Employers facing benefit enrollment challenges or looking to streamline the enrollment process could benefit from the service of outsourcing the enrollment process. Choosing the appropriate benefit enrollment firm requires careful selection by the employer and its benefit adviser.

Benefit enrollment firms manage the enrollment process, with many also handling enrollment and benefit communications. But every employer’s enrollment circumstances and challenges are unique and experts say advisers and their employer clients should pay careful attention to match the needs of the employer with the capabilities of the enrollment firm.

“Can the enrollment firm do the job at hand? Can they solve our needs? This is critical,” says Marc Hollabaugh, founder of the Kansas City, Mo.-based firm Corporate Benefit Specialists.

“Employers may need help communicating about their benefits, explaining flex plans and changes, or they may have employees in multiple locations, working multiple shifts,” says Hollabaugh. All of these may be challenges for which an adviser may discuss with its client the need for solutions offered by an enrollment firm.

“Even for employers with full-time human resource or benefits staff that may be able to handle normal operations for the better part of the year, they can become overwhelmed during open enrollment,” says Evans, Georgia-based enrollment firm Aegias.

Some of the services offered by enrollment firms may include:

-          open enrollment support

-          benefits counselors

-          electronic enrollment and underwriting

-          benefit education and communication

-          manager and employee roll out meetings

-          post-enrollment payroll and HR reporting, billing and processing back-room support

Once determining which enrollment firms can handle the tasks at hand, including the size and demographics of the employer’s workforce, Hollabaugh says employers and advisers should evaluate firms based on their level of service and willingness to commit to the company long-term.

“A number of enrollment firms get tired of an account after a few years,” he says. “We try not to take a job on unless we can take it on every year forever.”

Employers and advisers should evaluate the long-term commitment of any firm, Hollabaugh adds, suggesting they and ask the firm to “forecast down the road. The first year looks great but can you promise to be here 5 years from now?”

Also, understanding how the firm will service the employer’s needs is pivotal. How will the firm troubleshoot complications or handle complaints?

Early discussions

Lastly, Hollabaugh suggests that benefit advisers should include enrollment firms early in the discussions with employer clients.

“Ultimately the enrollment firm has to pull the job off. Getting the enrollment firm involved early on in the discussions is important,” he says, as an effort to make sure the firms can meet complicated or complex needs before signing on to do so.

“It’s hard to back off of a promise after it’s made,” Hollabaugh says.

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