Raising the bar Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Selecting and maintaining the right employee benefits plan is a daunting task for most business owners. There are many considerations including tax and legal issues, affordability, and plan administration. Selecting the right professional to represent your company is a crucial first step in your plan development. A good advisor provides full service throughout the year and delivers custom employee communication materials, human resource tools, creative and cutting-edge programs, claims data analysis services, and more.

“Obtaining competitive quotes for coverage and handling claims problems is only a part of what you should expect from your employee benefits advisor,” says Keith Kartman, a senior sales executive with JRG Advisors, the insurance brokerage and consulting firm managing the Chamber-Choice program.

“You need to understand exactly how the broker-client relationship works and why choosing the right advisor is crucial for your organization.”

Smart Business spoke with Kartman about the hallmarks of a good benefits plan and some red flags that indicate that you may need a change.

What is the hallmark of a good employee benefits plan?

First and foremost, you want to select an insurance advisor who is recognized by the insurance marketplace and who will invest the time to understand your business. The advisor who listens to your company’s goals and who can translate these goals to a responsive marketplace will provide your company with the most competitive employee benefits program.

Could you explain some of the important value-added components that should be part of the employee benefits program?

  • Benchmarking data and trends. Statistical data can help you establish benchmarks based on similar companies and what they are doing in terms of company benefits. This will help in comparing your benefits program and financial objectives to similar companies — the same companies competing for your labor force and consumers.
  • Wellness initiatives. Understanding the impacts of lifestyle behaviors, having access to health-related information and participating in programs such as smoking cessation, exercise or preventive screenings all contribute to employees leading healthier lives. Managing a measurable, rewards-based employee wellness program delivers immediate and long-term results. Statistics show improved employee morale and productivity, reduced claims costs, and proactive health risk management as positive results for employers who champion wellness initiatives.
  • Intranet site. Employees and their covered dependents need easy access to benefits information. When this information is available 24/7 online, at the work-place or at home, employees are more aware and can better appreciate their employers’ sponsored benefits. Companies can create a customized intranet site that contains business, human resources and benefits information; links to carrier sites, provider directories and administrative forms — all in one place. Online access makes finding solutions and plan management easier for all parties involved.

What are some red flags that show that a benefits broker is not providing adequate consultation?

Employers need to be working with their broker on a proactive basis. Any lack of communication between the two parties is cause for concern. The broker should not only help with claims and service, but also be available to offer administrative support, troubleshooting and other assistance.

Another red flag is if the business owner is only talking to the broker at the renewal date. Conversation needs to be ongoing throughout the year, ideally in quarterly meetings. Formally prepared and scheduled meetings allow the benefits advisor to learn of any new benefit needs, refinements and considerations, or areas that employees need addressed.

What should an employer do if an insurance broker’s service or a carrier is not up to par?

Typically, there is no contract involved, so insurance brokers can be changed at any point throughout the year. Is your current broker well compensated but providing little more than an annual visit at renewal? If so, consider the added value that your company should be receiving.

The key to maximizing the relationship with a broker is to know what to expect, and that you need more than the annual spreadsheet of quotes and benefits plans. A quality broker-client relationship is a proactive, results-oriented partnership that ensures the best long-term value and service for the company and its employees.

KEITH KARTMAN is a senior sales executive with JRG Advisors. Reach him at keith.kartman@jrgadvisors.net or (412) 456-7010.