Applied AI Leader Instabase Pilots Newfront Benefit Assistant, Benji, Ahead of Open Enrollment

Newfront has piloted the AI-powered Benefits Assistant, Benji, with its client Instabase, a global technology company based in San Francisco that primarily works with financial institutions to automate and streamline workflows with AI through document analysis and processing tools. We met with Instabase to discuss the pilot and the efficiencies the Instabase team experienced.

Sidra Narvaez is an HR generalist at Instabase who, like a lot of HR professionals, wears many hats. Narvaez manages benefits for Instabase in the U.S. and leads and manages the company’s onboarding process. On top of that work, Narvaez oversees the company’s “Ask PoPs” Slack channel. She either answers HR and benefits questions directly or works with other People Ops team members to ensure timely responses. While relatively engaged during regular periods, the volume of employee benefit questions can become overwhelming during open enrollment, when queries not only rise in number but also become more probing and nuanced.

“It has always been especially difficult during this time to provide fast responses to complex questions, as well as to reassure employees that they have a go-to resource to help them understand and maximize their benefits,” said Narvaez.

Opportunity Knocks

When the company moved its benefits brokerage to Newfront, Narvaez’s team heard about Newfront’s Benji, a custom-built chat agent exclusively designed for Slack-enabled clients. Trained on a company’s benefits handbook and related documents, the application provides 24/7 responses via Slack. The HR team leaped at the opportunity to explore the possibilities of the application.

Newfront’s Paul Martinez, who was handling the Instabase account, introduced Sidra and her team to Newfront’s Senior Product Manager Sid Unnithan. Together Unnithan and Narvaez coordinated the creation of a product pilot, launching a limited Benji channel on Instabase’s Slack. The pilot was limited to the HR and benefits teams.

Benji has demonstrated its ability to save time and increase productivity, all while delivering quick and accurate answers to even the most difficult benefits questions.

Initial Outcomes

During the pilot, the Instabase teams have been impressed with the ability of Benji to swiftly and accurately answer nuanced benefits questions, but also point them to the sections of their benefits guide that specifically address their question. Employees not only would get a quick and accurate answer but also become more familiar with their benefits handbook. Likewise, Narvaez and Unnithan worked with the team to ensure that Benji never exceeded the scope of its training. Across the pilot, the assistant did not answer questions it didn’t have a clear answer for; in each of those instances, it referred the questioner back to the PoPs team itself, which could manually resolve the query.

The team also realized that automating benefits answers would save them an enormous amount of time. This would free up the team for more strategic work including broader employee engagement strategies, working with internal teams to evolve and create new policies, conducting new vendor research, widening the scope of individual team roles, and more. From a productivity standpoint, as well as providing timely and accurate answers, Benji had passed the test.

One challenge the Instabase team uncovered during the pilot was the need to discreetly address its globally dispersed workforce. With teams in more than four countries on three continents, each team has a slightly different benefits program each of which is subject to a different regulatory environment. The solution the Newfront and Instabase team arrived at is straightforward: create regional Slack channels with a Benji trained exclusively for each global office.

Future Focused

Narvaez is enthusiastic about the future potential for applications like Benji and sees a broader role for AI tools. “I can envision tools like the Benefits Assistant working alongside our Benefits team to help us make operational and business decisions. For instance, AI might help us examine the shortcomings of a benefits program, identify high-impact elements of the program, and determine what parts of the plan are highly utilized. These kinds of insights would better equip us to make data-driven decisions moving forward.”

For now, Narvaez is excited about the company-wide launch of Benji in January and replacing the manually operated “Ask PoPs” Slack channel with Benji channel. From there, the Newfront and Instabase teams will begin development of the regional network of Benefits Assistants and the global expansion of the program.

It’s worth noting that the AI-powered Benji is an enhancement to Newfront’s service agreement with Slack-enabled clients and is offered at no additional cost. Read more about Benji in our latest case study.

The Author

Newfront is a modern brokerage transforming the risk management, business insurance, total rewards, and retirement services space through the combination of elite expertise and cutting-edge technology. Specializing in more than 20 industries and headquartered in San Francisco, Newfront has offices nationwide and is home to more than 800 employees serving organizations across the United States and globally.

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