Improving lives through benefits has been the steadfast mission at Benefitfocus for the past 20 years. The Charleston-based company was founded in 2000 and is headquartered on a 40-acre campus anchored on Daniel Island.
Unification is the firm’s key to success. Using cloud-based software, Benefitfocus provides a single platform for employers, carriers, insurance brokers, and consumers designed to simplify the management of complex benefits administration.
According to George Evanko, director of public relations and social media, “Benefitfocus serves over 25 million consumers, 150,000 employer clients, more than 50 marquee voluntary and specialty benefit brands, and 40-plus leading health plans who operate seamlessly using Benefitfocus’ technology.”
Benefitfocus has weathered the storms during tough economic challenges. Shawn Jenkins and his colleague Mason Holland started the company during the recession, after the dot-com bubble burst in March 2000, setting up shop in an old Walmart building on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. The two partners developed the idea and the software on their own, and saw a remarkable profit during their second year in business.
The Daniel Island Club and The Daniel Island Co. were among the startup’s first clients, drawing Jenkins and Holland to explore the area further. In 2006, Benefitfocus worked with the City of Charleston to secure a substantial tract on Fairchild Street and established a permanent home on Daniel Island.
The firm has grown as an industry leader by using technology to give people access to trusted benefits at every stage of their lives. Even through economic downturns, “the company’s business strategy has enabled them to stay ahead of market needs by applying their intuitive technology in order to make the benefits process an easier lift on consumers, while also enabling more engagement by end users,” noted Evanko.
Annmarie Fini, executive vice president, added, “During the past 20 years, we’ve remained focused on our goals to help employees navigate the challenging topic of benefits; to help them make good decisions, to ultimately improve lives.”
“Benefitfocus has been able to offer its customers truly personalized benefits offerings,” Evanko continued. “In addition to leveraging AI, their platform also uses machine learning, and ‘Smart Moments’ to collect insightful customer data and provide more value to the end user by proactively communicating relevant recommendations for customizing benefits.”
The ability to offer unique, customized benefits is proving to be the trend for the future.
“Moving forward into the next 20 years and as the workforce continues to transform, personalized coverage plans and digital process modernization is going to be crucial to meet consumers’ individualized needs regardless of their status in life,” remarked Evanko.
The company did have to face some tough decisions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April it announced it was facing significant revenue loss amid the pandemic, requiring expense-cutting measures such as laying off 250 employees and cutting executive salaries.
The company suspended hiring for all open positions except critical roles and reduced its U.S. workforce by approximately 17%, or 250 employees. The layoffs were corporate-wide and the company hoped to be able to rehire some staff when the economy improves. Benefitfocus has offices in Greenville, South Carolina; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Brookfield, Wisconsin; as well as its Daniel Island headquarters.
In addition to the layoffs, Benefitfocus cut compensation for its executive team by 20%, and CEO Ray August’s take-home pay was cut entirely.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our global economy,” August said at the time. “We are taking decisive actions to maintain Benefitfocus’ financial strength during a prolonged period of uncertainty so we can continue to advance our mission of improving lives with benefits. We have moved swiftly in the last two months to provide the tools and resources needed to help guide and support clients through this pandemic.”
Even though COVID-19 still is impacting the economy, and squashed plans for a company-wide anniversary celebration that will be extended to 2021 when it’s safe to gather, Benefitfocus is seeing some positive gains. The company recently landed a significant contract with G.I.O.A. Benefits Trust.
“This is the association that will be representing health benefits for a large majority of nationwide Chick-fil-A franchise operators,” George Evanko, explained. “In other words, it’s with the franchise operators and not with Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters.”
He continued, “The operators and their team members are now able to supplement their medical benefits with a compelling mix of affordable voluntary benefits. Our data suggests that offering key voluntary benefits correlates to higher employee retention, which contributes to lower employer costs.”
With the arrangement, full and part-time workers at the restaurants will be able to access and choose their own voluntary benefits from a selection curated by Benefitfocus.
“We believe for many of these workers, it will be the very first time they can access affordable voluntary benefits,” Evanko said. “This is a great example of realizing our mission to improve lives with benefits.”