Vitech Talks: The Podcast
Episode 2 | State of the Public Pension Industry
Our guest, Bryce Haws, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Linea Solutions, discusses the state of the Public Pension Industry and how post-pandemic changes are having a positive impact on technology and digital self-service. Listen in and learn how pension systems are adapting.
Transcript of the State of the Industry: Public Pension Market
Steve Brandt: Hello, everyone. And welcome to another episode of Vitech Talks: The Podcast. I’m Steve Brandt, your host, back again for our second episode and looking forward to it. A little bit about myself. I’ve been with Vitech for over eight years and spent a whole career in insurance technology. So we’ll talk a little bit about insurance technology, but today, we’ve got a great session because we have a great guest in Bryce Haws, and we’re going to be talking about the public pension market. Bryce is an expert in the public pension market. He represents a company called Linea Solutions, Inc., and he is their senior vice president of sales and marketing. And he’s been with Linea for over 10 years. He’s been 30 years in the public pension space, and 40 years in the technology space, so we couldn’t have gotten a more qualified candidate to interview. Linea specializes in the management and technology consulting arena for pension health and insurance markets, both here in the U.S. and in Canada.
So Bryce, I want to welcome you to the show. It’s great to have you aboard and I’m seeing you, so I’m going to say great to see you. I know the listeners can’t see you, but welcome, and really quickly, Bryce, before we get into some of the details that we’re going to cover today, could you just give a quick overview of the public pension market? It’s just something I think the audience, if they’re not keenly in tune with the market, would be interesting for them to hear.
Bryce Haws: Sure, Steve. Thanks and happy to be here today. The public pension market is comprised of cities, counties, and states that have pension funds. They are governed by either state or city law, not by ERISA. And so those are the guiding principles on how these funds work together.
Steve Brandt: Very interesting. So unlike the private markets where ERISA plays a big role in the public space, they’re guided by their own pension contracts. Is that what you’re saying?
Bryce Haws: Exactly.
Steve Brandt: Excellent. All right. And how does Linea help the market?
Bryce Haws: We are really business and technology consultants. We help funds really become more efficient either through business processing improvements and that sort of thing, or with software enhancements in projects that enable the fund to be more efficient and use technology to enable them to provide better service.
Steve Brandt: Yeah. And I know you guys have been in business quite some time. How long has Linea working in the space?
Bryce Haws: Linea has been here 23 years.
Steve Brandt: Wow. That’s a long time. And I’ve known you, Bryce, now for quite some time. And I know you guys do great work in that market and are a leader in the space, so congratulations to you and the team.
Bryce Haws: Thank you.
Steve Brandt: All right. So now we’re going to get into some real good meaty public pension talk, Bryce. And we can’t really ask any questions about any market or anybody’s business these days without asking, how did the pandemic affect the market? How did the pandemic affect the business? And a lot of times what we hear certainly pervasively across all markets is it’s really kind of changing the way people work. Right?
Bryce Haws: Exactly. So let me bring up a few points. Basically, it changed the whole regular business. Pension funds have always had business continuity plans and hot sites and that sort of thing, but these things rarely got used in reality. All of a sudden, everybody had to be out of the office. And so it goes from how you do business, where the hardware is, network security, all of that changed basically overnight and funds were not really ready for this. And so it’s a change management project in reality, in terms of helping the org go from…
Steve Brandt: I mean, public pension funds really weren’t known for their technology prowess, right? So this has been a real big change for them.
Bryce Haws: Yes, Steve, they all worked in the office though. They all came into the office and worked and I think that’s the big thing. So basically what we had to do is with their regular business, with any projects, they’re doing software upgrades, enhancements, training, anything that they did, the majority of it was really done on site. And so they had to learn how to do it offsite. That means they had to buy laptops for everybody. A regular fund might have laptops for the management, but the regular staff did not have laptops or a computer even. So they had to buy the hardware to work. They then had to, since then everybody’s working from home, they’re using their own networks. They had to find a safe way to use those networks. So they had to create VPNs for everything and then just processes and procedures. They had to change to work remotely, but they did. I think they did it in a two- to three-month period, which is pretty amazing if you think about it.
