Posted tagged ‘hro opportunity’

Uncertainty as a Competitive Advantage for Benefits Administration Outsourcing

September 1, 2011

This week let’s explore how benefits administration (BA) can create a competitive advantage from uncertainty.  A new Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) study, The State of Employee Health Care Benefits, indicates that many organizations are still in wait-and-see mode due to health care reform uncertainty and are delaying any major overhauls of health care benefits into 2012. In the meantime, high-performance organizations are differentiating themselves in the talent marketplace by:

  • Emphasizing literacy in health, health care terminology, and health care plans (75%) relative to low-performing organizations (45%)
  • Using incentives more than low performing organizations, especially for biometric screenings and health assessments
  • Using a broader range of cost-sharing strategies than low performing organizations.

An interesting data point: more high performing organizations report that they target offering competitive benefits (64%), while many low performers target “better than” competitive benefits to effectively compete for talent (43%). High performance companies offer a wider range of common benefits like medical, vision and dental, and provide benefits for part-time employees at almost twice the rate of lower performers. All surveyed organizations continue to increase approaches for employee cost-sharing.

Benefits administration is a win-win HRO opportunity zone for client-vendor partnerships that offer great service at competitive prices while working together to optimize total benefit spend. Mercer just issued a summary of new business for 1H 2011. A significant portion of the 15 new BA contracts, including 10 large market clients, are for added service lines with existing clients. Mercer’s HRO revenues are also up 20% year-over-year, based on a similar volume of new business in 1H 2010.

Buyers, look for a BA service provider that also offers multi-channel employee communication excellence beyond the annual enrollment window. According to the i4cp, “quality of communication will likely be the arbiter of whether or not a new approach to employee health care is embraced by employees.”

Equally important is finding a BA vendor with the capability to gather and analyze evidence-based data that will help you manage the dynamic balance between employer cost, talent management, and employee benefit. Finding a strategy that balances costs with effectiveness is a moving target. Gaining employee cooperation in containing health care costs is extremely difficult for all companies, high performing or not. For example, a poorly designed and communicated incentive can disincent the desired behavior.

Providers, there will always be clients looking for low cost commodity-level BA. There will also be high-performance companies, and those who want to be, willing to lead the way with the right vendor partner in actively managing benefits programs way beyond basic administration. Do you take into account prospect and client market position, strategy, and culture when shaping offers? Do you vary service packages to create pricing offers based on client segments? How effectively are you leveraging your competitive advantages in employee communications that increase desired behaviors and do you have the empirical evidence to prove it?

Linda Merritt, Research Analyst, HRO, NelsonHall