Designing a benefit plan one employee at a time

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For his first decade or so in the benefits business, Felipe Barganier would naturally account for the workforce demographics of his Atlanta-area clientele, as he shaped benefit plans for each company. It wasn’t until 2013, though, when his firm formalized this into a benefits strategy. The change was subtle, but by being deliberate about it, GAB International is winning over employers who are eager to develop a benefits program tailored to their individual employees’ needs.

Formally known as Demographics Based Planning, the process involves sitting down with clients to examine the most telling characteristics of their employee population—such as age ranges, education levels and socioeconomic status—and then designing a benefits plan centered around the unique needs of their workforce.

“I've always hated it when a broker would put together a plan that looks nothing like the group,” Barganier states emphatically. “The result is poor utilization of benefits that don’t meet the employees’ needs.”

The demographic approach has worked extremely well in the public sector, from which Barganier draws the majority of his clients. They soon realized that GAB was doing something they hadn’t come across in working with other brokerages.

“We knew that we were onto something, once we started speaking more openly about our strategy,” says Barganier.

GAB formalized its strategy around the time many of the Affordable Care Act’s regulations were going into effect, and it provided a way for the firm to standout in a field that found itself on uncertain footing. “For us to survive, we had to make sure that we were doing things that were adding value—not only for the employer, but for the employees,” explains Bargainer, the firm’s president and CEO.

By emphasizing benefits that their workforce strongly cares about—financial planning and debt mitigation for instance— Bargainer says his clients are signaling their employees that they’re aware of their concerns and care about their welfare. And programs that target those concerns, such as smoking cessation and mental health assistance, have increased their employee retention.

They have also helped GAB grow its voluntary business. “It allows us to be more methodical about planning,” Barganier says, “so it increases participation, because now you're speaking to a group at open enrollment about what they're really concerned about.”

Solutions, not products
Helping GAB’s agents develop a “big picture perspective” that allows them to tie health benefits to life, disability and other voluntary offerings is the forte of GAB’s chief operating officer, C.W. Copeland.

“We don’t talk about product as much as we talk about solutions,” he says. “We want to make sure that the client is getting what they need, that the products are necessary for the client.”

That seems to work for Joey McKelvey, general manager at private transportation company First Transit. He has worked with GAB for more than five years and appreciates the frequent big picture discussions he has with Barganier about his 250 employees’ diverse needs.

“He’s definitely got a wealth of knowledge and experience and he’s willing to share it,” says McKelvey. “Every year, he’s delivered services that our employees want, and it leads to a more loyal workforce and less-stressed work environment.”

In addition to a traditional set of employee benefits, GAB offers First Transit’s employees services like tax preparation and help with licensing issues. Bargainer “is doing much more” than a typical broker, notes McKelvey.

For his part, Barganier has ambitions to take his business nationwide and make it a household name. He believes he can capitalize on the U.S. employee population’s changing demographics, which create a “huge need” for the services he offers.

“It's my opinion that companies should look more like America, and that means there needs to be more diversity,” says Bargainer, who is African American. With that in mind, he has made hiring people from diverse backgrounds a priority at GAB, “so that our firm actually looks the way that society looks.” And he adds, “We want to make sure that our firm is representative of our clientele.”

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