© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the August 2005 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
Editorial: A fitting description
Quick, what’s a six-letter word to describe the consulting industry?
By Don Bisch

One of the most difficult parts about publishing a magazine every month is deciding on the cover. It’s the first thing you see when you pick up the issue and, as an editorial team, we have about five seconds to convince you it’s a good idea to flip past the first page and read what’s inside.

Finding the right combination of text and pictures to capture the essence of the cover story is key. It was a particular challenge this month for our 2005 Report on Benefits and Pension Consultants. Turns out they’re not an easy group to summarize in four words or less.

That’s because the consulting industry is, increasingly, about a great deal more than just consulting. “Total HR solutions” was the phrase being bandied about when BENEFITS CANADA sat down recently with senior representatives from some of the country’s large consulting firms for a roundtable discussion about the industry(see “Looking inward,”).

Some firms are already venturing outside their traditional territory to vie for space in the growing HR business process outsourcing(BPO)market. That shift has been evident in the past 12 months, which brought a spate of merger and acquisition activity. First, EDS’ HR outsourcing business partnered with Towers Perrin’s administration solutions business. Next came Mellon’s sale of its human resources consulting and outsourcing business to ACS. Most recently, it was the pairing of consultant Hewitt Associates and Exult, an HR BPO provider.

Despite the shift towards outsourcing, the need for consulting services — the basics—hasn’t disappeared. In fact, much like the consulting industry itself, plan sponsors are being pulled in many directions—meeting a looming deadline for compliance with new guidelines for Capital Accumulation Plans, dealing with the fallout from the Monsanto ruling on the distribution of pension surplus in a partial wind-up, adjusting to the recent removal of the Foreign Property Rule governing retirement savings plans, and interpreting the impact of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Chaoulli and Zeliotis vs. Quebec on their benefits plans. That’s not to mention ongoing cost and governance issues surrounding both their pension and benefits plans.

And with growing challenges come growing expectations. Plan sponsors are demanding more of the consulting industry. They want their consultant to be intimately familiar with their business and to provide specific—rather than onesize- fits-all answers. They want their consultant to take more responsibility for the solutions they provide and to help them implement those solutions. And they want their consultants to work in closer partnership with their own staff.

So, that brings us back to the original dilemma. How to sum up an industry in flux, expanding into new areas of business, and serving an increasingly challenged client with shifting needs and expectations? Come to think of it, why use four words when one will do? That word, of course, is change.

Don Bisch