Selecting the right employee benefits broker for your organization is one of the most important decisions a benefits professional will make. Choosing a sub-par consultant could cost your organization millions of dollars in healthcare expenses, negatively impact employee health, and harm your relationships with insurance carriers. (So no pressure!)
What is an employee benefits broker?
Think of benefits brokers as a middleman — between you and insurance carriers. Their job is to negotiate benefits plans that give your company the most bang for your buck, create communications strategies that help your employees choose and use their benefits, and help you protect your healthcare investment.
So how do you choose the right employee benefits broker? The truth is, most brokers aren’t up against much competition when they’re pitching their services to you. The normal sale process is: you’re looking for a new broker, you find one, you fall in love, you don’t look at any other brokers.
But that puts you at a disadvantage. If you don’t compare a few broker options and negotiate a bit, you’ll never really know if what you’re getting is the best for your organization. So to ensure you pick the best broker for your organization, talk to at least a handful before you sign a contract.
To help you prepare, here are eight questions to ask a broker during your first few conversations:
1. How will you help me streamline my open enrollment process?
The first step of any benefits strategy is to make sure employees choose the right ones. And a broker’s job is to help you make that happen during open enrollment — by saving you time and money with the right tools, resources, and best practices based on their industry expertise.
2. What’s your benefits communication plan?
Brokers aren’t just plan designers anymore: they’re communications experts. And they’re not just there to offer a tip or two about how to update your benefits materials: they should have a fully formed communications strategy, and lead the way towards making sure your employees get the right information at the right time.
Ask what their communications goals are, what tactics they use, and what tools they have on hand to make the process easier.
3. How will you help me contain healthcare costs?
Healthcare costs are rising with no end in sight, and a good benefits broker will be able to help you face those costs head-on. Whether it’s choosing less expensive health plans, driving employees towards smarter decision-making, or finding creative ways to save on payroll taxes, your benefits broker should be an authority on curbing healthcare spending.
3. How would you help me vet the right HR tech for my company?
A broker should be able to make informed recommendations about the HR software that would be most helpful for your company (and the ones you should steer clear of). The best brokers will also be able to make introductions to the right points of contact at HR tech companies, and maybe even negotiate a deal for you.
4. How will you help me keep up with HR regulations and compliance?
A benefits broker should also help you stay up to date on ever-changing HR regulations and legal updates. The best brokers will offer access to resources like attorneys, HR consulting services, and even free resources like white papers or industry reports that will help you operate more efficiently.
5. Can you help me review IRS guidelines and make sure we’re tax-compliant?
A good answer: ‘Yes!’ Ask for an example of how they do this with others they work with.
6. What are your ideas about how to attract and retain employees in the current landscape?
Good brokers should also be talent experts, with insights on what others in the market are doing when it comes to hiring and retention. The best of the best will have a strong sense of how you can use your benefits package to attract strong talent (and keep them around for longer).
8. Will you monitor expenses in qualified retirement plans to comply with DOL objectives of fee transparency?
A good answer: ‘Yes!’ And they’ll show you an example up front of how this will look and what you can expect.
This isn’t a complete list, of course; there will be questions to ask a broker that are unique to your business, too. The important thing to remember is that your broker should act as a partner. Your organization will pay them a ton of money, and you should feel like you’re able to reach them easily and often–and that you’re getting a great return on your investment.
If you’re unhappy with your benefits broker, you should be shopping! It’s not as hard to change you think, but that’s one more thing some brokers want you to believe, so you’re less likely to make a switch. Long story short: Stay strong. Expect more. And ask the right questions.