On the eve of his retirement, with more than 40 years in benefits under his belt, Aon’s Art Babcock considers the industry’s move to technology, health-care spending accounts and drone piloting
Q. How did you get into the group benefits industry?
A. I began my career in the insurance industry out of university, with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. of Canada in 1974. After six years in personal lines, I moved to Calgary to work in group benefits. As manager of group insurance and pensions, I opened MetLife’s Edmonton office. In 1989, I accepted a consulting position with the Alexander Consulting Group (later purchased by Aon) in Edmonton. And in 2016, I transferred back to Calgary to lead Aon’s local health and benefits practice.
Q. What are the top challenges you’ve faced in your career or role?
A. As a member of a professional services organization, one of my top challenges is managing time effectively and consistently to meet the ongoing demands of serving clients, generating revenue, keeping knowledge current and participating in the industry. Coincident with career demands, of course, is making time for family.
Q. What are the most interesting developments you’ve seen in the industry during your career?
A. The impact of technology is undeniable. Knowledge is literally at our fingertips — mobile apps allow insured employees to submit claims and check coverage, etc.
As well, the service delivery models (remember the introduction of pay-direct drug cards?) and expectations of service (claims deposited in my account within 48 hours) have changed dramatically. Communication is instantaneous and far-reaching.
Q. What advice or guidance would you give to younger professionals entering the industry?
A. Stick to the basics: treat everyone respectfully; always do what you say you’re going to do; and build relationships based on trust. We are in a relationship business and we must build and maintain positive relationships to succeed. This is an everyday task and takes effort. Ask yourself each morning, “What can I do to build or strengthen a relationship today?”
Q. What key topics and issues do you expect in the industry moving forward?
A. The next “things” in benefits will be the rise of personalized medicine in the form of pharmacogenetics and the delivery of medical service through telemedicine/virtual health care. These will happen in response to the need to focus resources on the management of individual health, which will control costs.
More discussion is required around analytics. And the management of drug costs, although certainly not a new topic, will continue into the future. We have tools/processes at our disposal (mandatory generic, biosimilars, pre-authorization, formulary management), but they aren’t fully integrated into all benefits plans. Making that happen would go a long way toward keeping drug plan costs in check.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
A. Travel is high on my list of things to do and I enjoy a variety outdoor activities — motorcycling, golf, walking, hiking and skiing. I plan to add drone piloting to the list soon.
Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?
A. Extended health care and dental care are near the top because they’re most frequently used. Long-term disability insurance is a critical part of benefits programs. And health-care spending accounts are great for plan flexibility and filling gaps in other coverages.
Jennifer Paterson is editor of Benefits Canada.