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Navigating a world of opportunity

miEdge delivers employee benefits business intelligence
to producers in real time

By Nancy Doucette

Nicole Jones-Gyllstrom, CIC, knows a good thing when she sees it. However, when that "good thing" provides her organization with a competitive advantage, she's not one to shout the news from the housetops. "I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to be interviewed for this article," she says with a laugh. "Candidly, I haven't been telling anybody outside our organization about this product because it really gives us an edge. It's changed my game completely."

Jones-Gyllstrom is president of Ascension Benefits & Insurance Solutions, a division of Ascension Insurance, Inc., which has 35 locations nationwide. About 50% of Ascension's total revenue is from benefits. Her secret weapon is miEdge™, a business intelligence system designed for employee benefits professionals.

In the marketplace for just under a year, miEdge, headquartered in New Boston, New Hampshire, is the brainchild of Mark Smith, ACII, CIC. Smith came to the United States from the United Kingdom about 12 years ago. He already had nearly a decade of insurance experience when he emigrated. In short order he was CEO of the New England region for USI and during his seven years in that position, he reports that the six New England states he was responsible for grew from $12 million in revenue and about 80 employees to $75 million in revenue and 320 employees.

"I'm a sales guy by trade and a P&C guy by training," Smith declares.

Smith says his vision for his division was disrupted when USI was acquired and, after a couple of years, he resigned. The concomitant one-year non-compete agreement left him with time on his hands and a head full of ideas. "I always wanted a tool like miEdge for our producers—something that didn't require any data entry," he says. "If you think about the amount of data that producers are expected to input into a CRM system, it's mind boggling. I think it's a waste of energy for very smart people who need to focus on building relationships and centers of influence to drive new business."

Off the drawing board

Enter Rich Lowney. "He brings the technical expertise in terms of how to get the information all plugged in," Smith explains. Lowney is chief technical officer for the software-as-a-service miEdge. Pricing is based on the number of employers in the state for which the agency wishes information and is tiered by small, medium, and large states. Registration can be completed online.

Without too deep a dive into his "secret sauce," Smith explains that much of the data in miEdge is gleaned from IRS Form 5500—a public record that must be filed with the Department of Labor by every group health and pension plan (with some exceptions) that is subject to ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act).

"Our data is updated real time from the Department of Labor," Smith points out. "Included on the 5500 form is each plan's renewal date, premium, carrier, commissions and fees, and the name of the broker. It's basically everything you don't want your competitors to know about. Yet, it's a matter of public record.

"We take that data directly from the Department of Labor and make it possible for a producer to find the accounts in his or her territory that are paying over a certain amount of commission, for instance. Or a producer can pull up accounts by line of business—medical, dental, life, disability, long-term care, or vision. miEdge can also target broker names, cities, industry segments, premiums, and employee ranges," he explains.

Once a producer completes the filtering process and targets a particular account, Smith says a "dashboard" consolidates all the details about that organization: company name, phone number, industry code/employer ID number, number of employees, and who the contact is (name and phone number). "We also include a LinkedIn function," he notes. By clicking on the LinkedIn symbol beside the company details, plan administrators, or service providers (accountants, for instance), miEdge uses the producer's LinkedIn user name and password to search his or her LinkedIn contacts. By doing so, LinkedIn is able to show the producer how he or she is connected to employees within that company. They can be used as centers of influence to provide an introduction to the decision maker if the producer doesn't already have one.

Producers could certainly perform a LinkedIn search on their own, but miEdge saves them some keystrokes.

Smith says that accountants who prepare the filings for the audited retirement programs make up another important center of influence in the benefits arena. "Suppose the producer already deals with ABC Company and they use XYZ Accountants. The producer can go into miEdge, search on XYZ Accountants, and pull up the clients they deal with. The producer can then ask the accounting firm to make introductions on the producer's behalf," he explains.

miEdge can also uncover compliance issues, Smith adds. "Property/casualty agents know which of their clients have more than 100 employees and can check miEdge to be sure their 5500 form is up to date and completed accurately. If the agency isn't currently writing the benefits account, and there are problems with the 5500, this 'intelligence' could be a good entrée for the agency."

Flipping that process around, Smith says miEdge is also a good tool for P-C agencies to use in determining where their accounts might be vulnerable because another agency is writing the benefits business. "The agency writing the benefits business may also have a P-C practice and could be a threat to the P-C lines," he notes.

Smith proudly states that miEdge won top honors in late September at the TechOut business startup competition organized by the New Hampshire High Tech Council and abi Innovation Hub.

Within the insurance industry, miEdge is getting attention as well. Smith reports that as of August 2012—just eight months after its launch—miEdge is a preferred provider with Assurex Global, is working with 40% of the top 100 brokers in the country, and has some 250 agency customers. Looks like Nicole Jones-Gyllstrom's mission to keep miEdge all to herself isn't working out so well.

More focused

Joking aside, Jones-Gyllstrom says miEdge is helping her and her producers target opportunities better. "We're no longer taking a shotgun approach," she says. "miEdge helps us understand who to target and how to target them. Our closing ratio is better as a result."

She recalls that in the last two months, information supplied by miEdge helped Ascension Benefits & Insurance Solutions close two accounts—$100,000 worth of business. She targeted the accounts following a review of their miEdge data which indicated they were paying too much in commissions and fees for their size. "Depending on the size of the group, an insurance company will pay a certain percentage of compensation—they have a scale," Jones-Gyllstrom explains. "What most clients don't know or understand is that the broker can increase or decrease the scale. It's fully adjustable. The broker can make that determination in most benefits cases without changing the type of coverage.

"So we'll go into miEdge to see if a client is on the standard scale and determine if it's higher than it should be. We don't want to go in and strip coverage from employees. We don't want to push any more cost to employees. We want to find ways to add value by pulling cost out of the system, not shifting costs," she says. "We want to bring consulting house tools to the middle market, without the attendant consulting house prices."

miEdge "intelligence" also gives Jones-Gyllstrom insight into which insurance company is on a particular account. "If I know that carrier has service related-issues, I can find another company that can do a better job from a service perspective. It's not always about compensation."

Jones-Gyllstrom says she had used other tools which tapped 5500 forms before switching to miEdge. "What I love about miEdge is that it puts everything in a searchable form. The ability to slice and dice data is very important. The other products we used before miEdge weren't always current and they were difficult to use."

Ascension Benefits & Insurance Solutions has aggressive growth goals, Jones-Gyllstrom acknowledges, and miEdge is helping her division meet its goals. "We want to target the customers who will give us the biggest bang for our selling dollar—the hours we spend selling. So not only are we rounding out clients on our risk management side, and deepening those relationships by offering benefits products, we're able to target the benefits accounts in the 500 participants and above space. Most of these clients have advanced strategies, and they need more technical analytics. This market hasn't been offered a consulting approach. We're changing that."

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