bWise – Ep 25: Navigating the Future of Ben Admin: A Conversation With Scott Millson

Scott Millson Banner

Navigating the Future of Ben Admin: A Conversation With Scott Millson

On this episode, benefit administration insider Scott Millson shares his unique perspective on his over three decades in the employee benefits field. Listen in as Scott reflects on major industry transformations, from the rise of online enrollment to emerging technologies like AI. He also offers a look into writing his upcoming book and why he was drawn to joining the bswift Advisory Council. Listeners will walk away with practical advice on thriving in this fast-evolving business landscape.


View recording transcript >

    Well, Sharon, we are lucky today to have a true industry veteran with us. Scott Milson has been in this business benefits business for decades and has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and we’ve invited him to come participate on our podcast today for a variety of reasons. Number one, he’s just got so much to share, and we’d love to learn from him today. And also, he’s recently joined the bswift Advisory Council and sits in a position to help us in the marketplace to understand better what’s happening and to help us grow our business. And we’re delighted to have Scott as part of our team. And so welcome aboard Scott. Glad you could join our show today.

    Great. Well, it’s wonderful to be here. I really appreciate the invitation. And I do think you just called me old, but I’m not certain.

    Well, I’m right there with you, so we could be compatriots like that. Well, let me just tell our listeners a little bit about your background, Scott, for those that don’t know you, I learned that early in your career you were in aviation administration with the US Navy. Let me ask you before I go on further, did you fly planes?

    I did not, no. I was on the paperwork side of things. So, I was in that area. But yeah, they didn’t let me fly anything. They just wanted me to follow paperwork on it. So, I was a paper pusher in the Navy in my early my career.

    Awesome. Well, from there you took a position with Hewitt and Associates and were an owner partner there and spent about 17 years, close to 17 years, with them, in which you developed a ton of knowledge on the industry and background and experience. And then you spent a few years with one of our current competitors, plan Source as an executive with them, and we’re in on kind of the earlier years of their development as a company. And so we know that our space and benefits administration quite well. And then you founded a consulting firm, a co-founded, and Milson James was a firm that you were a part of for a number of years, in fact, still are. And then a few years back you joined a Hub International as a president of their employee benefits program in Florida. And so Wow, what a wealth of knowledge and information you’ve got to have.

    Yeah, I’ve got some stories to tell for sure. So yeah, back when I was with Hewitt, so I joined them in 1990 and in 1999 we launched one of the first online using this crazy thing called the internet that had just come about online benefit administration system. And so yeah, we were doing online enrollments, whereas prior to that we were doing ’em via interactive voice response systems. If you can imagine that experience that was horrible, but in paper and everything else. And so it was just this newfangled way to collect people’s elections. And so yeah, we rolled it out in 1999 and it’s been running ever since then.

    Outstanding. Well, before we jump into your business background, Scott, and learned a little bit from you in that respect. Let me ask you one question. So, you have a lot of colleagues that might be listening in to today’s show, but former colleagues, tell us something that many of your former colleagues may not know about you.

    Well, I could give you the standard answer and say the Navy, which you already thrown out there, maybe my second toe on my foot is bigger than my big toe, something like that. They maybe don’t know those things, but I actually do have something that is interesting to share. I think it’s interesting that not a lot of people outside of even my family knows this right now, but I signed a contract last Friday with a publisher to write a book, so it’s pretty exciting. Wow, cool. Something I was thinking about doing for a while, and I moved into a quasi-retirement mode at the end of last year, and so I had some time and been thinking about it, and so started working with a publisher and interviewed a couple of different ones and pulled the trigger last Friday. So yeah, pretty excited to get rolling on that.


    Congratulations. Give us us a little teaser. What are you thinking about writing about?

    So it’s going to be, so I’ll go back and say I started with Hewitt 1990, so that for me, fresh out of college, I graduated in 89, started with them in early 90 and it was just an unbelievable foundation. If you think of the coaching tree, right? Andy Reed’s got a great coaching tree in the NFL, the Coaching Tree of Hewitt is unbelievable, the number of people that started there and just the exceptional talent that was around at that time. And so I learned a great deal from them. And so the idea of the book is, it’s kind of part memoir, part reflection, part leadership principles, things I learned along the way. And so it kind of started, the idea kind started as a blog post that I was putting out on LinkedIn during the Pandemic, and it just kind of grew from there and I got really good feedback on it. I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m kind of a nostalgic person by nature. And so pulling those memories back just was really helpful in the pandemic. And so I just figured I’d start writing ’em down and we’ll see what happens. We’ll see where it goes.