Steve Brandt: Absolutely amazing. It’s just amazing how all industries adapted to the new reality. I mean, they couldn’t stop being a business, so they had to just do it, right? And I think public pensions were no different and probably a bigger lift for them than most industries. And so now they have people all over the globe working from beaches like everybody else. They’ve got all the influencers out there in the public pension space, telling everybody they’re on the beach in Cancun doing their work, right?
Bryce Haws: They can work remotely. And I think if you look at the long-lasting effect of this is [that] people don’t all want to go in for five days of work anymore in the office, they want to use some sort of hybrid. And in doing that, they’re looking at the model of what day should everybody be in there and what are the floating days that you can work remotely. So they’re working this sort of thing out right now, but I don’t think everybody’s going to be going back into the office for five days a week. That is gone.
Steve Brandt: Yeah. I’ve been to a lot of conferences that talk about the future of work and the studies that are being done out there are incredible. But one thing is for sure [that] the future of work has changed. And I think we’re all feeling that, that’s great. So I’m going to switch gears on you a little bit and talk about, not unrelated, but certainly a little bit different, digital self-service in today’s pension fund market. And particularly, I think traditionally you’ve had a lot of… I mean, it is a retiree business. So you have a lot of [the] older population trying to use technology. And now certainly with the pandemic and with the advent of more customer-centric servicing and self-service and digital tools, that can pose some interesting challenges for public pensions, correct?
Bryce Haws: Yeah. I think the issue is each generation. They learn new ways to do things, and the poor generation that are the retirees, they’re left trying to figure out how the new ways work and this is going to happen forever. So a lot of the current issues I believe will be resolved in the next 10 years as the new generation starts retiring more and more, but there are going to be new issues. There’s going to be cybersecurity. There’s going to be hacks. There’s going to be new devices and people are going to have to use those. And I think if you really look at what’s going on out in the future with the metaverse, the social media in the future, you might be able to have a counseling session in the metaverse with the counselor and be able to understand. That’s all [the] things people are going to have to learn. So I think there has to be a learning environment, no matter what, but things are going to change. And it’s figuring out how to keep the retired generation still communicating and understanding the service and benefits they’re getting.
Steve Brandt: I love the fact that you’re talking about the metaverse, Bryce. That is just amazing. I sat on a panel a couple months ago in the insurance sector and I brought up the fact that the metaverse could be a big part of the future. And my panelists laughed at me during the preparation. So to see you talking about it here in the public pension markets kind of warms my heart because I do think this. We can’t ignore these types of technologies. They’re going to have usefulness for us.
Bryce Haws: Yeah. I think it’s the way to learn and the way to educate people. And there are so many more creative ways. A perfect example of moving from the past is with physical checks. Pension funds all used to send physical checks to people. Then they went to bank accounts, transfer of funds. But there still seemed [to be] a few people that don’t fit that for [different] reasons, they don’t have a bank account, they don’t have internet access. They live in a foreign country. So I think we’re going to have to keep in touch with a little bit of the old ways, but for a call center, the focus will change and it will be able to be much smaller.
Steve Brandt: Yeah. Agreed. And I think so much of it is about what they say, omnichannel, right? Being able to meet the individual where they need to be met and giving them the digital tools can make it a lot easier for them and for the fund, right? But being able to respond with, or even anticipate the need to respond with a human being at the right time for those more complicated items, whether it be training them on the tool or whether it be helping them through a complex, maybe emotional transaction, those are important. And I don’t think it will ever go away. Excellent.
Well, we talked about that and you mentioned, in talking about technology, you mentioned some things, you know, cybersecurity, I think being a big one, and just the proliferation of technology across the need that’s out there. But, you know, ransomware. As these funds get more sophisticated and use technology more, they have to be, I would say, one of the attractive targets for bad actors with ransomware. Can you speak a little bit about the challenge market’s been having?
