Somewhere along my career I fell into benefits. I say that because most people don’t sign up to be in Human Resources to spend their Autumn combing through spreadsheets and meeting with the CFOs to have sometimes difficult conversations about the renewals. They also probably never dreamed they would be staying at the office late on Christmas Eve loading payroll deduction files or New Years Eve data entering Vision Enrollments. These are just a couple of examples of what I dealt with in the early part of my career prior to innovations in technology and before I realized the true power of a competent benefit broker and what they can bring to an organization.
Small businesses don’t have the time to get multiple benefit quotes let alone dive into their plan’s experience ratio, but they should. As a small business it’s also hard to play the numbers game when it comes to keeping costs down, and you can be stuck paying higher premiums because of one bad claim. If fact, many businesses big and small, just keep staying in the same plan year over year because it’s easier administratively, but little do they know their networks are lacking or employees don’t value the benefit or believe it’s too costly.
That is where benefit brokers can come in and help your small business manage the ins and the outs of your plan. You want a broker who understands that you are a small business and what risks you are able to take. You also what someone that provides more than the basic services of renewals, because let’s face it, benefits are so much more complex than they were even 5 years ago. It’s a constantly changing environment and the right broker can help steer you through the storm. So let’s get started on how you can go about and get the best benefit broker.
Get referrals from your Human Resource network on who they would recommend for a benefit broker. I have worked with two of the largest US benefit brokerage firms but one got the job done a lot better than the other, and I sing their praises every chance I get. I have also worked with smaller brokerage firms, and where they might not have had as many bells and whistles as a larger firm, they had top notch customer service and resolved our employees benefit issues quickly and were more able to tailor their approach to our business needs.
When looking for referrals, try to get a mix of large and small brokerage firms. There are pros and cons to both. A smaller firm may have great customer service but lacks the ability to help you work through benefit strategy. Maybe a larger firm might lack in customer service but have a bigger toolbox of services they can offer. Regardless your network can tell you what they like the best and what is missing from their broker relationship.
Know What Services You Need
When you are searching for a benefits broker it’s important to know exactly what services they will provide. I have worked in the past with two of the larger US benefit brokerage firms. While both firms committed to us that they would help with our benefit renewals, compliance needs and plan administration, only one of those would go the extra mile and assisted us with our other human resource strategy needs.
A broker can help you with so much more than just benefits but only if you pick the right one for your needs. A broker can help you with Affordable Care Act and ERISA compliance as well as taking some of the administrative requirements off your plate. They can assist you in drafting open enrollment communications or help put together financial spreadsheets and premium scenarios. A good broker should also have strong relationships with your carriers and can help you solve insurance issues for your employees.
Know What Comprehensive Solutions They Can Offer
This seems easy enough, but many times benefit solutions you thought were included may be extra or the broker is a smaller firm and just offers compliance help etc… It’s important to understand how the broker will meet your needs. Ask questions like:
How many clients do they service per Account Representative?
Are they able to offer coverage from multiple carriers?
Are they employee centric?
How will they keep your small business up to date on compliance related needs?
As you grow how can they assist?
In my previous life we worked extensively with our brokers to look at our overall benefit strategy. We met with them quarterly to go over our plan performance but also, they would ask us questions about what we wanted to do in the next year and then help provide human resource solutions and ideas for us. They helped us get quotes on anything from human resource technologies to other benefit related services that could enhance our overall employee benefit strategy.
Remember You are the Client
The top brokers are instrumental in helping their clients look and think outside of the box. They take a partnership approach and want your business to succeed as much as you. It’s important to know when you have outgrown your benefit broker.
As your small business grows so will your needs. You may need more services and guidance around compliance than they are capable of handling. Or maybe some of the ideas they have are not aligned with your business needs. Regardless, if you are not getting the service level that you need then, it might be time to start the process again and start looking for a new broker. It can be hard if you have been with a group for awhile but in the end you are paying for their services and so you are client and they need to meet your needs.
Just remember as your wrap up your annual open enrollment period, a good broker will keep you compliant and give your a few quotes but a great broker will help you execute your benefit strategy. There is no one size fits all approach, but having brokers that are business partners will help take some of that burden off of you because let’s face it, you have other things to worry about.
So what characteristics do you feel are important in a benefit broker?