As subscribers to the T3 Technology Hub are no doubt aware, I believe that investment selection and portfolio construction, services that advisors were once richly rewarded for providing, are rapidly becoming commoditized. Yes, there are a minority of firms with true investment expertise that can add value in these areas, but for the clear majority of advisors, that ship has already sailed. Furthermore, competition from new competitors is causing margins to compress. At the same time, clients are becoming more discriminative and price conscious.
These circumstances lead me to two rather obvious conclusions:
1) Advisors must maximize efficiencies and scalability to compete in the future
2) Advisors need to add new services that clients perceive as valuable
Here at T3, we spend most of our time addressing the efficiencies and scalability that good technology can provide, but we’ve spent a bit more time lately thinking about the expansion of service offerings. A few years ago, I wrote several articles about the value of providing robust, personalized Social Security claiming strategies, and many advisors have had enormous success hosting Social Security Claiming strategy seminars for lead generation, as well as serving clients with detailed Social Security planning. All baby boomers need this service, and the fruits of your labor are easy to quantify for the client.
More recently, I’ve written about how the intersection of healthcare and finance presents a vast opportunity to enlightened financial professionals. Whealthcare, a new application that I favorably reviewed recently, provides advisors with the tools they need to help clients deal with the many challenging issues that clients face as they age.
i65 (www.i65.com), an application that I recently previewed, strikes me as one that has many of the appeals to advisors that Social Security planning has, while dealing with some complex health related issues, as Whealthcare does. That said, this is a unique offering that does not overlap with either of the above-mentioned applications.
MEDICARE ENROLLMENT UNIVERSAL NEED FOR BOOMERS
Medicare enrollment is something that almost every baby boomer will need to deal with, and the data I’ve seen indicates that they are woefully unprepared to deal with it well. The data I’ve seen also appears to indicate that roughly 50% of the advisor population has at least some gaps in their Medicare enrollment education, so a software application such as i65 is sorely needed within the advisor community. With approximately 3.6 million Americans turning age 65 each year, and given the fact that a Medicare enrollment mistake can potentially cost an individual thousands of dollars a year for the rest of their lives, the need and opportunity for advisors is enormous.
i65 grew out of Sixty-Five Incorporated, a consulting firm that provides unbiased, personalized, one-on-one Medicare guidance to consumers. Over time, they have come to realize that the consulting model has limitations with regard to scale, so they developed a software application. This application empowers financial advisors to provide Medicare enrollment advice to their clients at scale.
To understand the value of i65, you first need to understand the six steps of Medicare planning:
There are various tools available to help with steps 3-6, however there are no tools available to help with steps 1 and 2; that’s where i65 comes in. They provide a wizard that helps clients make intelligent choices regarding steps 1 and 2. It also provides educational materials to help with decision making during steps 3 through 6.
The timing of when to enroll for Medicare seems straightforward, but that is not always the case. The general rule is that you should apply for Medicare from three months before you attain age 65 to three months after. Miss the deadline for enrolling in Part B, and you could end up paying a surcharge for the rest of your life. The penalties can be steep. The late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B is 10% for each year you fail to enroll. The penalty for late enrollment for Part D is 1% per month. Many people believe that if they are still employed at age 65 that they do not need to enroll in Medicare. That may or may not be true. Those that make mistakes tend to make expensive ones. So, timing enrollment correctly is critical.
Another area of confusion is whether to choose traditional Medicare, a program administered by the Federal government, or Medicare Advantage, administered by a private insurance company. Clients that choose the government coverage generally should opt for Medigap coverage to pay to deductibles and other assorted items that Medicare does not cover.
At first glance, Advantage plans look like the better deal to many individuals because they appear to be comprehensive. There may be low or no deductibles. They may include drug coverage, as well as dental and vision coverage. The trade-off for these packages is more rules: you can only go to network doctors; the list of approved drugs covered under the plan may be more limited; you may need pre-approval for various procedures, etc.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PATH
In 47 states, when you choose a path, you are limited in how you can change it. If a client starts off on the government path, and wants to later switch to the private path, they can usually do so during the appropriate enrollment period. On the other hand, if they want to change from private to public, it can prove costly. That’s because in the first year you can enroll in a Medigap plan with guaranteed enrollment and no individual underwriting. If a client switches back later, they can be denied Medigap coverage, or they can be underwritten at such a high premium that it becomes unaffordable.
There are numerous other issues that can trip up a Medicare enrollee, but I think I’ve made the point that this is complex.
i65 takes the client through a set of questions that helps them navigate this maze. It is recommended that the advisor perform this task with the client, but it is possible to permit clients to do it on their own. Based upon a client’s unique circumstances, the application will create a report with a recommended enrollment time period and a recommended path. The report also includes start specific guides for picking Medigap plans, videos to help clients pick the best Part D or Medicare Advantage Plans, comparison guides for those who have the option of keeping current coverage or switching to Medicare, and calculators/resources to help educate clients about the potential impact of the income related monthly adjustment amount (IRMAA).
IMPROVEMENTS THAT COULD BE MADE
There are a few areas where i65 can be improved, but they are not deal breakers. For example, it would be great to have a database of rates by state so that clients can get an approximate range of costs for the various types of plans. There are other usability tweaks that would help further. It would also be nice to see them extend the utility of the software to get into actual product selection. Integration with CRM applications could help automatically trigger reminders to review Medicare planning when appropriate. Integration with financial planning software would help advisors better estimate real health costs during retirement.
i65 currently charges on a per use basis, so you only pay for clients you perform enrollment planning for. A firm that has 16 clients to plan for in a year would pay approximately $799 for the software promotional materials, a client presentation, and more. They also get a 20% discount to the Medicare consulting services of 65 Incorporated when and if needed.
I believe that i65 will make an excellent addition to the advisor toolkit, and while there is room for improvement, i65 currently is a unique application that addresses a real need in a meaningful way. Every advisor should be providing Medicare enrollment advice, and i65 helps advisors automate and streamline the process.