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Saving for Sickness and Health

Lively offers a fresh take on Health Savings Accounts.

Amit Ahluwalia of Lively

For people on high-deductible health plans, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can be the difference between being unable to afford treatment and getting the care they need. Unfortunately, fees, a general lack of flexibility, and difficult-to-navigate processes make some wary of investing in HSAs. 

Lively is changing that.

Founded in 2016 by Shobin Uralil and Alex Cyriac, Lively offers a modern and user-friendly HSA experience. Founders and friends Uralil and Cyriac realized the necessity of personal HSAs after dealing with unexpected medical bills for both their families.

Both had also worked in benefits before launching Lively, so they knew what wasn’t working for people—and they knew what needed to change.

A Different Kind of HSA

While an HSA through Lively shares some qualities with other versions of Health Savings Accounts, Lively CRO Amit Ahluwalia says the experience for users is incredibly different.

“Think of this analogy,” Ahluwalia says. “Lively built the first smartphone while the competitors were still using flip phones.”

Through its user-friendly mobile interface, transparent or nonexistent fees, and flexible investing options, Lively has changed expectations of what an HSA can be.

“One of the most common pain points we hear is people getting nickel-and-dimed trying to invest their own money and use it for health care,” Ahluwalia says. “Because of the tools we offer, more employees are able to participate and earn more money, while also providing employers with higher tax savings.”

For individuals, Lively costs nothing. For employers, it costs about $2.95 per employee per month.

Most HSA companies offer the options of keeping savings in cash, putting it in a savings account, or purchasing CDs. Lively offers investment opportunities starting with the first dollar through partnerships with TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, and Devenir. This offers employees more options for growing their health savings, giving them additional control over their funds.

Expanded Offerings

The Alliance, a national missionary nonprofit, has been working with Lively to offer its employees HSAs since 2019.

Curtis Farmer, executive director of Alliance Benefits, says he has heard zero complaints from the nonprofit’s 700-plus HSA users since making the switch to Lively.

“When we were first onboarding, Lively went out of their way to treat our company like it mattered,” Farmer says. “They invited me to San Francisco to meet with the founders, which was huge since we were used to being treated like small fish in a big pond with national banks.”

Ultimately, The Alliance chose Lively because of its user-friendly experience. Farmer said he appreciated its U.S.-based customer service and the ability for employees to switch to an individual account at no cost if they’re no longer employed by The Alliance.

As Lively has grown over the past seven years, it has expanded beyond HSAs. It also offers COBRA coverage, lifestyle savings, Flexible Spending Accounts, and Health Reimbursement Arrangements. Through this wide array of offerings, Lively helps employers create the best health savings plans for their teams.

Often Replicated, Never Duplicated

Since its founding, a handful of other companies have followed Lively’s modern take on HSAs. 

“We know that others in the industry may follow our model,” Ahluwalia says. “Ultimately, our partnerships with TD Ameritrade, Schwab, and other financial institutions set us apart.”

Lively also focuses heavily on educating account holders, offering different ways people can learn about their investment options. Whether someone prefers to absorb information by reading or listening, Ahluwalia says Lively offers tools to accommodate different learning styles.

When it comes to customer service, Lively only employs U.S.-based service representatives and measures success based on feedback rather than call times. Customer service might not sound exciting, but it’s one of the main differentiators between Lively and its competitors.

“Before I came to Lively, I was leading employee benefits at a brokerage firm,” Ahluwalia says. “The No. 1 issue I saw was people facing atrocious wait times, apathetic representatives on the phone, and an overall low level of service from benefit account administrators. Some of the members in our industry believe they can improve profitability by not investing in great service, but that was just an opportunity for someone like Lively to come in and solve that problem.”

Lively’s top success metric is maintaining a net promoter score of 70 or higher, something Ahluwalia says is essential in the company’s field.

One of the biggest challenges Lively faces is getting its name out there. Once the company has an opportunity to present its products, Ahluwalia says, it usually gains a new customer. The challenge comes from being able to get in front of employers who want the Lively experience for their teams.

“A lot of people don’t know there is someone out there like us,” he says.

Taking Control of Health Care Costs

One of Lively’s investors is Saad Siddiqui, a general partner at Telstra Ventures. Siddiqui bonded with Uralil and Cyriac over unanticipated medical expenses that were overwhelming their families.

“It has been an honor to see how mission-driven they and their teams are to provide the best ways to help families like ours nationally,” he says.

While those shared experiences provided a foundation for their partnership, Siddiqui says Telstra ultimately invested in Lively because it offered the best product and team in the HSA industry.

“As the cost of health care increases across the U.S., consumers will need to take control and start planning for their long-term health care expenses,” Siddiqui says. “Health care costs are the No. 1 reason for the highest volume of bankruptcies across the U.S., and HSAs are the primary way consumers can start saving long term.”

By continuing to provide its members with excellent customer service, low fees, and an easy-to-use portal, Lively is on track to hit $1 billion in assets under management. And Ahluwalia says they’re outpacing legacy HSA providers “because individuals usually choose Lively if they’re given the option.”

What began as an individual-only HSA company is now in the business-to-business space and working within that network to solve problems for employers and employees.

“Now people can find us through their employers instead of just one by one,” Ahluwalia says.

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