To effectively do the best possible job for your clients you need a process for managing change, because change will be the only constant for the foreseeable future. You need a process, a methodology, to help your clients plan their benefit decisions and expenditures.

Your clients need a roadmap, a strategic plan, to guide their tactical decisions; both their actions and reactions. And it needs to include contingency plans because of all the possible changes that are completely out of their control.

To do this, you will need to become much more consultative in your approach. And you will need a formalized process, training and tools in order to make this transition successfully. But your clients need you to do just that, and they will be demanding their adviser(s) provide this kind of counsel and expertise, or they will find a resource that will.

All of this will be independent of how they gain access to medical insurance products in the future. Your primary value proposition cannot be as the access point to products. Your clients need your expertise and you need to reinvent yourself to remain relevant.

If you are following what is being said here, you may be asking yourself: “I get it, but where do I start?”

Also see: "Critical questions to ask in a merger."

It seems clear you need to start with analyzing your clients and prospects first. You need to focus in a very real and meaningful way on what they need now and over the next three to five years.

What do they want to accomplish with their benefits program? Do they even want to offer benefits? Will their competition offer benefits?

These are all very real-world strategic questions that any thinking employer should be considering. Whether you acknowledge it or not, they will be thinking about these questions. So you need to embrace the process and lead the discussion.

Employer motivation

Look, for decades the overwhelming majority of employers felt a moral obligation to be paternalistic and offer an increasing array of benefits. And when the global economy was expanding and there was stiff competition for human talent, the business logic dictated that employers needed to be responsive in order to attract and retain the talent that they needed.

But now, the federal government eliminated any obligation for an employer “to do the right thing” by offering medical insurance.

The stigma has been removed and, in fact, they have quantified the penalty (tax) required to make a rational, financial decision. It’s no longer a moral issue; it’s a pure financial decision. There are a lot of variables and issues to consider, but it’s now quantifiable. Hence, the explosion of pay-or-play calculators in the marketplace.

Also see: "6 characteristics to look for in a sale or merger partner."

As a result, it would appear that you need to first focus on the employer’s values. What’s important to their business? Their culture? Their human capital strategies? If it’s doing business at the lowest possible cost, group medical plan design likely is not relevant or of concern. On the other hand, if artfully providing a benefits portfolio is of value to the business because it permits it to retain the talent it needs to maintain and grow business operations, then it’s worth the time to strategically plan what the benefits program should look like over the next three to five years.

Kwicien is managing partner at Baltimore-based consulting and advisory services firm Daymark Advisors. Reach him at jkwicien@daymarkadvisors.com.

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