Add value to your employee benefits with life and disability

Accident and tragedy are two things no employer wants to see for employees.

“Disability products and life insurance give employees peace of mind, knowing they have financial support in the event of unforeseen circumstances,” says Chuck Whitford, consultant at JRG Advisors. “They also give employers peace of mind in knowing that they help protect their employees. Ancillary benefits can even help businesses recruit and retain the best employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Whitford about how life insurance and disability coverages benefit employers and their employees.

Why should employers consider getting a disability plan?

According to the Council for Disability Awareness, every 7 seconds someone in the U.S. suffers an illness, injury or accident that will keep them out of work for more than one month. For individuals out of work for three months or more, the average time off of work due to a disability averages 2.6 years. That’s 136 weeks without a paycheck.

The cost of implementing a long-term disability plan is relatively small. For most business owners, the problem escalates as the owner tries to satisfy the current work demand and take care of the disabled employee. Providing long-term disability coverage is also valuable to employees — buying coverage on their own can cost as much as an entire group account because of stringent underwriting. Plus, the program can be structured so that the premiums are deducted as a business expense, but benefits can be received on an income tax-free basis.

What’s the difference between short-term and long-term disability?

Short-term disability fills the gap between day one of disability and when the long-term benefits kick in. Typically, a short-term disability contract covers the first 13 or 26 weeks of disability. Unfortunately, many people live paycheck to paycheck. Short-term disability can benefit those lacking sufficient savings.

Long-term disability is usually fully insured, with the exception of extremely large employers that self-fund the benefit. For most employers, the cost is determined by employee demographics and industry classification. Claims experience isn’t a significant factor. Long-term disability pays a portion of the disabled employee’s income after he or she runs out of both sick leave and short-term disability benefits, typically after 90 to 180 days. Depending on the plan design and how the policy defines disability, it may pay a monthly benefit for a specific number of years, such as two years or until normal retirement age under Social Security.

However, an employer shouldn’t administer its short-term disability program. Most employers aren’t equipped to assess when an employee is unable to perform his or her own job or when he or she is able to return, and employers are estimated to pay out 30 percent more in benefits than if the plan was managed by a claims professional. It is possible to outsource the claim adjudication process to a qualified third party, often referred to as ‘advise to pay.’

How has life insurance changed and why is this coverage important?

A recent study found nearly 70 percent of U.S. workers, across all generations, believe having a life insurance benefit available at work is important. This importance has grown over the past five years, an increase of 22 percent. For many, it is the only life insurance they own. Group life insurance can fill gaps in coverage and the purchasing power of a large group helps keep the coverage affordable for the employer.

Sixty-five percent of employees with group life coverage believe they need more life insurance beyond what their employer provides. Depending on the plan design and type and amount of coverage elected, employees may be able to buy additional life insurance without answering health questions. Some plans allow employees to purchase coverage on a spouse and/or dependent children. Buying life insurance at work is convenient because premiums can be paid through payroll deduction. When they leave the employer, people typically can choose to maintain coverage, paying premiums to the insurance company.

Employers that don’t have group life or group disability should meet with their insurance consultant. They most likely will be surprised by the relative low cost involved in establishing a program that can provide additional value to their employees.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

Culture is key to creating a destination workplace

If you had to name only one thing that drives your organization’s success, chances are it would be your workforce. And when you think about what it takes to become a destination employer, the answer is quite simple. Focus on your most valuable asset — your employees. If employees are key to your success, it only makes sense to put them at the center of your total rewards strategies, including how you communicate. However, getting started on this path can be a daunting challenge.

To become a destination employer, executives have to be invested in the idea of a thriving culture and employee engagement.

“Culture is an inherent part of your organization that’s either defined by you or by other influences. There’s no short-term fix for improving it,” says Cindi Morris, Ohio wellbeing and engagement consulting leader at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“What’s important is to ask yourself what defines your culture in the eyes of your employees, and whether that perception will help you compete at the highest level. If the answer is no, then you have some work to do to effectively bridge the gap,” says Joe Roberts, area vice president of Health and Welfare Key Accounts at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Smart Business spoke with Morris and Roberts about how employers can improve their culture and employee engagement to start competing as a destination employer.

What kind of results do organizations see when their employees are engaged?

