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Charleston software firm Benefitfocus breaks into gig economy, striking a deal with Shipt

Shipt (copy)

Contractors for the grocery shopping and delivery service Shipt can now buy insurance and other benefits through a Charleston company's technology platform. File/Provided

Charleston-based cloud software company Benefitfocus hopes to add thousands of customers to its platform by opening up to workers in the gig economy.

Shipt, a grocery shopping and delivery service owned by retail giant Target, is first out of the chute, according to an announcement last week. It recently struck an agreement to allow its contractors to buy benefits using the Daniel Island firm's technology, Benefitfocus executives said Wednesday.

On BenefitsPlace, the goods and services that can be purchased range from medical plans to pet insurance.

"We think that's a growing opportunity in our platform," Benefitfocus finance chief Stephen Swad said during a conference call with analysts and investors. "We'll serve that group well."

CEO Ray August said the the company's gig worker target audience will include contract workers, freelancers and consultants.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2018 estimated about 36 percent of American workers have a gig-related job, meaning they work as an independent contractor for app-based service companies such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and Postmates.

Benefitfocus makes its money by taking a cut of any benefit sales transactions on its platform. So the more buyers it can recruit, the more revenue it can bring in.

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The company started out offering an online software service that workers can use to sign up for and manage their on-the-job benefits. That makes this time of year a busy period because of the annual open-enrollment window. 

Benenfitfocus has changed its strategy in a handful of ways in 2019. It has sought to strengthen its relationship with brokers who sell health insurance to employers, for instance. Swad said the number of middlemen using the platform spiked from a few dozen last year to roughly 700 at the end of the third quarter.

Benefitfocus has also added more products to its platform to attract more users, he added. It announced the addition of renters insurance to the platform in late October. And in the spring, Benefitfocus said it would add auto coverage.

Benefitfocus, which went public in 2013, still hasn't turned a bottom-line profit. Last week, its third-quarter loss widened by about $1 million to $12.6 million compared to the same period in 2018. Revenue was up a strong 17.5 percent to $71.7 million.

 

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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