Bryce Haws: Pension funds definitely are viewed as having a lot of money that people want to get at through a variety of ways. And so ransomware is one way, and that does happen in the market today and there’s insurance for that. But that insurance is kind of all over the place too, in terms of trying to understand the liability. But I view in general, four or five areas funds… are trying to do to protect in the cybersecurity world. One is that they use, and I think everybody’s going to use multifactor authentication. It’s just a very simple way, but it really can prevent a lot of people being hacked and changing addresses and that sort of thing. Most organizations are now hiring. They’re called the CISO, the Chief Information Security Officer. That is really a position and a role responsible for security, and it covers a large gamut of activities.
And so there’s [also] a thing now called the VCISO (Virtual Chief Information Security Officer) in which organizations outsource particular pieces of that work to make sure they have a robust team to cover it. All organizations really are expected to have a cybersecurity plan and audit to make sure they understand their strong and weak points, as well as what are they doing about it. These plans are usually based upon a framework like NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and then a lot of training for staff. That’s the last thing. Most of these hacks that get in are from staff, right? They’re clicking on a link or that sort of thing. And so you have to train staff on social engineering awareness and in preventing phishing and that sort of thing to let those bad actors in.
Steve Brandt: That’s all…it’s really interesting. And what do you see in the cloud? Because the cloud now I think is becoming pervasive in the market as well, more and more [funds are] going to the cloud. How does that help with the security issues that they’re trying to deal with? Are they recognizing that the cloud is helpful or hurtful?
Bryce Haws: That’s a great question. And in terms of what pension funds want to outsource from a work efficiency, from a security point of view, and all these things to help them run an efficient organization. And eight or nine years ago, most pension funds did not want to outsource their hardware. They wanted it in the building to protect it. Well, that’s very much changed, especially with the advent of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and those others, I think. And I refer to those as the public cloud now, as opposed to companies [that] also have their own clouds that they can outsource work to. But I think the view is now [that] the fund wants to have at least their hardware on the cloud, because it’s the safest place in the world to have the hardware. It’s the easiest to prevent from being hacked. The question now is if you take it one step further though. Okay, you have my hardware now in the cloud, but what about the software and what about the data, does that go into a general multitenant area or does it go, do I still want my own instances? So these are the next grounds breaking that are coming along, in terms of the hardware’s been outsourced. Now what about the software and now what about the data?
Steve Brandt: That’s a great response, Bryce. And certainly we’re seeing people recognize that they can stay ahead of the bad guys more easily when they have a partner like an AWS or a Microsoft Azure or something like that as their partner, [rather] than trying to go at it alone. And I think that’s really the bottom line. Well, Bryce, this has been fantastic. You’ve certainly delivered for us here in talking about the public pension space. I think our audience will really appreciate the wise words that you have brought to the show. It’s always great to see you, my friend. And thank you so much for joining.
Bryce Haws: Thanks for asking me to participate.
Steve Brandt: Anytime!
That was great, [a] very informative talk about the public pension market. Now, personally, I have a new segment here that we’re doing called the “Brandt Rant.” That’s me, Brandt. And I’m going to rant about something hopefully interesting and entertaining every time we do a podcast, and today I want to talk about beards, yes, men’s beards. I, for the first time, grew a beard. I was very intrigued with what was going on out there and noticing in the past 10 years how popular beards have become. So I wanted in on the action. I have to be honest about it and kind of see it for myself, what it was all about. And I kept it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction I’ve gotten. But I still can’t understand it. It’s a simple thing. You grow hair on your face and everybody seems to love it. They’re very popular. And it hasn’t always been that way. So that’s my rant. I’m trying to figure out what it is about beards that make them so popular to everyone now, including myself. Thank you for listening. You’ll hear me again at the next Vitech Talks: The Podcast.