There are abundant opportunities for positive results when employees are engaged, from improved production to better talent attraction and retention, to name a few. When your employees are engaged, they have the ability to impact the way your business is run. Annual benefits costs may decline, turnover may be reduced and people may take fewer days off and perform at higher levels, which sparks competitive strength and success. Employees may even become brand advocates for your organization, helping to position it as a place where people want to work.

How can companies measure and improve their employee engagement level?

While most organizations have a set of core values, engagement hinges on earning employees’ trust by living up to those beliefs. Many employers use engagement surveys to gain feedback directly from their employees to better understand their unique needs and preferences. But when management conducts a survey, it’s imperative to transparently share the results with the workforce, along with plans to address issues and opportunities that were identified. Once employees know management is listening, executives can start to create effective programs that tie back to the core values of the organization.

A workforce evaluation tool to help organizations assess specific workforce dynamics can be a helpful starting point when developing a strategy to impact employee engagement. For example, when you know your employees may need a different level of benefits and prefer different communication channels depending on where they are in life — early career, mid-career, pre-retiree, etc. — you can tailor a program with those considerations in mind. You’re able to positively engage employees differently.

What else can strengthen culture and employee engagement?

A strong culture requires commitment beyond your HR department. It starts at the top. When executives demonstrate that culture matters, not only through their words, but more importantly through their actions, your organization begins to earn employees’ trust. An employee’s journey isn’t linear — it’s cyclical. Their experiences at each stage of the cycle can have major impacts on your business.

As a takeaway, what are the key elements of an effective destination-workplace strategy?

Organizations can develop a culture-centric approach by creating a cohesive, engaging and productive work environment based on a shared purpose, and a well-defined set of company values and norms. Being thoughtful, intentional and purposeful in defining your values, and communicating them consistently through words and actions will set the stage for success.

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

How benefits brokers put people first

What gets you up every morning? OK, besides the dreaded buzz of the alarm clock or smell of fresh brewed coffee. Is it simply to “wake up and repeat,” like Bill Murray in the movie “Groundhog Day”? Or, perhaps you want to check one more thing off your to-do list?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of complacency and routine when it comes to our daily tasks, says Jessica Galardini, president and COO at JRG Advisors. We go through the motions day-to-day and forget about the real purpose behind what we do.

“For benefits brokers, that purpose, drive and passion should be simple — helping people,” Galardini says. “By putting the focus on people and relationships instead of the sale, a benefits broker can make meaningful connections that result in loyal clients, and of course, referrals. Insurance professionals in today’s world of health care benefits need to develop a unique perspective to be successful.”

Smart Business spoke with Galardini about the traits that employers should look for in the most successful benefits brokers.

How has employee benefits changed?

Almost any benefits broker would agree that operating in the health care benefits industry over the past 10 years has been difficult. Building a successful business and client base while responding to the numerous, ever-changing outcomes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has created many challenges for reducing uncertainties and the painful impact to employers and employees.

While it’s human nature to resist change, a benefits broker should think outside of the box and look for unique, innovative ways to do his or her job, which is to solve problems. It’s an opportunity to minimize the angst people feel with the ACA — to explain the changes, minimize the concern and worry, and sort through polarizing politics.

People want good health care, provider access and convenience at a better price. This is a challenging, but not impossible, task and should be what motivates any benefits broker. Health care, now more than ever, is an important area for brokers to help their clients and showcase their expertise.

How do successful benefits brokers approach this uncertain environment?

The uncertainty around the law seems to build every day, with the ACA’s future wavering on Senate votes. Even with the uncertainty, benefits brokers can’t forget the people caught in the crossfire of the ACA and politics. With rising costs, many employers are feeling stuck with what they have, or that the only cost containment strategy is to push more cost toward their workforce. A good approach starts with C-level dialogue to identify, consider and understand requirements within coverage, network, workforce and budget.

There are products and services to achieve objectives, once they’re clearly identified and considered on a scale of importance to overall strategy. Some solutions include specific data analytics to identify emerging health risk factors so a care strategy can be developed, confidentially and individually within the workforce. Technology options also can provide a deeper-dive population comparison, even for employers without historical claims data. Online transparency tools give employees real-time information by zip code, service type and facility so they can make smart choices for services like blood work and MRIs, which can range from affordable to astronomical in cost with no difference in quality outcomes.

These solutions empower employers through dialogue, information and motivating employees with the ‘carrot’ rather than the ‘stick’ — moving the needle toward knowledge-based decision-making, defined affordability and people satisfaction.

What else would you like to share?

