The Changing World of Benefits Administration Outsourcing

I am pleased to report that NelsonHall recently published its “Targeting Benefits Administration” market analysis, and that it is chock-full of valuable findings on where this market segment is and is going over the next several years. To begin with, we expect a moderate growth rate of 4.8 percent for overall benefits administration through 2014. The Health & Welfare (H&W) segment, which covers H&W administration, reimbursement accounts, leave of absence and COBRA/HIPPA administration, remains the most dynamic part of the benefits administration outsourcing market, and will continue to bring the most opportunity for growth at a robust rate of 11.6 percent.

Total retirement outsourcing (TRO) is currently the largest portion of the benefits administration market at 67 percent. But that share will decline to 54 percent by 2014 as H&W’s share increases from 31 percent to 43 percent. With its maturity, the continued decline in defined benefits plans and economic pressures on defined contribution plans, the opportunities for growth in TRO will be hard to come by.

On the other hand, many of the major benefits administrators are also major benefits consultants, and the opportunities for consulting will offer more growth. Plan sponsors still need to reduce administration costs and provide a quality employee experience, and it is likely that more plans will close. Combined with the activity driven by the boomer generation moving through the retirement process, this should lead to improvement projects that help offset the lower covered participant populations.

Investment consulting is another growth area for plan sponsors and participants. In the U.S., regulations have changed to allow both greater information provision and automatic enrollment. Hewitt (now Aon Hewitt) is capitalizing on this trend through its acquisition of EnnisKnupp to add to its investment advisory services, and Mercer is partnering with Robert Powell to increase financial analysis and retirement advice.

The high rate of M&A activity in 2010 was largely about growing H&W capabilities through acquisition and partnership. Consumer directed benefit capabilities, wellness, advocacy, dependent audits, retiree health care services, absence management and flexible spend accounts were all subjects of acquisitions and partnerships this year.

With the highest growth rate, expect continued H&W activity into 2011. ADP’s CEO, Gary Butler, was quite open during its recent 3Q 2010 earnings call that the company is assessing further movement into the health care arena, even as its integration of Workscape is underway. Given that H&W continues to be one of the hottest areas of NelsonHall client inquiries, I am sure it is not the only HRO service provider considering further expansion plans in this area.

Some of the drivers for benefits administration outsourcing have been reprioritized and new concerns added, reflecting the continued slow and uncertain recovery amidst ever escalating health care costs. While the number one driver, reduce operating costs, has not changed, new is access to quick ROI-related results, which has really opened up the market for point solutions like dependent audits and leave administration. Jumping up in priority is help in navigating the complexities and requirements of regulatory compliance and changing legislation.

Look for more on the changing world of benefits administration outsourcing in upcoming HRO Insights blogs.

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall

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