Slideshow 10 traits employers are looking for in an adviser

Published
  • March 04 2016, 1:11am EST
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Overview

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, employers are looking for their advisers to do more than provide a health insurance quote. Joe Ellis, senior vice president of CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services, shares his top 10 traits employers are looking for when selecting their next adviser.

1) Tenure

Employers want an adviser who has been in business for a reasonably long time. This assures them that the adviser has witnessed the changes in the industry and can relate to their business. At the same time, an employer will want a firm that employs an age-diverse group of consultants. There’s no better way to understand what it takes to retain top talent than to have the input of different age demographics, Ellis says.

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2) Vision

Employers are looking for someone who can see the bigger picture while maintaining a realistic scope of vision. They should make room for flexibility in the long term, while realizing the issues that are of importance now. For instance, since we realize the value of employee retention, the adviser should help determine what is important to a diverse workforce: Is it work space, salary, perks, time off? Having a vision for what motivates various segments of the workforce should be paramount. The adviser should be able to translate the diverse characteristics of an employer’s workforce into worthwhile benefit choices. Above all, the adviser should recommend the best ways to have employee voices heard.

3) Market Commitment

Employers need an adviser who has a commitment and deep-domain knowledge of their industry and business size. If the employer has 200 employees, they will want to work with someone adept with mid-sized employers. An employer should ask the adviser how they keep up with all the changes, both in laws, regulations and demographics, so they can be confident their advice is sound, timely and relevant to their market position.

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4) Communication

Employers want an adviser who can easily communicate complex issues in the simplest terms. The message to HR — and especially the rest of their senior management staff — should be offered as non-insurance talk. Messages need to be delivered fairly, openly and honestly. Great care should be shown in any communication to the employer, regardless of individuals’ levels and ages, job titles and incomes.

5) Independence

A quality adviser will have positive, strong relationships with insurance carriers. However, since carriers go in and out of markets constantly, employers will want to know where the recommended carriers are in this cycle. Employers may ask about extra compensation or bonuses from carriers.

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6) Technology

Advisers must be technologically aware. It is no longer enough to know benefit plans, pricing, underwriting, features, claims or great communication methods; these have become the “givens” advisers must possess. Employers and especially HR professionals are becoming very savvy about technology, as they are being approached by a myriad of technologies, especially things like wearables, websites and apps, virtual service centers and more. A top adviser will know reliable technologies, which will help with the employee life cycle, from recruiting and onboarding – all the way through to retirement.

7) Strategic Alliances

The truly valuable benefit adviser knows what is within their own discipline. Even though there is pressure to offer tax or legal advice (think ACA), the good adviser will know when to call in a specialist. One reason is the liability exposure the adviser faces when lawsuits or excise taxes happen. It is a great service to clients when an adviser can offer recommendations for recruiters — especially executive search — as well as payroll, legal and accounting professionals and estate planners. We are asked to interpret laws, codes, regulations, and court decisions. It is always best to know the professional limits of that which we can do, and when to call in the best specialist for the issue.

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8) Data

How many times have we heard about “big data?” Not sure what this is? Not many really do, and fewer know what to do with it, where to find it, or how to interpret and use it. But, advisers need to understand data collection, its purpose and how it applies to their clients. Data has always driven the insurance industry. With the pressure to hold down costs, assure best clinical results and help employees have positive experiences, advisers need to understand how best to deliver these to clients. Data is not the end result, rather it is one tool employers and advisers use to drive toward improved outcomes. Accountable Care Organizations, population health management experts, and biometrics are all examples of data that advisers use in benefit practices. Employers want to work with an adviser who recognizes valuable data.

9) Creativity

There is a difference between vision and creativity. Vision is seeing what trends and influences are going to be driving benefit programs. Creativity is coming up with new ways of dealing with them. An example might be an employer with very little automation or technology. To creatively address this we might suggest a three-year strategy to automate candidate selection, onboarding, enrollment and ongoing administration during the life of the person’s employment. It’s a pretty simple solution that doesn’t overwhelm the HR and Benefits staff. But, some advisers might want to install the entire capability at once, which may be too much on the staff at one time.

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10) Challenge – Challenge – Challenge

A really good adviser will always challenge the “way we’ve always done it” conversations. If a client is at the mercy of double digit rate increases, consider an outside-the-box option. Since data may not be available for employers of a certain size, self-insurance in a group captive arrangement may be a good alternative. Employers should always look for an adviser who will challenge insurance companies, their own thinking, the client’s thinking and the way it’s always been done.