There is a lot of information out there when it comes to health insurance. Benefits brokers should look for unique ways to continuously educate their clients and connect with them on a more interactive level, such as through educational webinars and seminars. This can be a proactive approach to solving the clients’ problems before they arise and addressing real issues.

Strong benefits brokers consider the people they’re helping in order to bring fresh and creative problem-solving ideas to the table. By keeping people in mind and maintaining a unique perspective, they’re inspired and employers are happy — a winning formula for success.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

How to control the cost of health care through price transparency

As the cost of health care continues to rise, it is crucial for consumers to better understand the actual cost of health care and the need for greater price transparency.

“After all, we practice consumerism when it comes to shopping at the grocery store, buying clothes and other products and services. We shop for sales, compare prices, brands and research online with one goal in mind — to find the lowest price and save money,” says Ron Smuch, insurance and benefits analyst at JRG Advisors.

Smart Business spoke with Smuch about how employers can encourage price transparency in their health plans.

Why isn’t the consumerism that comes so naturally in other areas of our lives used in health care?

Understanding the true price of health care can be mind-boggling. Rates and costs can fluctuate depending on your insurance plan and where services are provided. Often, as a patient, we have no idea the total amount we will pay for a test or procedure until we receive the bill from the insurance company. We rely on the assumption that we simply ‘have insurance’ with no consideration or research as to the actual cost of a procedure.

Greater price transparency allows consumers to clearly see the price of treatment and determine their out-of-pocket costs before receiving care. The importance of transparency is such that there are several provisions in the Affordable Care Act addressing the issue. Although there are requirements for health plans as to transparency and reporting, there has yet to be full implementation of the law.

How else can price transparency lower health care costs?

In addition to educating consumers, price transparency in health care can also lower costs for claims payments and common medical services. When consumers are aware of the price for tests, procedures or medications, they pay more attention to treatment options, provider options and the actual need for a given test and whether there is a more affordable option available. Ultimately, known pricing creates smart shopping. Health care cost transparency creates competition, which lowers costs.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that allowing patients to access price information for several medical procedures before obtaining health care services could lead to lower health care costs. The study targeted medical claims paid by employers on behalf of their employees after a price transparency tool was made available to them. The costs for employees who utilized the price transparency tool were lowered by 14 percent for lab tests, 13 percent for imaging procedures and 1 percent for office visits, in comparison to employees who didn’t use the tool. The actual dollar savings for those using the transparency tool for imaging procedures equated to a per incident savings of $124.74, $3.45 for lab testing and $1.18 for office visits.

What tools are available to help promote price transparency?

Price transparency has slowly evolved through the continued popularity of health savings accounts and high-deductible health plans in an effort for consumers to lower their health care spending. A person with a high deductible is more likely to be more conscious and concerned about price, which results in their curiosity to inquire about how much things cost. This will likely force medical providers to be more transparent with their pricing.

The on-going demand and attention to price transparency in health care has resulted in the development of medical cost savings companies offering price transparency tools that allow a consumer to ‘shop’ the price for medical services in their surrounding area often by zip code and before the time of service. These tools and capabilities are useful to consumers who want to compare prices in order to make more informed decisions about their health care.

Price transparency can have a tremendous impact, educating consumers about health care costs and their understanding that more expensive doesn’t always mean better. Furthermore, transparency can lead to a more efficient health care delivery system and curb rising costs.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

How to help your employees be better consumers of their health care

Helping employees think differently about their health care choices and responsibilities as consumers is a growing trend with employers.

“There is a significant opportunity to help plan members be better consumers,” says Joe Roberts, area vice president in Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.’s Health & Welfare practice. “Why wouldn’t you put as much thought into buying a $2,500 MRI as you would when you buy an $800 television set?”

Teaching employees to ask their health care provider about the cost of services or less expensive alternatives can drive down cost for both employees and employer-sponsored health plans.

Smart Business spoke with Roberts about educating employees to take control of their health care.

What do employers need to know about this?

The biggest opportunity to impact cost and overall organizational success comes from a holistic assessment of an employer’s benefits strategy, reviewing how all aspects align with workplace culture and the organization’s unique demographics. A number of different cost-saving strategies could be considered, like switching insurance carriers, alternative funding, narrow networks, prescription management and well-being programs.

One trend is consumer-driven health care plans, or CDHP, designed to get employees engaged in their health care buying decisions. This task can be challenging and often requires the right partner to help tailor communications. For example, helping people feel more confident in their ability to question physicians about treatment plans can improve their level of consumerism.

