Newer benefits professionals get a primer on a complex industry

While she has 20 years of experience in the industry, Sheila Phillips is aware of how difficult it is to know everything in the benefits field.

With that in mind, Phillips, a senior account manager at the Great-West Life Assurance Co., kicked off the benefits and pensions fundamentals program held by the Toronto chapter of the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists in Toronto on Thursday.

“Do you ever know it all? No, I don’t think so. There will always be some twist or some unique situation that isn’t clearly defined in the contract, for example,” says Phillips.

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Speaking about group health and dental plans, Phillips emphasized the role of continuing education and the need to remain open to new information when dealing with insurance. “And to get people who are new to group insurance — in whatever capacity they’re working — to get them interested in acquiring some education is so important,” she says.

Phillips also notes the lack of respect often given to benefits administration. “We often find that the plan administrator is also the receptionist and doing payroll and doing 17 other things, so benefits administration is sometimes overlooked as being important,” she says.

“And then it’s only when we receive a death claim and something’s wrong with the records or somebody goes on disability and find out that things haven’t been communicated well that it becomes a problem and it’s the employee who is impacted. Getting people that fundamental grounding in the industry, I think it serves everybody.”

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Linda Bellon, president of the ISCEBS’ Toronto chapter, notes the two-day event, which includes sessions on both benefits and pension topics, primarily focuses on people who are new to the industry. “It’s mostly ones who are newer in the industry who attend, so it really lays a good foundation and gives them an overview of the benefits world as a whole, just to help them advance in their careers and deepen their knowledge,” says Bellon.

While the bulk of the conference focused on the basics of the benefits industry, Lizann Reitmeier, Canadian health practice leader at Conduent Inc., spoke about ancillary benefits, which she called “the fun stuff.”

Reitmeier offered insight into unique offerings, such as vacation savings plans, which allow employees to save for vacations directly from their payroll and can provide for matching contributions by employers. Reitmeier also referred to products offered by specialty carriers, such as kidnapping and ransom insurance, which typically applies to employees working in dangerous areas.

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