Ed Hofstede, President, and Inthida Ngeth, Vice President of Operations, explain how PPI Benefits is prepared to deliver a modern benefits programme...
Part of Canadian insurance and financial services company PPI, PPI Benefits is an experienced team of consultants and third-party administrators for group benefits. With a reputation for outstanding customer service and cutting-edge proprietary solutions, the organisation provides access to plans that cover over 1,000 businesses across Canada, tailored to suit that particular enterprise’s individual needs. An expert in its field, the company offers technical support, consulting services, comprehensive implementation services, a range of benefits plans and more, all for an affordable, manageable cost.
The success and results of PPI Benefits are driven by its leadership team, who join together in a united effort to promote the best services for clients. Ed Hofstede, President, has been in the insurance sector for over 30 years and calls PPI - “a major player in the Canadian insurance marketing sector” - a natural evolution in his career. Joining the company almost 15 years ago, he started out as a Regional Leader at PPI Financial Group before going on to become the Vice President of Marketing at PPI Advisory, the VP of PPI Benefits and finally President in 2016. Inthida Ngeth, VP of Operations, on the other hand, came up via a slightly less linear path. “I don’t have much background in employee benefits or insurance per se,” she explains. “My background is in technology, consulting and telecoms; I worked in different roles across various industries before focusing on technology transformation.” Ngeth states that PPI’s open attitude towards digital innovation and its desire to leverage technology to improve its customers’ and advisors’ experience is what encouraged her to join in early 2019. “I wanted to be part of something exciting and evolutionary; the industry is changing right now.”
Change is certainly in the global zeitgeist - whether socially, economically or technologically motivated, in the digital era, most businesses are finding that the only way to stay relevant is to identify trends and adapt to them. In this regard, PPI Benefits has a clearly defined view of what good industry change should look like. “I've tried to always view our business as working through advisors to help their clients create healthy, engaged, loyal and productive employees,” Hofstede says. He identifies this simple strategy as integral to helping PPI’s clients provide necessary services and be successful. “ We believe our role goes beyond simply employee benefits and pension. Our mission is to help clients improve their work environment and build an exceptional employee experience for the modern world.”
This ability to see beyond the mere product or service which it provides is what gives PPI its edge and continues to inform its approach. Having worked with some of the top advisors in the country, PPI has developed a sophisticated mode of operation which factors in high business ethics, technological innovation and a strong, customer-centric philosophy. “We use what we call a ‘G.A.P.P. consulting methodology’: we look at the goals set by the client, understand why they are running a benefits programme and what they are trying to accomplish, and then we contrast that with the Actual results they are currently achieving,” explains Hofstede. Focusing on the two ‘Ps’ - Possibilities and Priorities - PPI helps its clients identify what’s important to them and how to execute an effective plan.
Access to the latest technology and an integrated system for deploying it is crucial to this operating model, and that, in turn, requires a well thought out digital transformation. “We know what our member and advisor journey should look like in terms of what we aspire to and how we want to transform in each of the steps,” says Ngeth. Taking an iterative approach, PPI Benefits has begun to deploy AI (artificial intelligence) in increments to automate less crucial functions whilst gradually developing larger tech solutions. It’s an approach that allows the company to constantly be achieving a string of small victories which will add up to a larger goal. After all, Hofstede says, repetitive data-entry tasks are tedious for employees and subject to manual error. Transferring the responsibility of these tasks from humans to machines eliminates this margin for problems and allows staff to focus their energy on more critical client-facing activities. “I want to automate the predictable so we can humanise the exceptional,” he adds. “It’s all about making PPI Benefits really effective and efficient on the predictable processes so that we’ve got more time to deal with people.”
Handling the vast amounts of data relevant to the insurance sector and placing it in an integrated environment for analytics software led PPI Benefits to start moving to a cloud-based platform - the company as a whole is actively transitioning to the cloud. Gathering, analysing and presenting that data to advisors and clients forms one of the company’s biggest technological challenges. “We're looking to evolve how we gather the information in a way that is easier and more consolidated in one location. From there, we can slice and dice it any way we want and structure it accordingly to make it meaningful,” Ngeth states. In the digital era, where data is king, knowing how to extract value from it and use historical patterns to determine decision-making, predict and inform risk assessments is PPI’s objective. However, far from being purely utilitarian, Hofstede emphasises that a technological approach is crucial to business continuity with a new generation of people with different expectations. “PPI is starting to use AI in the customer service realm and there’s an opportunity to use it for some of our narrower product deliveries. Our wonderful people have always been an important part of PPI Benefits’ value proposition, but we also know that there are a growing number of millennial clients coming through, and sometimes they may also value interacting with a chatbot, so we need that capability too.”
Despite a strong tech underpinning to its operations, PPI Benefits ensures that the human touch is never lost at the customer service level. The company is also careful to ensure that its staff can wield the digital tools they are equipped with securely. Indeed, cybersecurity is a top priority of both clients and the modern, digitalised insurance sector.
The company’s focus on digitisation couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous time; the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made global businesses question the integrity of their previous ways of operating and seek out more advanced solutions. In this uncertain, new environment, Hofstede says that forging a way forward is “about picking partners that PPI can work with to deliver the digital employee and advisor experience” that it envisions. Critical to helping PPI Benefits on this journey so far have been companies like Oliver, a modern benefits and pension administration software company; and Venngo, a work-perks group discount programme, and IA Financial Group. Although they all collaborate with PPI Benefits on different things, Hofstede explains that there’s one consistent element that these relationships are based on: trust. “One of the first things PPI Benefits does is assess the reasonableness of their promises and commitments. We deal with partners and suppliers every day, so we have to ensure we’re comfortable dealing with them. If we choose to work with them, it’s because they provide high-quality goods and services, they're ethical and they work well with our team.”
Although the rest of 2020 will be a challenge, both Hofstede and Ngeth are confident that PPI Benefits has hit the ground running. The changes being ushered in are all about creating a better experience for the people who need PPI’s services, and the company is not being complacent in trying to find out the best way to secure that goal. “These days, you're not just being compared to other advisors, administrators or insurance companies,” Hofstede says. “Now, you're being compared to the best experience a customer can have anywhere, dealing with anybody.” With companies like Amazon revolutionising the convenience of shopping and same/next day delivery, why shouldn’t PPI Benefits try to do something similar in its field, he asks. “In addition to just the traditional benefits, dental plan and pension, maybe there could be an employee assistance programme, a mental health programme, alcohol treatment program, employee discounts, etc.” Clearly, the sky's the limit for what a modern benefits programme could be, and PPI is dedicated to empowering advisors with new technology and services to deliver better value for corporate clients. “We're excited about the future and how we're doing it differently,” Ngeth concludes. “I think, more than anybody else, we're poised for success with our foundation of technology. PPI Benefits is optimistic because we know the possibilities and how to reach them.”