Are You Asking the Questions You Need to Be Asking Your Benefits Advisor?
Your benefits advisor is undoubtedly an essential hire. Not only does he or she help impact your company’s bottom line but your advisor also plays a critical role in helping you look after your valued employees and their families. But how can you be confident you’ve made a good hire?
Some of the most important tools you have at your fingertips are the opinions and experiences of others. If possible, talk with business owners, Human Resource managers, and others who work directly with a benefits advisor to find out who they work with, what that experience has been like, and whether they would recommend their advisor. It’s important also that you look at online reviews. Online reviews are often very telling not only for the feedback they provide (both positive and negative) but also for how an advisor responds. And the more reviews an advisor has, the better. There’s a lot to be said for – or against – an advisor whose clients are willing to take the time to write about. If you invest the time to read online reviews about benefit advisors, it’ll likely give you some ideas about which advisors you want to help ensure are made aware that you’re in the market for a new one.
A critical step in the hiring process is the RFP (Request for Proposal). An RFP is a written document in which you describe what you are looking for, and requires respondents – in this case, benefit advisors – to tell you what they can deliver. Your RFP should begin with a simple cover letter that includes the following:
- Who you are.
- Why you are considering a new advisor.
- Who and how the advisor can reach out to with questions.
- An indication that the RFP supports the rest of the process, including phone calls, emails and meetings at your discretion.
But what exactly are the services you should ensure are provided by your next benefits advisor? The following are the core RFP topics we recommend you include:
- Advisor Overview
It’s important you get a detailed picture of the advisor’s business to ensure, right out of the gate, that the basics of what are important are covered before more time and energy are expended. A strong advisor overview has four key components:
- The company’s ownership structure, which is important if you prefer a local, regional or national firm.
- The individual biographies and experience levels of the team who will serve you.
- Fees and/or commission schedule.
- Verification that the advisor has proper licensing and adequate E&O coverage.
- Employer Service Model
Advisors should clearly outline the services they will provide to your management or HR/Benefits department to build and manage your benefits program, including a calendar of planned interactions.
- Employee Services
Some advisors support not just a client’s management and HR teams but also the employees. It’s important that the advisors’ RFP responses detail what, if any, support it provides employees potentially including assistance with claims and/or individual financial planning services.
- Health Plan Cost Control
For good reason, this is an area that gets a lot of attention, and that must be addressed in a benefit advisor’s RFP response. There are often dramatic differences between advisors’ skills, resources, capabilities and results, particularly in recent years that have brought new products, analytical tools, and consultative approaches.
There’s growing – actually exploding – awareness that healthier, happier employees are more productive employees. With an eye to helping their employees while helping their companies’ bottom lines, more employers than ever are treating advisors’ knowledge, experience and resources in the wellness area as critically important. If this is important to you too, your RFP should reflect that.
- Provincial Programs
Each of the provinces offers different programs that impact benefits so it’s important you work with a broker who is knowledgeable about how your company and employees can make the most effective use of those programs.
- HR Systems and Support
Depending on your company’s level of HR sophistication, you might want to have responding benefit advisors speak to what they offer in terms of HR systems and support. Many of them now have access to HR software that can help employers manage at least some portions of their HR processes.
- Enrollment and Employee Services
Ensuring that your employees have a clear and ongoing understanding of and appreciation for your benefits plan is key to ensuring its value, beginning at the plan enrolment stage. Your benefits advisor has – or should have – a prominent role in making this happen. Your RFP should require that responding clearly identify their strategies (including calendars and timelines) for enrolling and communicating with your employees that makes clear what they have, what they can do to help keep costs down, and which plan amendments are being made (and why). Your business, employees and you are best served by an advisor who treats this part of his or her role seriously.
Your benefits advisor is a key player in supporting your business so it’s important you utilize an RFP to help ensure you find the best fit. By addressing each of the RFP topics identified here, you’ll be off to a strong start to a highly successful employee benefits program.
Debra L. Wiegers, GBA, CLU, CH.F.C.
Managing Principal, Benefits Division, Wiegers Financial and Insurance Planning Services Ltd.
Wiegers Financial & Benefits