[On-Demand Video] Rise of the Open Employment Ecosystem: Solving the Connectivity Challenges in HR, Benefits, and Fintech

May 10, 2024
0 min read
Watch the on-demand recording of our live conversation with the former head of engineering at Gusto on solving connectivity challenges in HR benefits and fintech.
Table of Contents

Read the highlights of the conversation between Finch's CEO and Gusto's former head of engineering on solving connectivity challenges in HR, benefits, and fintech.

Today, the employment ecosystem is very fragmented and siloed, and developers across HR tech, employee benefits, and fintech face significant hurdles when it comes to building integrations. As the #1 Unified Employment API, Finch’s mission is to create a more accessible and connected infrastructure that will allow all of these systems to share data seamlessly, similar to the way Open Finance has unleashed a new era of innovation in fintech. We call this the Open Employment Ecosystem.

On May 9th, Finch hosted a webinar with two employment technology leaders: our CEO Jeremy Zhang and Nimrod Hoofien, former Head of Engineering at Gusto. The conversation centered around the need for greater connectivity between technologies in the employment sector, the challenges these software providers face in building those integrations, and the new solutions that are emerging to create a more unified, accessible future of employment data.

Watch the fireside chat on-demand now, or read the recap below!

Webinar recap: A Q&A with Jeremy Zhang and Nimrod Hoofien

How has the employment industry evolved in terms of connectivity and related technologies over the years?

Nimrod: The world's getting more complex. Earlier, everything revolved around one big HRIS like Workday and applications were built around that one product. But that kind of old-school monolithic approach just doesn't cut it anymore.

First of all, offering a best-in-class product today requires high levels of customization and capabilities to support different and unique use cases. Flexibility is key; staying ahead means being able to listen to the market and constantly add to the capabilities. 

In addition, the days of connecting systems through hefty databases are gone. Now, different systems hold different data, each crucial to supporting specific use cases. This means being able to work with API connectivity and integrations is no longer optional. It’s a must.

Jeremy: In the last few years, connectivity has taken the central stage in sectors like fintech. In employment tech, while many providers agree that greater connectivity would benefit everyone involved, most don’t know how to build integrations using APIs. That’s where we at Finch saw a need for a unified employment API: something that makes life easier for providers by simplifying API integrations and helping them easily share data with the other point solutions that employers use for employee benefits, engagement, financial planning, and so on.

How can APIs help address scalability issues in connectivity?

Jeremy: The problem with scaling API connections is twofold: the employment tech market is highly fragmented with tens of thousands of providers, including payroll, HRIS, time and attendance, benefits administration, and more. Here, hundreds of millions of dollars move each year through CSV uploads, SFTP, and EDI file feeds, or simply by manual operations. Plus, the cost of setting up SFTP, downloading and verifying data files is quite high. With APIs, we can bring these costs down to make the process more efficient and encourage innovation. Having standardization or a unified API allows developers to build API integrations without dealing with different data models from thousands of providers.

Nimrod: Jeremy is spot on. APIs are complex, and the specialization needed to build highly personalized use cases takes time. A good developer knows that they cannot build for everyone and serve all the tens of thousands of different use cases possible. As a result, they’re forced to rely on other people’s products to offer all the capabilities without draining in-house resources. 

How do providers use APIs in this space? How did embracing integrations help Gusto to grow?

Nimrod: For providers, three kinds of API matter the most. First, they need to access functionalities from other systems to expand their offerings without building themselves. Gusto used integrations to build capabilities that they didn’t want to build in-house like time-tracking, 401(k), and more. Even when you want to eventually build those capabilities yourself, using integrations can give you a time-to-market advantage. 

Another advantage of integrations is when you want to add long-tail offerings that are too small to scale. However, there are some applications that want to serve these niche use cases. You need to allow these developers to use your capabilities to build their own products with a low touch from you. That was the basis of Gusto’s extensive partner program

And lastly, you can benefit from integrations by taking your core offering and making it available to other big providers who don’t want to build everything themselves. That’s how Gusto’s embedded payroll offering came to be. 

There’s a huge benefit to being able to build with other people’s APIs and allow others to use yours. This enabled Gusto to offer 401(k) products they would’ve never been able to build from scratch. Allowing others to use its payroll API also allowed Gusto to serve edge cases across industries. 

What’s preventing the wider adoption of APIs in the payroll space? 

Jeremy: There are two issues here. The first is that there’s a widely accepted status quo in this industry when it comes to sending files. Most applications still use emails or SFTP, even when they aren’t secure enough to send PII data. But payroll is a highly regulated industry, and it has a complex infrastructure—so unless something absolutely needs to change, people don’t want to mess around with what’s working underneath. 

The other factor is that adopting an API strategy requires a huge technical lift, especially when you haven’t built your backend infrastructure to support this. 

Nimrod: Absolutely! The technical difficulties of building API integrations are huge. You need to be careful about who gets access to your data and test their reliability and performance because the security risks and the cost of slip-ups are high in this space. 

For example, if you allow an application to make changes to your census data, you need to trust that it’s going to be correct. In short, you need to carefully design your APIs and create clear support guidelines in case an issue arises. Tools like Finch are great in this context because they take much of these considerations away from providers. 

What are some of the emerging technologies that are making connectivity easier?

Jeremy: When we consider new technologies, we need to first acknowledge the need for standardization across the employment industry. Finch is primed to solve this. We standardize the data from hundreds of different systems into common fields so applications can use a single data model. We understand the complexities and regulations within the industry and have created an infrastructure that allows applications to build products without worrying about the details. 

We’re also building a strong partnership network with top providers to offer instant access to application developers. We offer extensive documentation, a sandbox environment, and developer experience tools to make it easy for developers to build with Finch. We also add a strong authentication layer to make it easier for employers to grant granular access to applications so data is protected and safe. 

For partners, we meet them where they are. We work hand-in-hand with these providers to help them structure and release their APIs, or if they aren’t ready to build APIs, we connect to their SFTP and EDI file feeds and convert the data into a standard format to make sure the entire industry is moving towards this API connectivity. 

Nimrod: Spot on! APIs are pretty nuanced, and data standardization is key. Banking used to have the same problem, and Plaid helped them use a common universal language. Finch is doing the same for payroll. They’re reducing the effort to normalize data from various systems.

How does the Open Employment Ecosystem benefit systems of record, third-party applications, and employers?

Nimrod: It’s a win-win-win for all parties involved. 

The best developers are the laziest. They focus on tasks that add value to the product and avoid work that doesn’t. Reproducing what other people have already done and reinventing the wheel is just useless for them. So, for developers, API connectivity offered by the Open Employment Ecosystem is a clear win.

For partners, one of the biggest challenges is to assess the effectiveness of a partnership deal in the beginning. There’s no way we can predict which partnerships will succeed and which won’t. The resistance to invest heavily in partnerships is low due to risk aversion. If you can lower the integration cost to close to zero, you can integrate more partners at a much lower risk. 

For employers, the Open Employment Ecosystem will bring more options to choose the best tools for their needs. An open market will benefit the players that offer the most value, make the employment market more efficient, and allow all players to access equal information.

Jeremy: Yeah, Nimrod explained it perfectly. I’d only add that in the future, there will be even more parties that stand to benefit from the Open Employment Ecosystem, from healthcare providers to local governments that want to understand how the state of employment is shifting over time. 

There are so many ways that democratized access to employee data can benefit not just the employment industry, but all of us—everyone who is employed.

97% of HR professionals say it’s important for your app to integrate with their employment systems

Learn more in our State of Employment Technology report ->

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