Glenn Larson is a solution architect at ConnectYourCare, where he talks with clients to find out what they need and works with various tools, systems, and experts to build them a solution. He talks about the evolution from plastic to electronic payments, how clients can maximize their benefits, the impact of everyone taking the time to listen to client calls, and how his office is no longer just Chicago’s Midway Airport.
Carla: I'm the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, "Explanation of Benefits." Today, I'm speaking with Glenn Larson, Solution Architect at ConnectYourCare. Hello, Glenn.
Glenn: Good morning.
Carla: So tell me, what exactly does a Solution Architect do?
Glenn: Well, that's a good question. Sometimes I say I like my role because I get to do a little bit of everything. But really at the core, a Solution Architect takes the requirements of a client and then works with all of the various tools, systems, experts we have within ConnectYourCare to build the optimum solution for the client's needs for both them as an administrator and particularly to meet the needs of their employees.
Carla: So you're working with clients pretty closely then, yes?
Glenn: Yeah, I would say I probably spend, you know, probably 50% of my time on the phone with either clients or prospects discussing their plans, their programs, and where they're trying to go with them.
Carla: On the phone? People still talk on the phone? That's great. I'm glad.
Glenn: Well, when I say "phone," you know, I mean not in person so maybe "on the phone" is a generic term for I spend a lot of my time on video conference calls.
Carla: Yes, don't we all? We all know exactly what we look like up close now thanks to this year. In working with clients, what type of things are they looking for? What type of questions do they have for you about the solutions that ConnectYourCare offers?
Glenn: Yeah, I think, you know, every client, you know, has different challenges that they're trying to solve or different problems that they're trying to solve. But I think one consistent theme, you know, kind of across everybody I talk to is that the members or the employees themselves aren't getting the maximum value that they can out of the consumer-directed health programs, and it's always a question of how do we educate, how do we provide tools, and how do we allow employees and members to really maximize the value of these accounts. You know, it takes a slightly different shape for every employer, you know, depending on the type of business they're in and the makeup of their particular population. But it generally all kind of comes back to that one central theme.
Carla: When you say that they're not getting the maximum value, are there benefits that they have that they just don't know about yet or just haven't used all the way that they could?
Glenn: Yeah. On the consumer spending accounts I think it's a combination of fear. You know, I think a lot of employees have experience with a flexible spending account, you know, maybe early when they were released in the use-it-or-lose-it paradigm and the pressure to spend the money and the difficulty in getting claims approved where they just got a little bit of a bad taste in their mouth that these plans are a hassle and the hassle isn't worth it. And, you know, things have evolved greatly over time. ConnectYourCare has done a lot to make these accounts incredibly easy to use and there are just fabulous tax advantages. You know, for the average employee, you know, we always think of tax shelters as only the 1% can hire attorneys and accountants and find ways to have a tax shelter where the FSAs and dependent care spending accounts and HSAs are fabulous tax shelters that are available to everybody. And it's a question of getting people comfortable with them and getting them over their past of bad experiences and educating them to really understand how these accounts can help at the intersection of health and wealth and not only provide a good way for them to pay their out-of-pocket expenses, but do it in a way that reduces their overall tax liability.
Carla: Yes, I also like the term "tax shelter." I think sometimes it has a negative connotation but obviously in cases like this where it's beneficial and completely IRS-approved, it really does help a lot of people.
Glenn: Yeah, you won't be going to jail using these tax shelters.
Carla: Yes. We should use that in the marketing for sure. Glenn, did you have other roles at ConnectYourCare or did you start in this position?
Glenn: I actually started at ConnectYourCare as a Solution Architect. I've been in the benefit administration space for a little over 25 years now. Started my life as a software engineer, you know, long ago, working for a company that managed benefits for clients and have worked in many aspects of the benefit industry over the years, you know, from benefit administration to retiree exchanges, to HR … outsourcing. So I've spent a lot of time in a lot of different areas and I think that, you know, gives me the ability to have good conversations with employees because I generally can see things from everybody's point of view, having worked in, you know, all the different facets of the delivery.
