TecHR Interview with Tom Torre, CEO at Bend Financial

Thomas Torre, a senior executive with broad functional leadership experience in venture-backed, private equity-backed, and Fortune 500 organizations, shares his experience and learnings from across his professional journey in this exclusive TecHRseries interview.

Tell us about your professional journey and experience so far, Tom. Given your years of experience in the tech marketing / fintech industry – what are some of the biggest human resource or team building/team management learnings you’ve gathered so far?

There are many things I have learned that have helped me be a good leader and build teams – probably too many things to list out. Here are a few key items that I do my best to practice each day:

  • Get to know your team
  • Endeavor to keep folks informed on what’s going on
  • Give people freedom to do their job, and be flexible
  • Enable your team to develop and refine their craft, and explore their interests
  • Embrace differences in style and approach

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Why is artificial intelligence and machine learning the key to driving new HR technologies today?

AI is playing an increasingly important role in human resources and employee benefits, helping HR teams accomplish more and perform a greater number of tasks so they are freed up to work more directly with employees to resolve issues.  AI automates many of the processes around health savings accounts and other employee benefits, which are extremely time-consuming and cumbersome for busy HR staff.

AI automates so many key benefits processes. For example, machine learning – an aspect of AI – can pick up patterns such as enrollment trends, grow in its ability to analyze and respond to changes, and with this increased knowledge, become extremely valuable to users over time by providing guidance and advice.

Not only does AI increase productivity and make apparent the value of benefits to employees, but it also helps employees make more appropriate benefits choices that meet their short and long-term financial goals.

How do you think HR executives and employers benefit from an automated approach to HSAs? What is Bend Financial doing in this regard?

An automated approach to HSAs saves HR executives and employees considerable time and energy while boosting productivity significantly. It allows HR teams to spend more time with helping employees solve pressing problems because they are not inundated with HSA paperwork and processes.

Looking ahead, AI will become even more important in how companies manage HSAs and benefits because of its power in guiding employees and the value it can add to HR interactions, in the process of benefits enrolment and the end-use of benefits.

Furthermore, an automated approach helps employees better understand key issues critical to making an HSA plan successful, namely potential tax savings, eligible medical expenses and other aspects to using the HSA account to its maximum benefit.

The Bend solution is already helping companies, their HR teams, and employees in those three key areas. It is very exciting and rewarding to see early progress with an automated HSA approach driven by AI and machine learning technologies.

How can employers help make the HSA process much more beneficial for their employees?

Employers need to provide employees with relevant information on HSA accounts so they will be able to make the right decisions for their short and long-term financial well-being.

Companies should deliver information about HSAs through select communication channels that resonate with employees – whether it is in-person sessions, webinars, emails, texts, and videos.  It is important to employ multiple channels as each person learns and absorbs information differently.

It is also important to provide information that helps the employee understand the HSA plan options and the personal impact of them.  Therefore, it is critical to make the learning process as simple as possible for employees, providing the answers and insight they need the most.

We have found that chatbots are an effective way to answer employees’ questions about HSAs quickly and efficiently, which is critical during the busy enrollment period.

What are the other new technologies powering the HR solutions of tomorrow?

Truthfully, we will see more advanced evolutions of AI and machine learning technologies continue to dominate HR technology innovation.  Right now, we are using AI to help employees optimize their tax benefits and tax spending through their HSA accounts.

Several customers are already using the Bend HSA platform to learn more about individual behaviors and situations, predict outcomes and deliver expert advice to help employees better manage their health savings.

Our platform also leverages new advances in machine learning to recognize patterns and suggest optimizations. Other products on the market use AI to offer basic transactions such as transaction oversight, balance reporting, and calculators. But we have taken AI and machine learning in HR technology a big step forward.  We are using them to help HR teams provide ongoing education and guidance for workers – and we believe this is a major milestone.

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Why will HSAs continue to grow in popularity in the future? What are the top factors that will drive this demand?

The evolution of health care benefits is driving demand. Employers are looking for cost-effective solutions to provide quality coverage at an affordable price. And with HSA-compatible plans being more common-place, employers and employees are more accepting of this option.

HSAs are tax-advantaged savings accounts with an investment option designed to help employees with high-deductible health insurance plans save for their out-of-pocket medical expenses as well as better plan for retirement and overall financial wellness.  Contributions to HSAs are tax-deductible and employees can make withdrawals for healthcare expenses on a tax-free basis.

Essentially, contributions to HSAs are not subject to federal income tax and earnings in accounts grow tax-free while unspent money on HSAs rolls over at the end of the year, so it can be used for future health expenses. There is no “use it or lose it” aspect.

Employers also benefit from HSAs as they are very cost-effective to provide and dramatically improve employee retention and satisfaction as it is a very desirable benefit to provide.

Tell us about some upcoming HR Tech events you feel HR Tech/HR professionals shouldn’t give a miss in the coming year.

I find all of these events very valuable.  In the near term, we are looking at the BenefitsPRO Broker Expo and the Workplace Benefits Renaissance events. Of course, the SHRM-sponsored conferences are always worthwhile too.

What according to you are the top HR Tech Trends that will define 2020?

AI and machine learning will continue to dominate HR technology innovation in the year ahead.  Nearly all manual processes will evaporate leaving HR teams more time to spend on attracting and retaining the best talent.

We will also see other technology-enabled trends on the horizon.  Moving forward, we will see an increased emphasis on more personalized and customized employee benefits with companies willing to pay for different piecemeal benefits in order to keep employees happy.  And we will also see companies use AI to better predict how employee benefits should change as their employee base evolves with life changes.  For example, AI will be used to predict how employees will change their benefit options when their life priorities change with milestones like home-ownership, starting families, preparing more for retirement, etc.

What are some of the innovative ways in which companies can create a more compelling people/employee experience with the help of their HR Tech Stack?

We see forward-thinking HR teams and their companies automate many key benefits processes and use technology-enabled communication channels like chatbots to get relevant information to employees quickly and easily on a 24/7 basis.

We are also seeing more companies use technology to help employees make better, more informed choices about benefits and retirement plans.

Tag (or mention/write about) one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!

Walmart is an organization that I admire. They are transforming their business model and are exploring new approaches to benefits delivery. I would like to hear from their head of benefits what they are thinking. Walmart has such a large diversified workforce and they have been open to exploring new technologies and approaches.  I would like to understand what a large, sophisticated buyer of benefits is thinking.

Thanks a lot, Tom, for your valuable insights! Hope to see you back on TecHR Series soon.

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Bend Financial

Bend Financial is revolutionizing health savings accounts (HSAs). This Boston-based technology and services company provides HSA and financial wellness solutions to individuals, employers, and organizations in the group benefits distribution market. Bend’s innovative approach and is re-envisioning the user experience and the consumer’s relationship with their HSA, making the product attractive to all types of healthcare consumers.

Executive Leader with over 25 years of diversified leadership experience that excels in managing complex businesses.Highly capable senior executive with broad functional leadership experience in venture backed, private equity backed, and Fortune 500 organizations. Have held mulitple CEO and General Manager leadership positions with a track record of driving growth and turning around troubled organizations. Experience managing P&Ls of up to $150 million in revenue. Have led several successful business exits.
Key strengths include financial stewardship, leading sales and business development, driving product innovation, building strong customer relationships, and achieving technical and operational excellence. Broad experience managing geographically diverse organizations.