Most group business renews on January 1. So you are going through the craziness of putting your 12/1s and 1/1s to bed. Carriers are late with numbers. Groups are asking you to take their plans to market. You are playing defense as sharks circle your groups more this time of year. Welcome to the busiest time of year for most brokers and consultants.

I am grateful to have a bit of your precious time to give you my view from the couch. I do have something to offer you from this unique and comfortable vantage point. I'm devoting this column to the all-important tactic of bringing something new to the table for your renewals so as to, shall we say, appease the gods.


Bring a gift

No, I am not talking about bringing a bag of donuts, sports tickets, a fancy lunch or anything like that. I am suggesting that you bring something to your buyers this renewal season that will increase their productivity or reduce their risk and make you look good.

Bringing a gift means bringing new value to your buyer. Our discussion in this column is not necessarily about introducing value-added technology. It is more tactical. You should lay out value components of your value-added services and deliver these items slowly over time. Autumn is a good time to bring out some of the heavies. Here are a few that will turn on your buyer and make a pricey renewal go down easier.


I-9 audits

Chances are your competition doesn't do I-9 audits. Everyone employed after 1986 must have a valid I-9 on file with their employer.

A study last year by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found that 80% of employers audited failed. Oh, and there are fines for that noncompliance. Improper or incomplete forms carry fines ranging from $250 to $1,100 per worker. Catch an employer with an undocumented worker, and the fines jump from $250 to $11,000 per violation.

Find a firm that does I-9 audits or give FutureOffice Network a call. You're selling compliance, but also peace of mind and legal exposure avoidance with I-9 audits. There are fear motivators all over I-9s. Tee up this government offering for a buyer, and you'll score.


Total compensation statements

Demonstrating the hidden paycheck of indirect compensation (benefits) alongside direct pay is what a total compensation statement is all about. You'll need some slick technology here to create these for all employees accurately, easily and with some pizzazz. Employees love total compensation statements because they show that they are earning more than they thought. Clients like the fact that employees generally bestow goodwill on the employer provides a total compensation statement.


Employee handbook

Handbooks are a real winner, thanks to our U.S. court system, which hands down so many decisions impacting handbook content that employee handbooks have to be updated almost every year. Many brokers and value-add intermediaries provide employee handbook services, but choose someone who knows what they are doing and the ins and outs of the state laws where the employer resides. Employee handbooks are high value and high impact, so don't pass this one by. Help your customers by educating them on the legal exposure issues and keeping their handbooks current. Remember, benefits selling is not about just benefits anymore. Benefits selling today is called HR selling.


Intranet for employees

Here's another biggie. Offer your employer an intranet where employees can log on to check and learn about their benefits. Employees and their dependents also can watch health videos, triage simple health maladies without going to a doctor, and think about you because you're the gift giver.

Employee intranets are just coming into their own in small- to mid-size companies. Here's the catch: Intranets have touched the psyche of employers, but most employers do not allocate the cost or have the means to offer their employees such a tool. That's where you come in.

By offering this technology, you can deliver a powerhouse of information, tools and cool stuff to employers for their employees that will, in essence, create a paperless environment and a self-service HR and benefits portal that reduces tasks for busy HR managers and business owners.


COBRA outsourcing

Try this: Run the numbers on a prospect or existing client for COBRA outsourcing and say you'll pick up the cost for COBRA outsourcing for one year. Tell the client they won't believe how nice outsourced COBRA can be. Tell them you'll pass your preferred pricing on to them in the second year if they like it, or they can cancel the service. You'll win in many ways with that strategy. Some of our network producers have picked up an AOR using this technique.

For price comparison purposes, FutureOffice Network offers full outsourced COBRA administration anywhere in the contiguous 48 states for a one-time set-up fee to the group of $125 and $.52 PEPM. That's full outsourcing with 1-800 numbers, booklets, the whole package.


Online enrollment

An online enrollment system allows the buyer to enter the world of online benefit administration, from which they will never want to go back because of the boost in their productivity and the savings to their organization. Our FutureOffice Connect costs a one-time set-up fee of $500 and $2.70 PEPM, which includes full EDI to carriers and payroll vendors. This is a relatively expensive gift, and you may want to ask the customer to share in the cost or carry the cost all together. But here's the thing with online enrollment: You have to bring it to the table and talk about it because of its current appeal even if your buyer doesn't purchase the service. If you don't bring it up, it's a safe bet your competitor will.


Make their lives better

Everybody likes to get a pleasant surprise. Benefit buyers are no different. Appeasement gifts don't work - they come across like a cheap box of drug store chocolates. You want to bring gifts that boost productivity, make the buyer's life easier, benefit plans less costly, reduce risk, increase employee communication and understanding of human resources and benefits, and impress your buyer.

Technology does all of this. It is now everywhere in insurance, and it makes our professional lives better. You look good to a buyer if you introduce tools that help.

Think of gift giving as bringing your buyer along in the ever-changing world of benefit selling and human resource management. Yesterday is not like today. Tomorrow will be different still.

Davidson, CEBS, is founder of and He is also on the faculty at the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Reach him at .



Field notes


With investors falling in and out of love with Wall Street at a rapid pace, some financial advisers are finding themselves playing a new role, marriage counselor, reports Reuters.

In general, people don't appear to agree about one of the most critical investment decisions of their married life: How they plan to retire. Consequently, advisers say they often find themselves in the middle of financial misunderstandings.

A key reason: Less than half of couples handle their retirement savings jointly, according to a survey of middle-aged couples conducted by Fidelity Investments earlier this year. If couples do talk, it seems they might need a referee. Sixty-two percent of the 648 married couples surveyed said they didn't agree on when they would retire, Fidelity says. Half didn't agree on whether they would continue to work after retirement.


Open enrollment is a good time for employers to remind employees about updating information on their life insurance beneficiaries.

According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive for Nationwide Financial Services, one in five policyholders has not provided their insurer with up-to-date contact information for their beneficiaries. More than half (55%) of policyholders did not change their beneficiary after divorce.

"According to the survey, 75% of policyholders have not changed the beneficiaries designated on their policy and among those who did make changes, 77% did so five or more years ago," says Peter Golato, senior vice president of Individual Protection for Nationwide Financial.

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