For advisers seeking to help their clients get the most out of their next annual benefits enrollment, now would be an excellent time to start.

So says YouDecide CEO Peter Marcia, whose company studies and develops enrollment best practices. The start of the second quarter is an ideal time to review the past year’s enrollment results, while the experience is still relatively recent and the employer still has time to course correct for the coming year.

Employers, he adds are increasingly open to year-over-year strategic benefits planning. For the past decade, his firm has devised best practices for advisers and benefit professionals to incorporate into their enrollment strategies. These include establishing quarterly priorities and reviewing enrollment metrics to ensure that the results are aligned with the client’s strategic goals for its benefits plan.

Second-quarter meetings involve “a deep dive into any big shifts within their employee population to determine what changes they need to make for the upcoming plan year,” explains Katie Wilkes, an account executive at YouDecide. “Because open enrollment is still fresh in their minds,” she says, “they remember the pain points and what went well, so that’s a perfect time to be sitting down with clients.”

The following months can be devoted to assessing trends in the marketplace and reviewing what other companies in the client’s industry are doing to compete for talent, Wilkes suggests. It’s also a good opportunity to meet with vendors or seek a request for proposal for the upcoming fall enrollment, she says. Other early objectives may include simplifying the enrollment experience and evaluating how voluntary benefit products can help eliminate employee coverage gaps.

Between April and June, YouDecide recommends that advisers work with their employer clients to conduct due diligence on carriers and to determine how best to roll out any new products or benefits changes.

Summertime and the planning is easy
Come summer, plans for employee communications should be put in place, including decisions on which channels are best suited to deliver messages to different segments of the workforce and the crafting of announcements about new offerings and plan changes. Wilkes adds that summer is also a good time to communicate the value of the benefits program to employees, and to test and finalize the enrollment’s mechanics.

The fourth quarter is when most employers conduct their open enrollment. Best practices include careful monitoring of employees’ progress, emailing deadline reminders to those who haven’t yet completed the process and offering venues to respond to any questions employees may have. Following the close of the enrollment period, employers should survey their workforce about the experience, while it’s still fresh in people’s minds.

A close assessment of the employee population can reveal any coverage gaps and special needs interests—such as tuition assistance or retiree dental benefits—which can be addressed with the addition of voluntary benefits offerings.

Voluntary programs such as critical illness, accident and hospitalization coverage can close gaps created by high-deductible plans and rising out-of-pocket costs. But the trick, Marcia says, is to effectively communicate the value of this integration to employees, which boosts company morale and supports employees in their decision-making process.

For this approach to succeed, employee education needs to become a year-round process conducted through a variety of communications channels. Although mobile apps are all the rage, Marcia notes that 60% of employees still favor desktops to point and click their way through their benefits selection.

By giving open enrollment planning a longer time horizon, Marcia says that brokers and advisers can help their clients avoid last-minute pitfalls. Thorough preparation, he adds, also makes the adviser look good in the eyes of the client.

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