What gives brokers a competitive edge? In many cases, it’s giving clients the feeling that they are getting the maximum value for their investment in employee benefits. That perception isn’t measured in dollars alone, but in market intelligence gained, practical problems solved and cost or time-saving technology solutions harnessed.

One approach that has proven successful for Justin Hanratty, CEO of Plymouth, Minn.-based Hanratty and Associates is giving clients free access to a seasoned human resource expert as well as employment attorneys. Several years ago he brought this HR expert, Larry Morgan, on board to respond to callers on an HR hotline that he set up. Morgan, who had served as chief human resources officer in several large corporations in the region, fields a wide variety of client questions daily.

“A typical question might be, ‘how many full-time employees do I have?’ from companies trying to work through ACA rules and definitions,” Hanratty says. “Our clients really appreciate the service.”

Clients sometimes ask Morgan to come to their worksites to put on seminars on such topics as sexual harassment prevention.

Free legal advice

Hanratty also has contracts with two law firms to provide on-demand limited scope counsel to clients without charge. “It’s available to help our clients address basic legal needs, things that don’t take more than about a half an hour to figure out,” he says. Hanratty estimates clients use about one hundred hours of lawyers’ time throughout the course of a year.

In San Luis Obispo, Calif., Connie Framberger of Framberger Employee Benefits and Insurance Services Inc. is providing value to her clients by sharing her expertise on the Affordable Care Act and the local health care provider scene. “We keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the medical community,” she says.

With guaranteed issue policies, people don’t want to know where they can get coverage, but which providers are on which networks. Even physicians themselves occasionally seek insights from Framberger on provider networks, such as whether being covered by a particular carrier for private clients means they are also covered by the same carrier’s health plan sold via Covered California, the state’s public health insurance exchange.

Value for clients also means making it clear to them that they are appreciated as customers. That is demonstrated by such client service basics as responding to their inquiries within an hour if possible, but never later than the end of the day.

Know the big picture

A strong focus for Tausha Robertson, vice president of NFP HR Services, a division of the national NFP financial and benefits consulting firm, is learning about the client company’s business direction before getting down to health plan design and vendor selection. Having the big picture first is essential for advisers seeking to serve as consultants to their clients instead of primarily as a conduit to benefit products and services.

Robertson is also strongly focused on the rapidly evolving information technology arena, particularly systems “that put the consumer in the center of the process,” she says. Connecting clients with tools that allow employees to become smarter health care consumers, both in provider selection and utilization, generates value for all concerned, she says.

Stolz is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Md.

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