If you’re eager to start up a benefits plan for your small business but don’t know where to start, a benefits consultant may be an ideal solution. With connections to service providers across the country and in-depth knowledge of the various products on the market, a good benefits consultant can help develop a plan that meets your company’s needs and budget.

Two veteran benefits consultants discuss what they do and how they can help small businesses. Robert J. Crowder, president of The Benefits Trust, has 22 years’ experience as a consultant, and Cathy Fuchs, president of White Willow Benefits Consultants, has been a consultant for 23 years.

Q. As a benefits consultant, how do you help small plan sponsors develop and maintain their employee plans?

Cathy Fuchs (CF): Small employers need the same care, attention and expertise as large employers. We conduct a full needs assessment to determine the employer’s objectives for the plan, budget, administrative capabilities and employee needs. Small employers can also benefit from tools typically offered to the large employer: benchmarking and wellness tools, employee surveys and employee communication. We look for value-adds we can obtain on a block basis and offer to all clients, regardless of size. A small employer is less likely to have access to HR expertise and can really benefit from a consultant who can answer questions, provide templates and handle the more difficult employee questions on coverage and claim issues.

Robert J. Crowder (RC): Three ways: providing benefits plan education, creative solutions and ongoing member and executive service. We become the client’s benefits department. We work with plan sponsors that understand they have multiple ‘groups’ within their group; a client may employ 15 people, with one or two executives, two or three key staff/managers and the balance regular employees. The one-size-fits-all plan often does not work in this example. That type of plan is purchased based on price, and the plan sponsor is encouraged to always look for the cheapest solution. In contrast, we work with plan sponsors that want to develop a benefits philosophy that matches their compensation philosophy and create a plan that works well for each group within the whole group.

Q.What are some common questions you hear from small business clients?

CF: Questions are often related to HR issues such as managing terminations and severance, accommodation of sick leave and disability, benefits taxability and how to administer taxable benefits and payroll entries. It’s common for employees to pay a portion of the premium in this marketplace, and managing participation, opt-outs and anti-selection are a major challenge.

RC: The most common question is, ‘Am I paying too much for my plan?’ The real question that we suggest the client should ask is, ‘Do I have the right plan for my group?’ Once clients understand that they have the right benefits plan design for their group, they then need to understand the three components that make up the cost of the plan: required catastrophic insurance (life, long-term disability, out-of-country emergency medical coverage); claims (extended health, dental); and the administration needed to efficiently run the plan. Once this understanding is in place, the client can make an informed decision on the future direction of its plan.

Q. What advice would you offer to plan sponsors looking for a benefits consultant?

CF: Look for an advisor that is knowledgeable, well established and a specialist in group benefits. Ask other employers for references. Consider whether the consultant asks questions and demonstrates interest and knowledge about your business. Are they able to think outside the box and offer value-added services? Are they willing to provide assistance and training for your administration staff?

RC: If I were looking for a benefits consultant for my business, I would look for a consultant with experience, specialization in my market segment, integrity, depth in its team and great long-standing insurance company relationships. I would need to trust my consultant to work on my behalf to provide the best advice initially and on an ongoing basis.

Q. What is most rewarding about working with small clients?

CF: We have established long-term relationships with the majority of our clients. It’s tremendously rewarding when you become an integral part of their business. We have been able to help clients through some very difficult times, and we value the trust placed in us. There is never a dull moment!

RC: The most rewarding part is working with owners of profitable entrepreneurial organizations who are truly excited about the future of their businesses. This is one of the things that make Canada a great country. Working with people whose futures are going to be bigger than their pasts is motivating.

Related links
Small plans can think big with benefits, retirement solutions
Size matters: Telelink talks benefits, EAP

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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