headquarters? Are there any interesting programs or benefits that the company has to keep employees happy?
JF: Our company has been through alot in three and a half years! I’ve been amazed by our employees’ connection to our customers, and how much they care. Their ability to balance empathy with determination, and resolve with flexibility is unlike any workforce I’ve seen. The culture at Zenefits is built on teamwork, integrity, innovation, empathy and putting the customer first. We are truly committed to these values and we try to demonstrate it through our decision making.
I think Zenefits is a great example of what I call the modern workforce: We are diverse in every way – from gender and race, to age and experience. Our mission is so powerful because it cuts across all of our differences and unites us: We help power the heart and soul of the US economy.
Our “employees first” culture resonates through programs such as leadership training, our Zenefits Cares programs for giving our time and energy to the communities we serve, and events that highlight the skills of our talented workforce.
We recently held a hackathon, and I was blown away by the forward-thinking ideas that our team members executed. In just a few days we had 22 ideas and several were in production only days after that. Integrity and empathy are very important at Zenefits. Given our fast and dizzying start, investing in programs like these is essential to becoming the company we know we’re destined to be – a leader, a model, and a reliable partner to thousands of customers and partners.
ABS: Pulling back for a bigger picture, where do you see the health insurance industry going in the next several years?
JF: As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the middle of a big shift. And now we’re in a bridge period. Technologically, we’re not in fax machine land anymore, but API connectivity is only in its infancy. Over the next several years, that technology bridge will be crossed, we’ll bring to life a fully integrated benefits management experience that will delight consumers. It will be simple, transparent and it will be mobile.
And that’s where we see the rest of the industry going – the integration of deep benefits expertise with the best technology.
ABS: What is your view on ACA?
Regarding the ACA versus “repeal and replace” efforts, that will take some time to shake out. I know we are all following the journey of the ACA repeal, which is now headed to the Senate. We think that when the dust settles, there will likely be more rather than less underwriting in the industry.
ABS: Do you believe the role of agents and brokers will continue to change?
JF: Absolutely – as you note, it has already and more change is inevitable. We believe that the role of the broker is an essential part of the industry ecosystem. We believe that increasingly, clients will look to their broker to be both a benefits consultant AND an influencer of HCM and HR software technology. As we cross the technology bridge I mentioned earlier, brokers will become purveyors of solutions, and will use the pieces of those technology platforms to make them better, more effective brokers for an increasingly modern workforce. This “all-in-one” integrated approach will become ubiquitous.
ABS: If you were talking to someone just starting a career in health insurance sales, what advice would you give?
JF: If you look at the history of American healthcare, going back to the 1930’s, there has never been a time as exciting as now. Things are changing quickly and HR technology is enabling much of that change. But a career in health insurance puts you at the heart of a very important debate: the health and wellness of Americans. In almost every poll, security and healthcare are among the top concerns of nearly all Americans. If you’re looking to address an enormous problem, come join us! Making all of this change straightforward and manageable for the consumer through better, smarter and more accessible health insurance is not just smart, it’s noble.
ABS: What sort of things do you do outside of your work at Zenefits?
JF: When I am not working, I am an avid sportsman and outdoorsman (golf, horses, fly fishing, skiing, hiking, travel, etc.). I play golf but can’t seem to get my handicap any lower, so spending most of my waking hours at Zenefits is a huge relief.