A benefits consultant is an experienced professional who advises business clients on insurance, employee benefits, and other products. A benefits consultant may focus on a particular type of benefit, and can provide a range of advice on selecting, purchasing and administering benefits. They often have long-standing relationships with their clients and can assist them with paperwork, compliance, and annual renewals. In many cases, benefits consultants provide initial services at no cost to their client.
What Is A Benefits Consultant?
Benefits consultants have in-depth knowledge of group insurance and employee benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and more. They use a variety of tools to help employers compile the best possible benefits package to attract and retain employees, increasing employee satisfaction. Many companies rely on benefits consultants to establish and run an employee benefits program.
Many benefits consulting firms work on a commission basis, operating independently of influence from insurance carriers and benefits companies. This helps to ensure that the consultants are recommending options based on the client’s best interests. Additional services, such as administering the plan itself (including handling all paperwork and compliance documentation) are often offered for a fee or a percentage of the total benefits package.
What Does a Benefits Consultant Do?
A benefits consultant provides a range of services for businesses and individuals. These services fall into two categories: selecting benefits and implementing benefits. Both types of services can save employers significant time and money and can help to make sure that the company has the best possible benefits package for their business.
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Establishing A Benefits Package
Setting up an employee benefits plan can be overwhelming for business owners. An employer first has to decide what type of benefits to offer, then select the benefits from a range of options available in each category. There are many different benefits that a company can offer depending on the company’s resources as well as the industry standards and area standards. Benefits options may include: group health insurance, retirement plans, defense base act (DBA) insurance, life insurance, paid time off, student loan repayment, and disability insurance.
A benefits consultant can advise employers on what other companies in the geographic region and industry offer, to ensure that their benefits package is competitive. A consultant can also poll employees to determine which benefits are most valuable to them. Finally, a benefits consultant can perform an in-depth analysis of a company’s business to establish a budget and figure out if certain benefits offer tax advantages over another type of benefit.
Using this information, a benefits consultant firm can advise a company on which kind of benefits they should be offering to attract and retain employees, as well as what benefits they can afford. The consultant can then help an employer pick the best possible benefits from a wide range of options.
This process can be confusing for most business owners, as each type of benefit has its own terminology and requires compliance with different laws and rules. For example, retirement plans (such as 401ks, IRAs and pensions) are governed by complicated rules about plan eligibility, contributions, and notice to employees. Health plans have similarly complex rules, under the Affordable Care Act and other laws that regulate group health insurance.
A benefits consultant has in-depth knowledge about these laws and regulations and can advise employers accordingly. A consultant can help an employer select the benefits that are right for their company, and then can make sure that these selections comply with all applicable laws.
Since consultants have access to quotes from different insurance carriers and benefits companies, an employer will be able to select the most cost-effective and appropriate benefits for their needs. A consultant can help a business owner compare a number of benefits options and put together a package that works for the company.
Administering the Benefits Package
Once an employee benefits package has been established, a benefits consultant will work alongside employers to ensure that the plan is implemented and run smoothly — and that the benefits continue to provide value to the company and its employees.
When a company offers employee benefits, it must adhere to the rules and regulations governing each type of benefit. This may include significant paperwork and filings with the IRS and other government entities. A benefits consultant can assist with these tasks, offering technology-backed options to manage the often burdensome documentation requirements for healthcare and retirement plans.
Beyond documentation, a benefits consulting firm can provide customized communication and web portal services so that employees can learn about the benefits options available to them. This may include assistance and guidance through the open enrollment process, providing education and advice to employees to help them get the most out of their benefits. Using these tools, employees can complete the enrollment process independently, find answers to questions directly on the enrollment site, review their benefits information, and report life changes.
Benefits consultants may also offer ongoing assistance to employers with their human resources needs. This includes being readily available to answer questions and provide information throughout the year — not just when it is time to renew the plan. A benefits consultant can respond to questions year-round regarding a number of benefits issues. For example, if an employee has a significant health problem or a life event (such as the birth or adoption of a child), a benefits consultant can be available for the employer to discuss the impact of these changes on the benefits package. A consultant can also advise employers on ways to reduce the cost of employee benefits packages (such as health and wellness plans) or provide advice on important human relations issues (such as workplace discrimination and harassment).
Finally, throughout the year, a benefits consulting firm can provide guidance on developments in the employee benefits field. This may include: a benchmarking review to determine what others in a given industry or area are providing for their employees, a cost projection for proposed changes to the benefits package, or an estimate of renewal costs. For example, if other employers in a particular sector are starting to offer a new type of benefit, such as student loan repayment, a consultant can alert clients to this information and offer an overview of what it would cost to implement a similar plan. When it is time to renew a benefits package, a consultant can often negotiate a more favorable rate based on the company’s claims history or any programs that the company put into place to improve employee health or reduce claims.
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Choosing A Benefits Consultant
Given the complexity of employee benefits packages, most companies benefit from the advice and assistance of a benefits consultant. A benefits consulting firm is an invaluable partner in selecting and implementing employee benefits packages. Choosing the right benefits consultant is an important first step in making sure that the employer has the optimal benefits package and the right level of support in administering their benefits strategy.
When picking a benefits consultant, there are many factors to be considered. A benefits consulting firm should have experience in the kind of benefits that you intend to offer. If a consultant does not have knowledge about health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, that consultant is not a good fit for a company that may be eligible for that kind of insurance. If a consultant focuses in retirement plans, but cannot assist a business in other types of benefits (such as health insurance), that consultant may not work for a company that is looking to put together a comprehensive benefits package. A consulting firm should also have relationships with a number of companies and carriers. Consultants with limited options often cannot offer the unique selection of benefit choices that best meet your business’s needs and budgets.
A benefits consultant should also have experience in all of the laws and regulations that govern different benefits, such as IRS reporting requirements and the rules governing group health insurance plans. This knowledge will not just help your company comply with the law–it may also save your business a significant amount of money. A consultant who understands the tax implications of different benefits can help to minimize your company’s tax burden by guiding you towards options that will maximize your deductions.
A consulting firm should also have sufficient personnel to offer year-round support to its clients. Questions and concerns about your employee benefits can come up at any time. You will need a benefits consultant who can help you throughout the year, not only when it’s time to renew a plan. Whether the question is about adding a new employee, a worker leaving the company, or complying with a federal or state law, a broker should have adequate personnel to be able to assist their clients.
Employers should also look for a broker that offers technological tools to streamline the process of selecting and administering your benefits package. These tools may provide access to information regarding your plan and compliance with all applicable laws. Certain programs and applications can reduce paperwork and provide easy access to necessary information. These programs can make selecting and running a benefits program more cost and time efficient, which ultimately will save your company money. When choosing a benefits consultant, access to technology-backed options should be high on the list of priorities.
A benefits consultant can do much more than simply help a company pick a good employee benefits plan. With access to the right tools and information, a benefits consultant can assist a company in putting together a benefits package that will attract and retain top talent, increase tax savings, encourage wellness, and improve your business’ overall profitability.
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