    I love that. What a good idea and what a way to memorialize the number of years that you’ve had in the industry and all of you’ve learned. And Don didn’t say it, but you have had a long career. Don did say it. I didn’t say it. You had a long career in the benefits industry, so a lot of knowledge you’ll be able to impart to all of your readers of that book. So congratulations. That is awesome. Speaking of your career in the benefits industry, I am curious, what’s your impression of the quality of the solutions that are available to employers today? You’ve talked about using the internet at the onset, so you’ve seen the development of technology and solutions over decades. What’s your current state of impression?

    Yeah, it’s dramatically improved, obviously from where we started, but I think there’s a Ray Kurzweil as I think he was a futurist, that computer scientist, futurist, and he made predictions in the early two thousands of this technology advancement that we were going to be experiencing. And I think the word that he used was, in a hundred years in the 21st century, we’re going to see 20,000 year’s worth of technological advancements. And so every single year there’s new opportunities, there’s new technologies you can leverage. So it’s pretty exciting, especially in the benefits space right now, is being able to leverage those new technologies and the things that are coming out to solve age old problems and to try to make things a better experience for the customer. So I know we talk about it ad nauseum in this industry that it’s difficult for people to understand benefits.

    I listened to the podcast y’all had done with Ted a number of months ago, and it is true. I mean, if you don’t live in this space, it’s difficult. And we have been trying for decades to try to get people to be better consumers of healthcare. And I think all this technology hopefully is going to get us closer to cracking that nut because it’s an uncracked nut. It’s still today. I think if you went out and interviewed a hundred people, they still don’t understand the difference between a deductible and an out-of-Pocket maximum or how a copay works in any of those things. And so we know that people have to become better consumers of healthcare. And I think where I’m hopeful that we’re going to go here is I think the advancement of technology will hopefully take us in that direction that we can get people to be better consumers, an age old problem that needs to be addressed.

    That’s great. So you’ve worked with a number of brokers over the years, Scott, and you’ve recently worked with hub, but prior to that you’d spent a lot of time working with brokers. And I wonder if you could give us some of your impressions about why you think that there are some brokers who are more willing and desirous of getting into the technology space than others seem to be some that really embrace it, that see it as an opportunity to grow their businesses and show more value and others that really stay away from it. Why do you think that is?

    So the simple answer is old school versus new school. So there are old school brokers that exist out there that see their value and their opportunity to win clients and retain those clients as marketing, marketing to the carriers. It’s a once a year renewal process, take it out to the market, use a hammer, beat the carrier up, get a better rate, deliver that rate to the customer, and they think that they’ve just created the iPhone. That’s just the greatest thing ever, right? I delivered great value here by delivering a great rate. And don’t get me wrong, rate is a huge part of what we do in this industry is you have to get great rates for your customers. What’s paying the bills, it’s causing employers to struggle with benefits, et cetera, is the price of it. And so I do think that’s important, but I think if a broker stops there and says, that’s my value, I think you’re in trouble at some point down the road because somebody’s going to come in behind you.

    Another broker is going to come in and say, Hey, has anybody talked to you about compliance? Has anybody talked to you about wellness? Has anybody talked to you about benefits administration and making your life easier or just broadly technology? When that happens, you’re going to get stuck. The customer’s going to come to that broker and say, Hey, why have you never talked to me about any of these things? And so I think the simple answer is old school versus new school. A new school broker totally gets it. A new school broker looks at it and says, I recognize that what worked for me five, 10 years ago isn’t working today. Customers do need help around compliance. They do need help around driving wellness initiatives, et cetera. And so they need that assistance. And so I think that a new school broker gets that. And so I think even those that wouldn’t classify themselves as old school, but they haven’t quite totally embraced it, I think they’re going to come under the tent in the near future because I think they’re going to be forced to, they’re going to lose business because they haven’t addressed it.

    They’re not going to win as much new business because they’re not necessarily addressing it. And so I think a broker has every opportunity to reach out and learn more about whether it be technology, whether it be compliance, whether it be around leave administration and leave policies. Everything’s changing these days. And I think what a broker used to be able to say is, I know the difference between an HMO and A PPO, and I’ve got great knowledge around those things. That’s a fleeting part of the B industry right now. And I do think brokers need to be aware of that and really trying to focus on getting different hooks into the customer.

