The word “broker” is derived from a Middle English word that means “peddler”. Which makes sense, considering what brokers do, right?
That said, when I’m on a search for a great benefits broker, the last thing I want to feel like is that I’m being sold a bunch of stuff I don’t need! Instead, I prefer to think of my benefits broker as an advisor. She knows a ton about an industry that I don’t even come close to knowing as much, and I need someone I can trust has my best interest at heart. Will she make some money off what I buy? Yes. But so does my stock broker. And when he tells me he’s going to make me some money, I trust him, and I buy!
The qualities I look for in my benefits broker are similar to the qualities I look for in almost all of my HR services and technology vendors:
#1. Savvy About Innovation: While employee benefits are super-innovative by nature, the industry has been changing quickly over the past decade and will continue to, so I need to know my broker is staying on top of all the newest ideas and technology in the space. My current broker is actually talking to me about innovative ways to track employee wellness and how to get higher adoption on my team. Why? Because they know it’ll help drop our overall healthcare cost which is a major expense for us. I need a broker who will keep challenging us to get better and push the envelope. I might not choose to take their suggestions, but I’m always happy to hear them!
#2. Good at Finding Competitive Data: The one thing that’s super hard to get in HR is competitive data on not just what other organizations like yours are doing for healthcare and cost, but all kinds of data points on compensation, turnover, new employee development programs, etc. I expect that my broker is going to help keep me competitive in the market for the best talent, not by just ensuring my benefits package is competitive, but by giving me the data to back up why we’re making the decisions we’re making, so I can leverage that data with my executive team.
#3. Easy to Hang Out With: Relationships matter. You can call this trust, but there are plenty of people I trust I wouldn’t invite to my house for dinner. I want to know that my broker is on the same page as me when it comes to design and organizational need, and I tend to actually spend a lot of time with my benefits broker because of the importance level of our benefits to our employees. If I feel comfortable having them over for dinner in my home, I know I’m willing to spend the work time needed with them to keep putting a great program together.
#4. Has a Good Track Record: Most people go through benefits brokers like they go through lawn maintenance contractors! When their contract is up, they think, ‘Hey, let’s shop it out and see who’ll give us the best price for the most service.’ Which means that when people leave their brokers it’s not necessarily because something awful; sometimes they just want to try something different. As a result, before I hire a broker, I want to talk to past clients, to find out whether they left for big or little reasons. Along with that info, I often get great tips from past clients on how to best work with this new broker. Tips like, “They’re willing to learn your business and needs if you give them the time, we just didn’t have the time to teach them,” or “We really liked working with them and their service, but they were expensive and we didn’t need that much hand holding.” All positive reasons why someone would leave, and it helps me better to understand the firm I’m about to start a relationship with.
#5. Committed to Providing Great Service: Years ago I decided to change brokers and went with a big flashy brokerage house. They showed me great reports and data I’d never seen before about my business and benefits, they had great technology, monthly development sessions I could attend, and more. Big agency, big perks.
However, when it came time to focus on my next open enrollment I found my representative could barely give me a call back, let alone spend the time to really talk about the changes I think we needed. I became a small fish in a very big pond, and felt like just a number getting cookie cutter service. In other words, all their perks were meaningless when it came down making us better.
The best benefit brokers will make you feel like you have a partner in crime and will give you service so good you’ll be happy to pay whatever commission they make on supporting your organization. If you don’t feel that sense of partnership, it’s probably worth taking a look at what qualities you value most in your broker relationship, and then go find someone who better fits your needs.
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