I have been in the insurance field for over 35 years, with the first 16 being with an insurance company. The remaining has been as an employee benefits consultant in the Greater Cincinnati area. I witness truly outstanding professionals in my trade each day; unfortunately, however, that’s not always the case, and anything less than outstanding is a disservice to the clients who engage them.
Allow me to take a step back and offer some history: while working with the insurance company, I was in sales and called on brokers, trying to get them to sell my company’s products to their corporate clients, big and small. I eventually developed a yearning to become a benefit consultant myself and truly help employers develop long term strategies with cost management solutions. I saw many companies relying on their broker to direct them toward the best options for their employees and the company’s bottom line. Some worked diligently to do this; others, it appeared, were recommending “the easiest thing” versus “the right thing” for their client.
Fast-forward to my current role as a 20-year veteran benefits consultant for an independent firm. Typically, in my first meeting with HR or business leaders, I always ask: “What do you expect from an employee benefits consultant?” Ironically, the answers are the same almost every time, and I share some of these below. This has led me to believe that many HR, financial leaders, and owners expect far too little from their employee benefits broker or consultant. I also believe that these decision-makers may not fully understand the fundamental role their broker or consultant should play. Too many on my side of the business get away with “easy” vs “right” because the client really doesn’t understand what they should expect from their broker/consultant.
The common answers to my question above include the following:
- Their broker “solved a big issue” … ONE TIME.
- “My broker always negotiates my renewal down to a reasonable number.” BUT, there is no way to tie the renewal rate back to any of their broker’s strategic recommendations or decisive actions.
- “They answer their phone and respond to my messages quickly.”
- “They enroll my employees, so I don’t have to.” (Let’s forget about the liability of transferring this to an outside party).
I could go on and on, but the theme is all the same: the broker is relied upon to put out fires and handle the tactical aspects of their client’s employee benefits program. Settling for this ‘comfortable’ relationship can foster apathy or at least a low level of expectation. Clients should demand so much more from their benefit consultant/broker than just these four items.
- Clients must recognize that there needs to be an actual multi-year plan developed with input from all who touch the benefit decisions, and their broker/consultant should be the one who drives that plan. If a consultant is not doing that for their client, the client should set the expectation and demand better.
- Clients should find someone passionate about their benefits, who services them and their employees as if they were their own family members.
- A broker needs to roll up their sleeves and dig into whatever data is available to help their clients manage their overall cost. Just relying on someone to manage the cost of their benefits by negotiating the renewal and answering the phone are “Broker 101” items.
Any broker worth their salt needs to do these things just to be at the table. With healthcare costs continuing to rise, clients need someone fighting the good fight each day, week, month, and year, with a proactive approach.
Leaders, I encourage you to spend time thinking about what you really want and need from your benefits broker/consultant. Then meet with them and set clear expectations, tying outcomes to a strategy. Please don’t settle for ‘the comfortable’ relationship.
Written by: Tony Malagari is a Shareholder of McGohan Brabender and also serves as a Lead Consultant. He has over 32 years of experience in the benefit sector, the last 18 with McGohan Brabender. His responsibilities revolve around evaluation and risk analysis of a client’s comprehensive benefit package as well as the development of a multi-year strategic plan to assist in both cost management and continuity of coverage for associates.