Zenefits’ Agents Should Be in NAHU

Zenefits is enrolling hundreds of their in-house agents with the National Association of Health Underwriters and some NAHU members are freaking out. They shouldn’t.

At the end of the day, Zenefits engagement with the association will benefit both the company and NAHU’s membership. After all, the purpose of any professional organization is not to become best buds with your competitors (although that often happens in NAHU). The purpose is to work together on common issues toward shared goals in an ethical manner. So long as Zenefits and their employee-agents share the goals of NAHU and act with integrity they should be members.

A Fan of NAHU, Not Zenefits

I’ve been active in NAHU for over 25 years. I’ve served as president of my state chapter and the National organization. Currently I’m president of my local chapter. I’ve testified on NAHU’s behalf before Congress and helped lead the association’s legislative efforts nationally and in California. I’ve even helped rewrite the national and state associations’ by-laws. (Now that’s commitment … and boring as hell).

I say this not to brag (or complain), but to demonstrate that I care deeply about NAHU, its mission, purpose and, above all, its members. I’m a fan of NAHU. If I thought the association was in danger, I’d be among the first at the barricades. However, having Zenefits’ in-house agents in NAHU is no danger.

To be clear, I am not a Zenefits fan. I’ve made this clear repeatedly and will continue to do so. I consider the way Zenefits’ leadership talks about what they call “traditional agents” as arrogant and wrong. I don’t like their business model or some of their practices. And I do more than criticize Zenefits. I’m co-founder of Take 44, a start-up bringing NextAgency to brokers. NextAgency does many things, but for purposes of this post it’s most salient feature is helping community-based agents beat Zenefits and its ilk in the marketplace.

Even though I don’t like Zenefits, I’m pleased Zenefits’ in-house agents are joining NAHU. I believe the result will be positive for Zenefits and, more importantly, for NAHU members.

Wins All Around

Zenefits will gain credibility when they publicize that their in-house agents are members of the nation’s preeminent organization for benefit professionals. However, that means Zenefits will be widely promoting the reality that working with NAHU members is good for consumers—a message benefiting all NAHU members.

Some of Zenefits’ agents will attend NAHU meetings and participate in the association’s outstanding educational programs. There they’ll meet hundreds of professional, experienced brokers providing real and substantial value to their clients. They’ll understand that there’s more to being a worthy health insurance agent than simply delivering HR and benefits software. (Although there’s nothing wrong with delivering HR and benefits software, he wrote while wearing his NextAgency hat). What they learn may make them better agents and that’s good for their clients and for the profession. Bad agents hurt everyone, including good ones.

The dues from Zenefits is the least important benefit to NAHU, but still meaningful. These dollars will help NAHU and its local and state chapters positively influence legislation, expand educational programs, better assist consumers, support more community organizations and more powerfully deliver our message to the public. Again, something that benefits all members.

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NAHU membership is open to all health professionals who abide by the association’s code of ethics. In a big-tent association like NAHU we’re not all going to like every fellow member. I’ve met thousands of wonderful people during my time in Health Underwriters. They’re individuals of tremendous professionalism and integrity. I’ve also come across a few folks I don’t particularly like or respect and not every fellow member likes me. That doesn’t matter. We’re a professional association, not a college fraternity.

What matters is our commonality of purpose. NAHU members are benefit specialists adhering to a high ethical standard while seeking to do what’s best for our profession, our industry and, especially, for our clients. Any benefits specialist who shares this commitment and acts with integrity is welcome in NAHU. This is what makes the association strong: acceptance without regard to personal feelings, but in the pursuit of common interest.

I don’t like Zenefits. If the company and its agents seek to do what’s best for their clients, our industry, and our profession and acts ethically, however, then I accept them. Indeed, I welcome them to Health Underwriters.

Outside the association, I look forward to helping community-based benefit brokers like those in NAHU drink Zenefits’ milkshake. That, however, is a topic for another post.

3 thoughts on “Zenefits’ Agents Should Be in NAHU

  1. Alan,

    With all due respect to you, I completely disagree with your assessment about Zenefits role as members of NAHU. Let me first say, I too am not a fan of Zenefits. I am puzzled as to why they would even consider joining NAHU. Zenefits is a tech company and some employees (we do not know how many) passed an insurance exam. That does not make them them a benefits consultant. It makes them techies with an insurance license.

    They certainly are entitled to join NAHU, no argument there. But let’s ask the question, “who is paying the dues?” Do you think that each one of the supposed hundreds of new members are paying $395+ or it is possible that Zenefits is footing the entire bill……this year? Some would say, “who cares, it’s money coming into the NAHU coffers.” And I would agree with that because that money will pay for new programs, more member benefits, etc.

    That’s why your comment “The dues from Zenefits is the least important benefit to NAHU, but still meaningful.” is, in my opinion way off. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY! I deem it highly unlikely that these supposed new members will be active in their local or state chapters. Dare I say these folks are probably young upstarts, entering a new and exciting world with a company that has garnered a lot of attention and this presents a new opportunity to them. I don’t think their interests are in the field of health underwriting and serving on committees of their local NAHU chapter. I think they have bigger and different interests.

    I am convinced that NAHU’s mission and purpose is not that of Zenefits. Their CEO became a NAHU member a few months back. He attends meetings when INVITED to. I attend meetings because I enjoy it. I know when and where my local meets. The CEO joined NAHU to appear to make “nice,nice” with an industry he insulted, diminished and clearly thought very little of. Don’t you find that odd? There is no common interest here but yes acceptance of their membership without regard to personal feelings is the order of the day.

    No doubt in my mind, regardless of how many Zenefits folks supposedly join, their membership will lapse in under 3 years if not sooner. Two potential reasons why. Number 1, if they are not paying for their dues now, they’ll be asked to in future years. Number 2, hard to determine if Zenefits will be around. We’ve seen companies like this with big VC money fade, be sold or change direction. I tend to believe the same will happen with Zenefits. But for now, it’s Welcome to NAHU”…………I guess.
    Dave Mordo

  2. Great post Alan. And thanks for everything you do for CAHU/NAHU.

    No doubt there will be mixed reactions to both their NAHU membership or your “dislike” of their model. While I’ve interviewed Zenefits’ CEO twice, I can’t say I truly know him. But he (Parker Conrad) was very open and transparent about his business model and also explained his earlier disparaging comments about ‘traditional agents’. He made these comments as an early-stage startup, pitching to potential investors. There, you get extra points for zeal and hubris. He did admit he would say it differently now, but that ship has sailed and many agents have since moved from outrage to action.

    I am encouraged by the bevy of hr/benefit/payroll technology vendors now available to these traditional agents. I suspect Parker is neither surprised or threatened by this – he is proud of his model and doing what any bold startup leader should. Playing to win.

    So, just as I said to Mr. Conrad in our interview… “game on”. I think the outcome will be an evolved marketplace of insurance professionals who use the latest strategies and tools to provide the highest level of service and value to their clients. Only time will tell who will really win. I think agents who invested in professional development and not overly dependent on their technology will win.

    I think their membership in NAHU means they came to the same conclusion.

    Here’s interview #2 with Parker Conrad w/ audio:

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