    Yeah, there’s so many solutions. Customer, yeah, sorry Sharon. There’s so many solutions out there that are of value that the brokers can go find and deliver, but most all those need to be delivered through technology of some kind. And so the smarter that a broker can make himself or herself about the way that those solutions get delivered and how the technologies tie together into an ecosystem, the much better off they’ll be, the more success they’ll have in explaining to clients how to get that real consumer engagement, the better consumer is that you talked about earlier, Scott. I think that’s spot on.

    And whether they do so willingly or get dragged into it, I think it will. They’re going to have to pay attention to those things.

    Yeah, right, right. Yeah, it’s such a good point. You’ve made and done. I love that you said a solution a point solution could be great, but it’s no good if an employee or a member doesn’t understand it. And Scott, I think you’re right, employers, they have so much on their plate that I think employers are also turning to their broker to be more consultative in different areas that they haven’t necessarily turned to them before. And so as their population becomes more tech savvy and has more needs for more point solutions and the demographic changes, they need a partner to navigate all of that. So let’s say we’ve got some old school brokers listening here. Scott, you’ve been in the ben admin space for a little bit. So what do you think makes a great benefits administration partner? And when a broker who maybe is a little bit new to this space is thinking about engaging with a partner, what are some things that they should be thinking about?

    Yeah, I think I’ve always kind summed it up as the role as a broker, as a broker, as I’m looking for a good benefit administration partner, what I’m looking for is two things. I want you to mitigate the risk, and I want you to amplify the value. So I need you to understand that as a broker, I’ve got a longstanding relationship here. I’ve got a 5, 10, 15 year relationship with an employer group, and I don’t want to introduce a technology that is going to come in and disrupt what I have built, and I built up all this great will. I need you to mitigate the risk there. And so how do you mitigate the risk? There’s no perfect solution, right? There’s never going to be in the history of benefits administration, and I’ve seen a lot of implementations. There’s never been a perfect one that I’ve ever seen.

    And so you have to recognize that, but at the same time, you need to make sure that you can help mitigate the risk of things going haywire. And if something does go haywire, jump on it quickly, right? Correct it quickly. And so I think as a broker, what I’m looking for is somebody that can help me do that, somebody that I’ve got confidence in, somebody that’s got a good track record, somebody that can help mitigate that risk. But on the other side of that coin, I think you look at it and say, but I also need you to amplify the value. I am bringing you into a relationship that I feel is solid today. I need you to make me look really good because I think there’s a lot of value that we collectively can deliver to the customer. And so I’m looking for a partner that is going to help me look good, which is really hard for me. I need help looking good. And so I just think that that’s anything you can do to enhance the value and amplify that is a big part of, I think, what you can do and how you would partner with somebody.

    Yeah, it’s almost like we’ve got to cover the basics. We have to be really good at foundations and implementation and delivery and customer service. And notice what you didn’t mention is having the sexiest new module because again, the module doesn’t matter if we’re not doing a good job on the foundations and amplifying the value of your partnership with the client and delivering on the service that you’ve already set the bar at from a broker perspective.

    Yeah, no, totally. And one of the things I would say that this is a drum I’ve been beaten for a while is when software as a service, as SaaS came out, everybody was focused on that and rightfully, and it was there to try to streamline a number of different things that people were doing with software, et cetera, and that could replace to some degree some of the service elements. The drum I’ve been beating is it can’t be a replacement for service. The technology is outstanding, it’s going to be great, it needs to be great, but it can’t replace good old-fashioned service that comes with it. The service needs to be there. And that service comes in terms of what’s your call center? How’s your call center? And are you answering questions on the first call? Are you answering them quickly and timely, et cetera?

    Are you getting back to customers when a customer has a query and they’re sending something in? Or if there’s a data issue, are you quickly jumping on that? So technology needs to be there. That’s kind of table stakes. You’ve got to be able to deliver on those things. I think the differentiation, and again, what I’m looking for with a partner is how can you help me service my customer and how quickly can you get back to them and how quickly can you help me? And those types of things can’t get lost. And so in a SaaS model, you can’t lose the capital S on the backside of that, you’ve got to be delivered on that service side too.

    That’s a great point. Scott, can I ask you, you’ve been around and done so much successfully and had a great deal of opportunity in front of you and still do to this day. Why did you want to come over to bswift and join our advisory council? What attracted you to

    Yeah. I’d say it’s a similar answer that I’ve given when somebody said, why did you stay at Hewitt Associates for 17 years? Or Why did you work with different people? For me, it’s always about the people. And so I knew some people on the advisory council, so some folks that I’d worked with at Hewitt, Maria Yao was a perfect example. So Maria and I go way back in that 1999 crazy internet thing we were doing. Maria was side by side with me on that, so we were right there in those trenches together. And so seeing her there gave me all the confidence that, Hey, this is an organization I already knew. Obviously knew of bswift for quite some time, but having her be on the advisory council was a big thing for me. But then probably more than anything is you meet Ted, right? You meet Ted and you get the passion, and the passion just comes through the phone call and through the video call having the first time I had the opportunity to speak with him, and I just got a sense for his vision and what he’s looking to do.

