How to get the most from your employee benefits adviser

“What is interesting about the employee benefits brokerage and consulting business, different than other professional services, is the lack of transparency and understanding around the scope of services and associated fees. As the marketplace evolves, I believe employers will begin engaging brokers in the ‘value conversation’ around their services rather than just the insurance rates they’re able to deliver,” says Joe Roberts, area vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“Many of them are satisfied with their relationship because they don’t know what they don’t know,” Roberts says.

Because many employee benefits brokers don’t disclose their fees, employers don’t know the true value of what they’re getting.

“When it comes to compensation and value, don’t be afraid to bring it up,” he says. “To me, it makes good business sense.”

Smart Business spoke with Roberts about evaluating the quality of service you get from your employee benefits adviser.

How important is service when it comes to your benefits adviser?

The employee benefits brokerage business model has gone through a transformation over the past decade. Historically, the broker focused on the annual renewal, plan design and insurance placement; now shopping the plans and delivering spreadsheets is a relatively small part of what benefits advisers do for their customers.

A top-tier benefits adviser functions as an extension of the HR and finance teams, providing expertise and related services. By spreading the investment across its clients, brokerage firms have the scale to hire subject matter experts in areas such as compliance, communications, wellbeing and engagement, and employee advocacy — and the good ones make this investment.

Best-in-class advisers will branch out further, to help employers understand how benefits fit into the organization’s overall value proposition to its employees. They might provide services like professional and organizational development, advice around technology, outsourced benefits administration or total rewards compensation modeling.

How can you tell if you are underserved?

In today’s world, selling insurance is a relatively small part of what an adviser does. If you’re working with someone who you feel is here to ‘sell’ you something, you’re probably being underserved.

The adviser should understand your business and your workforce, how employees are paid and how the benefits fit into the overall compensation package. Their services should be proactive, and they should be providing thought leadership focused on helping your organization grow.

Is it important to have an adviser familiar with your industry?

There is value in understanding the industry, especially if you’re looking for someone to help with your human capital investment or total rewards program. What do you need from your workforce? What challenges do you have in recruiting/retaining the type of talent you want? What competition is in the market for that talent?

A good adviser will know the market and the competition, in order to help your company have the advantage in finding top talent. A young person out of college or someone with several years of experience will have different needs. You want to ensure your benefits and compensation package align with the needs of your workforce.

How often should you evaluate your adviser?

There’s nothing wrong with having a long-term relationship with your employee benefits brokerage firm as long as the relationship is vibrant. Like any relationship, things can get stale if the client is taken for granted. The consultant needs to provide thought leadership to challenge the status quo and educate the employer on what is out there and how it relates to their objectives.

Services need to be proactive and relevant to the employer’s specific needs. Every company is unique with different business challenges, workforce demographics and philosophies. The servicing team needs to be aware and sensitive of changes in things like demographics — how you communicate to a group of Generation Xers is different from how you’d communicate with millennials.

If you don’t feel you’re getting thought leadership and proactive service, it’s time for a broker request for proposal.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.