Employees who actively engage in their health care can affect an employer’s ability to sustain the plan. If employees are educated and engaged, the employer and employee may save in the short- and long-term.

Why is boosting consumerism important?

Employees empowered to be better consumers are more likely to advocate for themselves. They tend to research procedures and facilities and ask their doctors the right questions. This approach often leads to more informed decisions about the quality and cost of care.

Taking time to do research can amount to significant savings. The cost of health care for similar procedures can vary greatly depending on where the procedure is performed. According to, an estimated $18 billion could be saved per year if non-emergent medical issues were treated in doctors’ offices and urgent care facilities.

What best practices do you see from companies that educate their employees?

Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Establish a consistent communication plan addressing topics such as benefit plan basics, hot topics within health care, changes to benefit plans and/or networks, and tips for increasing physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  • Provide employees with access to health care transparency tools. These tools, which are simple to use, give the ability to research quality of care among providers as well as the cost of procedures between providers and facilities. Ask employees to consider the amount of research they put into purchasing a new vehicle or household appliance, and help them apply that toward their health care decisions.
  • Provide alternative ways of obtaining care. A great example is telemedicine and virtual medicine programs that allow employees and their family members to consult with a physician over the phone or through video conferencing (often using smartphones and tablets). In addition to convenience, a virtual visit may cost one-third of an office visit — saving the employee and the health plan money.

Where do employers make mistakes with this? What can they do to avoid them?

The biggest mistake employers can make is to do nothing. It’s challenging to tackle these issues alone, so employers should work closely with their benefits consulting firm. Ideally, the firm should provide services and expertise in areas like employee communication and engagement. Improving communication and education is a great start, but those strategies alone won’t move the needle. Employers need to find creative ways to get employees engaged.

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

Reduce employer expense, increase take-home pay with FSA, HRA or HSA

Acrucial health benefits decision an employer must make when it comes to an employee benefits program is the employee contribution strategy.

“The contribution strategy should be carefully considered because employees rate their contribution (payroll deduction) more importantly than the benefit level and often more than the network providers,” says Ron Carmassi, sales executive at JRG Advisors. “A skilled, experienced benefits professional working in tandem with the company’s HR can save an employer time and money.”

Smart Business spoke with Carmassi about employee contribution strategies — the second of two articles on health insurance cost reduction.

What types of employee contribution strategies should employers consider?

The consumer-driven health care approach and plan coupled with the correct contribution strategy can lower monthly premiums while engaging your employee population to manage more of their health care and make smarter decisions. The main accounts utilized in consumer-driven health plans are Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA). All three are designed to get employees more engaged with health care decisions.

How can an HSA drive down costs?

An HSA is only available to individuals enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health plan that is approved by and meets the standards set by the IRS. This type of account can reduce employer costs because, typically, high-deductible health plan premiums are lower than traditional plans.

Individuals, employees and employers can contribute to the account. The insured’s funds, deposited pre-tax, can be used to cover qualified medical expenses. Withdrawals for qualified expenses or post-retirement care, contributions, and gains or investment are also tax-free.

The IRS will allow a single insured person to deposit up to $3,400 in 2017, and anyone enrolled with a spouse or dependent up to $6,750 in 2017.

How does an FSA differ?

These accounts are similar to HSAs in that an employee can use pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified medical expenses. There are even options to use the account for certain dependent care and transportation expenses. But this account is employer-established and only funded by the employee or the employer. An employee may choose how much to deposit in the account pre-tax from their paycheck and what qualified items to use the money for.

For 2017, the maximum that may be deposited in an FSA account is $2,600 and only up to $500 may be carried over. So, consider what the FSA will be used for to avoid overfunding and losing money. These accounts don’t offer investment options and don’t earn interest, but they do allow a person to use pre-tax dollars for medical and non-medical items and services. It is important to verify items approved by the IRS for purchase with an FSA.

What is an HRA? How does it work?

With HRAs, an employer selects a plan with a higher deductible and a lower monthly premium. This account is employer-funded and the savings generated by the lower premium can be used to reimburse the employee for some portion of the deductible and out-of-pocket costs. These reimbursements are tax deductible for the employer and tax-free to the employee. This type is owned by the employer and typically administered by an insurance company or a third party administrator.