Carla: That is really helpful, seeing things from a different point of view, and you also talked about obviously the phone in the general term working with people, but how has COVID changed the way that you have been working this year?
Glenn: Yeah, it's had a very dramatic impact, I would say. You know, I have always, or at least since I started at ConnectYourCare I've worked remote or worked from home but I used to always joke my home office was Midway Airport. I certainly spent a lot of time meeting directly with clients and was on the road a lot. So, you know, kind of March of last year I actually can recall Charlotte was my last business trip so that was March of 2020. So certainly I've shifted all of that activity to, you know, to Webex and Zoom and Teams and other web tools. So while certainly, you know, I think it's been effective, it's probably not as effective as it is when you're able to, you know, go out and talk to people face to face and visit their employees at their locations. You know, but we're starting to get along. Everybody's kind of in the same boat, so I think there's a lot of understanding, you know, it's understanding that you can't be there in person so it's not like a client holds it against you for not being able to come out to their location but certainly we're all looking forward to the time when we can get back together in person to have these discussions.
Carla: We certainly are. In the understanding area I'm really happy that everyone understands that all of your family members are also at home so that when they walk in during a podcast nobody really cares. When you're talking about the different ways to connect with people when you're not face to face, can you talk to me about the portal and mobile tools that we offer?
Glenn: Sure. You know, so one of the things that I really feel proud of at ConnectYourCare is our focus on the end user experience. And there's a lot of ways that we collect data on that. I think one of the things we highlight oftentimes is the whole concept that every Friday morning our chief operating officer hosts an hour-long meeting where we listen to a selection of calls that were recorded in the call center for the week. And it's a great way for, you know, not only myself, but our chief technology officer, our CEO, our product team to get a real pulse on how people are doing.
And, you know, if you read some call center stats to say we got, you know, X number of calls about claims, you know, it gives you a dry number and lets you know how many people called us because they had an issue with a claim. But listening to somebody on the phone, hearing the frustration in their voice, you know, hearing people on the border of crying because they, you know, their card was declined because they had an unsubstantiated claim, etc., that really kind of takes the experience to a different level and really helps everybody understand what are we trying to do with our service and those calls have really driven a lot of what we do from a process perspective, from a portal perspective, from a mobile perspective, and really saying, hey, at the core of it we're trying to...oddly enough, we're trying to prevent somebody from actually having to give us a phone call.
It's almost like if everything's going perfect, there's really no need a member should ever need to call us. If our tools are working optimally, if our education is perfect, you know, I mean obviously that's unrealistic so we're certainly not getting rid of the call center but, you know, that's kind of our goal. And then that seeps into the portal and the mobile application. So when a member logs onto our portal, we want it to be very easy for them to understand where to go, where the information is, how to complete a transaction, you know, same thing on the mobile application. Is it easy to find all the information you need? Is it easy to complete the transaction you're there to complete?
And, you know, we not only get feedback from being able to just look at how people use our applications but we get great feedback from the call center because people call and are confused. They, you know, "I'm trying to do this and I can't figure it out on the, you know, mobile app or on the portal," and our call center folks walk them through that and then we're able to capture all that data and go back and re-engineer.
So, you know, our portal is an ever-evolving tool. You know, we look at it constantly, try to understand how our users are using it, where they're struggling, how we can enhance it. And it's one of those things, you know, I kind of joke, it's like owning a house, right, you're never done with repairs, it seems like, when you own a house. As soon as you fix something else, something else needs attention. And I would say our portal is like that also. It's really never done. It's always evolving. We're always trying to figure out ways to make it better and more user-friendly.
Carla: I can really identify with that house statement too. My house is very old, it's just a cycle of fixing things. But that's really interesting that you listen to the calls together because, yes, what a great way to figure out what people want and try and get a solution for them. That's a wonderful way of doing that. Speaking of, what do you see as upcoming? What do you see as upcoming trends in our industry for the rest of this year and next year?