    I think bswift is in a great spot, and I think there’s great leadership. I think y’all have said it before, the bones are exceptional at bswift. And so I think the people side of it is what really attracted me, and it’s what has attracted me to various places and what’s kept me at places is if I feel good about the people I’m working with and I can working alongside and rubbing elbows with, I’m good. I’m good. I can overcome a lot with good people, and that’s what I feel like we’ve got going on at bswift.

    That’s great. Scott and marketing is loving this because we have Maria coming on as a next episode, one of our future episodes, so that’s a great teaser for that. But I would just echo that. I love that you can get a sense for how great the people are at bswift from the outside in. Now, certainly we consider you a bswifter now that you’re on the board, but it’s great that you’re feeling that and that hopefully our customers are feeling that as well. Shifting gears just a little bit, and not to undermine the value of your book, everyone still go out and buy the book, but if we could ask you to give some sage advice for someone who’s considering entering either the Ben admin industry or the benefits industry in general, what would be some advice that you would impart on some of our younger audience or anyone in the audience who’s interested in making a move?

    Yeah. I don’t know how sage this is going to be, but I would say jump aboard and buckle up. It is a great industry. I have thoroughly enjoyed, I think at my time of retirement, it was 34th year of working in the industry, and so I do love it. I do have a passion for it. It has given me a great deal of enjoyment, and it’s a great industry. That said, I would say that where we are headed is pretty interesting and pretty exciting, and so I think that somebody that is interested in a fast growing industry, something that’s going to be adapting and adjusting literally on a monthly, quarterly, annual basis. This is that. The other thing I would say is there’s also a retiring population that’s going to be leaving this. I think that there’s going to be a vacuum of sorts, especially on the broker side.

    The broker side is made up of a lot of people my age and maybe even older that are going to be heading out to past here. I can say that because already in the past here, but heading out to pasture that I think there’s an opportunity for younger professionals to jump into this and say, there’s great opportunity to learn about that. And then I think the buckle up is just because of that. Ray Kurzweil, that comment I made earlier. I mean, I think the rapid evolution of technology and where this is going to go is just going to be, it’s going to be crazy. I mean, I really think that there’s some great things on the horizon. Some great products are going to be able to be leveraging new technology. We’ve known AI is coming for quite some time. How exactly it’s going to be leveraged, I think as a giant TBD, but we know it’s going to, right?

    I mean, there’s no chance that if I’m on this podcast five years from now, that we’re not talking about how AI has changed the industry it’s going to. And so I’m excited to kind of sit back and watch, and I can take more of a backseat than a front seat or driver’s seat these days, but I’m excited to see where it’s going to go. And so I think anybody that’s on the verge of thinking about jumping into or as early into it, hang on, it’s going to be a great ride, and I would ride the rocket.

    Well, there you have it folks ride the rocket. It is a space that is full of opportunity and anybody that really has the mind and the heart to get into it and dedicate themselves to learning a lot and growing the Rapid Evolution, as you mentioned, Scott, of this business is going to make it exciting and interesting for a long time to come. And so we’d like to thank you for your time. You’ve been generous with us today. Appreciate all you’ve shared with us and look forward to learning more from you, not only as we continue to work together, but as we take a glimpse at that book when it gets out.

    Absolutely. You’ll be the first to know. I’ll send you an advanced copy.

    That sounds great. Yes. Thanks, Scott.

    All right, thanks, y’all.

    Okay. You bet. Take care. Thank you.

    About Scott Millson

    Scott is an insurance and benefit technology executive with deep experience in designing and delivering industry leading benefits programs. Most recently, Scott was President of Employee Benefits with HUB International Florida.

    The views expressed by guests of the bWise podcast series are theirs alone and not endorsed by nor necessarily reflect the views of bswift, its affiliates or their employees. The podcast recordings and all rights are owned and retained by bswift. Reproduction, duplication or reposting of podcasts or any portion thereof without the express written consent of bswift is prohibited.
American Heart Month: How to Support the Heart Health of Your Workforce
Optimize Benefits Enrollment: HR Best Practices for the ‘So-Called’ Off-Season