There are more restrictions on HRAs due to the Affordable Care Act. There may be limits on how much the employer may contribute. When considering an HRA, employers should work closely with an experienced benefits advisor to be sure to remain in compliance.

How should employers choose between the three options?

These reimbursement options should be studied and reviewed carefully to determine which type is best to help reduce your employee benefit program costs without lessening benefits. By better managing benefit costs, your employee benefits package can have even greater depth and flexibility, while also promoting employee wellness and healthy lifestyle alternatives.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

What’s needed to deliver empathic, compassionate customer service

You can train your employees in the technical components of a job, but it’s difficult to train somebody in compassion and empathy if they aren’t naturally hardwired with those skills or attitudes, says Steven Knight, senior vice president of Member Engagement at Quantum Health.

Empathy and compassion are key to connecting with and relating to your customers. They aren’t simply nice to have; they’re essential for the kind of service where your employees put themselves in another’s shoes and truly understand their perspective.

“Relating and connecting to individuals allows us to earn their trust and have the opportunity to best support them,” Knight says. “In our world, that’s supporting them through health care experiences to make sure they’re achieving the right financial, clinical or humanist outcomes. In other industries, relating to and connecting with individuals so that they trust you is your ability to create brand loyalty.”

If customers feel like you aren’t listening or supporting them, or that you have adverse interests, your ability to earn that trust and support them in whatever they may need is severely diminished, he says.

Smart Business spoke with Knight about how to find and support employees who can deliver best-in-class customer service.

How can employers best identify the right job candidates for this role?

First, be active on social media — not just about the perks of working at your company, but also the mission of the organization.

When recruiting, a three-part process can help narrow down candidates and give you a starting point. Behavioral assessments help show what feeds and starves an individual. Are they geared toward collaboration or control? Cognitive assessment is also important. Employees have to be prepared to pivot quickly and provide the right expertise in a moment’s notice. Finally, look at their background. People from helping professions — retail, hospitality, food services, etc. — where they look customers in the eye, relate to how they are feeling and help them solve a problem in the moment, are especially successful at delivering compassionate, empathic customer service.

When you bring people in for interviews, be transparent and upfront about what the job entails. Allow candidates a chance to observe somebody doing the job, and ask questions and get the real story. If people know what to expect day one, they’ll be more effective as they go through training and onboarding.

It’s worth the cost to make upfront investments. If someone comes in and doesn’t understand what a day-in-the-life is like or the true culture, you potentially incur additional training or turnover costs.

What can business leaders do to encourage this across their organization and then sustain it over time?

In order to operate a customer-first business model, it needs to permeate throughout your organization’s mission. Let your customers tell you what they need to have the right experience, and then make those the foundation of everything you do from how you train and hire to evaluating the quality of customer service.

Everyone should go through the same training, whether they are in customer service, IT or sales. They need to truly understand the customer to make that the north star of the entire organization.

Allow for real-time coaching and feedback. It’s not handing out a sheet of metrics and telling them, based on a score, how they performed. It’s not sharing what went well or a missed opportunity three months after the fact. It’s experienced staff mentoring others, doing real-time conversations on a per call basis. It’s having a quality team reviewing customer interactions, which then become coaching discussions.

Share positive feedback throughout your organization on a regular basis and tie it back to the mission — that way it’s not just marketing, it’s truly part of the culture.

In addition, if you want your employees to deliver compassionate, empathic customer service, treat them that way within your walls. Successful leaders won’t operate in isolation. They should have an ability to connect and meet people where they are, because that’s what you’re asking of your employees — to be able to meet customers where they are.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Quantum Health

How to identify health conditions and costs within your workforce

Today’s health care environment is riddled with complex plan designs and rigorous government regulations, leaving many employers to feel as though their hands are tied when it comes to unique, innovative and cost-saving solutions. There is a new strategy and technology, however, that enables small employers to identify risk, influence behavior and ultimately control costs.

Smart Business spoke with Aaron Ochs, managing consultant at JRG Advisors, about risk analysis, which is part one of two articles on health insurance cost reduction strategies.

What is risk analysis?

The ability to anticipate claims or predict claims costs hasn’t been available in the small group market due to the absence of claims data from the insurance companies … until now.

Newly developed technologies include risk analysis and predictive modeling tools that make it possible to take a deeper dive into the health composition and risk factors of an employer’s workforce. For example, companies can proactively identify markers for chronic illness in order to predict health care costs and determine if a fully insured plan or alternative strategy, such as self-funding, is viable.

