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Viewpoints from Matt Sears

Even though 2020 has been out-of-the-ordinary, some things have not changed. Like the need to be strategic in planning for your employee benefits program. I was reminded of this in a recent 2021 strategic planning meeting with a new client who mentioned they’d never had a discussion like this before. That comment explained why their benefits plans were so dysfunctional; too expensive, poorly communicated, ineffective, and out of compliance. Does this sound like your program?

It’s a simple concept – most employee benefit plans react, rather than plan.

Medical rate increase? Reduce benefits or find a new carrier. Salesperson calls with a new product offering? Scramble to find the budget – even if there are better ways to spend your money. Receive notice of a Department of Labor (DOL) audit? Frantically call your consultant, broker and attorney. You’re always reacting, but there is a better way. Develop a process, a strategy, and adopt the tools that allow you to make changes in ways that further your organization’s goals.

Having a strategy doesn’t lock you into a plan that is unchangeable and it doesn’t mean that you never react.

Instead, it gives you the mechanism that allows you to react productively and effectively. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, having a multi-year strategy allowed our clients to react quickly and nimbly. Circumstances change and so must strategies. Having a well-thought-out process and set of guiding principles allows you to react to dramatic changes; pandemic, business conditions, market changes, new opportunities, mergers and acquisitions, etc. It allows you to break down silos separating finance and human resources departments and think in new ways. Have you explored an integrated approach combining benefits, workers’ compensation, leave, and population health? How about alternative funding methods and captives? Does your strategy include unbundling stop-loss, pharmacy management, and data analysis? Do you have a plan for global benefits or domestic expansion? Or for communicating with your newly-remote workers?

Undertaking this sophisticated exploration isn’t something you do alone.

It requires expert facilitation and should be part of the toolkit that your advisors bring to the table. It should be a regular part of your planning and it will bring lower costs, greater compliance, and more engaged, satisfied employees. And it’s certainly not something that only “big companies” do.

About 15 years ago, I, along with some colleagues, coined the phrase The Reactionary Benefits Trap. We even trademarked it, and I wrote about this phenomenon in my book. I cannot stress enough – if you don’t have a multi-year strategy for your benefits plan, develop one now.

If your consultant or broker hasn’t already come to you with a process for creating, managing, and keeping your strategy up to date, get a new consultant or broker – now!


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Matt Sears

EVP, Employee Benefits – Concord, CA