Glenn: Yeah, you know, I would say COVID has definitely had an impact on trends in the industry. We've expanded...or I shouldn't say "we" but the Department of Labor has expanded the items that can be reimbursed so that certainly that's increased some usage. You know, overall I think as the healthcare industry evolves and we see maybe marching towards more clients offering high-deductible plans and even the non-high-deductible plans have a significant employee pay-first kind of component to those, is I think we're going to continue to see these accounts expand in their uses as employees better understand the amount that they actually owe before insurance kicks in. So I think we'll continue to see the number of accounts rise.
I think on the HSA side, right now we're just kind of at the cusp of people really understanding the combination of long term retirement savings using an HSA to not only, you know, provide funds for short term out of pocket medical expenses but how they can actually use that to build a war chest, for lack of a better term, that will help them as they get into retirement and be able to pay for their out of pocket expenses in retirement. You know, it's one of those things where people don't really realize so Medicaid is a great program but it's not free. Medicaid has, you know, you do have to pay for portions in that. You still have out of pocket expenses. So certainly building up that long term savings from an HSA perspective is crucial, and along with investing.
So from an HSA perspective I think folks, members generally who start to build up a large balance don't really take advantage of that ability to invest their HSA dollars. You know, HSAs are I think the only, as far as I know, the only triple tax advantaged account that's out there where you reduce your taxable wages by putting money into the HSA, you can earn investment income on the HSA tax-free, and then when you use the funds, as long as you're using them for qualified expenses, you're not taxed on the disbursement. So, you know, really a triple tax advantage. Even your 401k or your IRA, when you do actually spend the money in retirement, you have to pay income tax on that money, where an HSA, you don't. So it's a great program and a great tool and that's the area I think we'll see continued expansion. And then, you know, the continuing drive to make the accounts easier to use, you know, introducing things like, you know, electronic payments and increasing the integration between claims stated and the accounts that will allow our members to do less substantiation of claims. So those are all the things I see coming on the horizon and certainly ConnectYourCare is actively engaged in all these areas.
Carla: In the interest of making things easier you did mention the payment cards. What have you seen the path of payment cards be in your time at ConnectYourCare?
Glenn: You know, so it's exciting now that, you know, when I first started at ConnectYourCare, you deployed a card. And actually not that long ago, if you had multiple accounts you had multiple cards. You know, and over the years, you know, we've condensed that down into a single card with multiple purses. So if you have, you know, let's say a commuter account and a limited purpose FSA and a health savings account, you know, you can put all those purses on one card and then the card has logic within it so when you swipe it, depending on where you swipe it knows what account to pay that claim out of. So, you know, we've gone a long way on that aspect of it.
And then I would say over the next, you know, 6 to 18 months we'll get more into the digital cards so you'll be able to add your card to, you know, your digital wallet, whether that's Apple Pay or Google Pay. And then we're evolving into the tap to pay card, so contactless payments. And then, you know, I think eventually down the road we'll get out of actually issuing plastic, you know, as cellphones and digital wallets become more ubiquitous there's going to be a point where we don't actually need to send somebody a piece of plastic in the mail. We'll be able to deliver their cart to them through the mobile application. You know, that'll be much more secure but allow the user a lot more flexibility. They don't have to, you know, carry a wallet full of cards. They have their cellphone and they'll have all the cards they need right in there.
Carla: Oh, that is great. There are so many things that can happen with all of the digital technology and as a Solution Architect, I'm glad that you are building all of those. Glenn, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.
Glenn: It was my pleasure.
Carla: Again, my name is Carla Wardin. I'm the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, "Explanation of Benefits" and that was Glenn Larson, Solution Architect at ConnectYourCare. Thank you so much for listening.
Carla Wardin is the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, Exclamation of Benefits. Carla brings her broadcasting and technology experience to talk to experts about the latest innovations in the benefits industry. Carla is an author, speaker, and marketing communicator from Michigan, where she and her husband are raising three boys on a dairy farm.