Why might a self-funded plan work better?

A self-funded plan differs from a fully insured plan in that it offers an employer more control over the plan. In addition, self-funding provides protection against excessive costs in years with high claims, opportunity to keep profits from favorable years and the availability of data, including claims utilization.

While self-funding is not a new concept, it is new to the smaller employer — with many insurance companies now offering level-funded premium options (a form of self-funding) to groups with as few as 10 employees.

How would a risk analysis typically work?

The deeper dive (risk analysis) begins with the collection of employee data that is captured through a custom access portal. The portal is insurance company accepted and an Affordable Care Act and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliant online benefits application tool specifically designed to reduce the amount of time, cost and paperwork for employers.

Employees are asked to complete an online enrollment interview. Once completed by employees, the employer receives a confidential de-identified aggregate report that includes an overall analysis of the employee population. This expert analysis empowers the consultants to guide the business owner through the benefit decision process with the power of knowledge.

Gaining insight into the composition and health status of the employee population means plan design decisions can be strategic rather than ‘throwing a dart blindfolded’ to find a tolerable solution.

What else do employers need to know about risk analysis?

Often, the same portal technology can reduce or eliminate many administrative burdens by providing the added support of employee enrollment, communication and plan/election waivers. The solution is a faster and more efficient approach to benefits. This means the employer can essentially build its own health plan, which can lead to generous cost savings, greater transparency, understanding and better overall cost control.

A staggering 50 percent of the average employer’s health care budget is spent on members with preventable conditions. With the strategies and technologies that exist now, even small employers can take control of their health plans.

Talk to an advisor today to learn how risk analysis tools can guide you to the benefits strategy to fit your needs and ultimately reduce cost.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

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.

How to achieve a successful employee benefits strategy

“The traditional approach of gathering census information, marketing to insurance companies and implementing changes close to open enrollment deadlines is a Band-Aid solution for one year at best. In today’s world an employer needs to evaluate the level and expertise of service when it comes to risk management, creative solutions, consulting and compliance,” says Michael Galardini, director of sales at JRG Advisors.

Smart Business spoke with Galardini about how organizations need to take a strategic approach to employee benefits.

Rather than a traditional approach, how should employers address employee benefits today?

Old habits can be hard to break. In the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and costly health insurance premiums, a company’s strategy and approach needs to adapt to the changing health care landscape.

A company should focus on the 4Cs of employee benefits — consulting, creative solutions, compliance and cost. The concept of this 4Cs approach is maximized when the company uses a three-year strategy to develop a benefits program.

The ‘traditional’ broker will not achieve significant cost reductions by simply raising the plan deductible, copays, shifting contributions to the employees or leap frogging between insurance companies year-after-year to save a few percentage points on renewal increases.

What do the 4Cs actually mean in practice?

Consulting: The analysis and review of an employee benefits program should start with an interactive dialogue, research and gathering of data by an experienced, knowledgeable broker working in tandem with the employer’s HR team or benefits administrator.

Once the risk is quantified, a strategy can be developed to target options designed to help the employer manage the risk within the parameters of coverage, network and premium funding.

The benefits program results should be monitored throughout the year. Proper monitoring of the benefits strategy and a proactive approach to any needed changes are imperative to ensure the program is on pace to meet the goals of the company.

Periodic strategy meetings should also take place to provide both employer and employees on-going education, as well as updates on industry or insurance company changes.

Creative solutions: The results of a thorough consultative analysis and risk assessment will identify solutions to achieve desired outcomes within the employee benefits program. Various solutions can then be implemented in order to shift the curve to lower costs and favorably impact premiums.

Creative solutions can include negotiation, gap and voluntary insurance, cost transparency tools, benefit administration platforms, alternative premium funding and streamlined services administration.

Compliance: Employers need to consider legal issues relating to employee benefits and the increased taxes, reporting and penalties imposed by the ACA. Choosing a broker who can provide specialized knowledge, experience and guidance with ACA and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act is critical to ensure that any audit fees and penalties are avoided.

Cost: The implementation of a consultative strategy, creative solutions and adherence to compliance regulations will ultimately help the employer achieve manageable budget objectives, reduce risk and better predict costs for their employee benefits program.

By following this approach to employee benefits, employers are able to identify the risk in their employee population, implement a risk strategy through creative solutions and monitor results through consultative analysis to ensure they are achieving their coverage and budget requirements.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors