Posted tagged ‘BAO’

Benefits Administration Outsourcing – Driving Business Value

April 6, 2011

Managing the annual benefits enrollment process is a core value of benefits administration outsourcing (BAO) and for years large companies have taken advantage of its cost and convenience. According to Towers Watson’s Annual Benefit Enrollment 2011 survey, 78% of large companies outsource enrollment, while almost half of midsized companies still insource. The scale will continue to tip towards outsourcing as three fourths of the responding midsized employers that currently insource indicated plans to outsource enrollment.

What is causing this tipping point? I think it is the addition of complexity to the healthcare equation for both the employer and the employee. Start with the ever rising healthcare costs driving increasing use of consumer driven health plans and healthcare savings accounts, add in the U.S. healthcare reform changes, and the options and implications start to multiply exponentially.

Even with the success of web-based enrollment, now at 89% according to Aon Hewitt’s 2011 Annual Enrollment Insights, calls to service centers are still in demand. Change and uncertainty increase the need to talk to someone as helping employees understand new plan features and any changes in pricing create communication challenges. Service providers see increasing use of decision support tools (DSTs) to help employees. For those using BAO, Towers Watson reports 69% DST usage compared to 44% that insource.

BAO also makes the process of accommodating changes for healthcare reform a bit easier. Aon Hewitt saw a jump in enrollment of 15% in the number of covered dependents as participants added children between 19-25 who are now eligible for coverage under one of the first major reform changes. Even a change that is relatively simple to implement has broader implications including increased employer interest in ongoing dependent eligibility rather than just as an audit, and some are moving to per child pricing over family pricing.

New best practices will emerge in response to benefit changes.  Service providers highlight the importance of incorporating a participant’s actual health claims data into decision support tools. Aon Hewitt has already seen that 48% of participants using advanced DSTs changed their elections. This is another opportunity to strengthen the value of BAO as Towers Watson indicates that 83% of the survey respondents have not yet integrated claim data.

Another emerging best practice is incorporating wellness communications into the enrollment tools and process stream. One reason for this is pure practicality as enrollment is a prime time to think about wellness. Another reason is that more employers are making completing assessments or participating in condition management plans a requirement to receive incentives or participate in premium benefit levels.

The BAO sale can be made on cost, convenience, and complexity. With a crowded market of quality providers, the differentiating theme that should run throughout the year is how to drive behavior change that creates business value.  Does your benefits service provider add business value?

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall

The Yellow Brick Road to Financial Growth in Benefits Outsourcing

March 10, 2011

There are a variety of ways to grow HRO service provider income. Well-traveled roads include winning new clients or expanding services with existing clients. Another avenue is to cross-leverage consulting and outsourcing to build revenues for other service lines. Now, a new path has emerged and it looks like a yellow brick road to generating revenues: provide advisory services directly to defined contribution (DC) plan participants and not just to the plan sponsors.

According to The Financial Engines National 401(k) Evaluation report, approximately three out of four participants are not on track to comfortably retire by age 65 (i.e., they can’t replace 70% of their pre-retirement income with their 401(k) and social security). In addition, 34% do not have diversified portfolios and/or have inappropriate risk levels and 39% of participants do not contribute enough to even receive the full employer match. With DC plans replacing traditional pension plans for many employees, effective participation has taken on increased importance.

Participant DC service options were greatly expanded by the Department of Labor’s regulations, starting with the Pension Plan Act of 2006. Now, DC plans can offer automatic enrollment into qualified default investment alternatives, automatic saving escalations, and investment advisory services. Great, but the regulations are complex and are still being clarified and there are fiduciary responsibilities that must be addressed to provide a safe harbor to the plan sponsors and appropriate protections for the advisors. For BAO providers who have the expertise and fear not to tread on a road still under a bit of construction, this is a growth opportunity.

Amy Gurchensky, one of my NelsonHall HRO colleagues, just added tracking service coverage of Aon Hewitt’s new integrated advisory offering for its DC plan participants through its subsidiary, Aon Hewitt Financial Advisors. Aon Hewitt continues to expand its wealth management and retirement financial services for employers and participants. In 2010, before the merger with Aon Consulting, Hewitt had acquired the investment advisory firm EnnisKnupp.

Aon Hewitt selected Financial Engines to be the sub-advisor and provider of the advisory platform. As Amy notes in her analysis, Financial Engines also provides services for ACS, a Xerox Company, Fidelity, Mercer and others like ING and J.P. Morgan. It is important then that Aon Hewitt is wrapping the standard third party offering in with its own materials so it will be able to extend a new service bundle that creates differentiation.

The bulk of retirement investment consulting revenues will continue to come from services to the plan sponsors, but adding a new road to growth in ancillary services is valuable and this one looks particularly golden. Given the millions of participants with the major BAO players, participant investment services will be a valuable win-win for the employers, participants, and service providers.

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall