There’s a certain amount of confusion in the marketplace over employee benefit advisers versus employee benefit brokers, where one or the other starts, leaves off and overlaps, if one is better than the other or...if it’s all just a matter of branding.

There are no “rules” for this, just conventions. An employee benefit adviser can also be an employee benefits broker (and vice versa) and do a fine job for his or her clients. To keep matters straight, however, an employee benefit adviser is a professional who has a more strategic, long-term and consultative orientation toward client service than brokers. Brokers, as one organization puts it, tie back to the concept of “brokering” for business, or “shopping for coverage.”

An adviser is a broker, but a whole lot more – someone with expansive knowledge of the world of employee benefits and relationships with the carriers, but who also is dedicated to your organization’s and employees’ interests beyond just at renewal time. An employee benefit adviser is someone you can tap into as needed for administrative assistance and to help prevent mistakes with regard to regulations.

The challenge for clients is to avoid getting too caught up in semantics as the search for an employee benefit adviser gets underway. Focus on what the candidates do, how they do it and how they get paid (fee for service or commission). Most important, though, stay attuned to the nuances. Here are five things to look for:

  1. A vision to help shape your future workforce. The best employee benefit advisers won’t merely understand the workforce issues that are most pressing today and tomorrow, but will have insights into the benefits solutions that will most effectively address them, given the composition of your employee base. A vision of what is evolving and what can be – in the broader landscape and your organization specifically – sets the best candidates apart.
  2. Clear, jargon-free communications. The adviser should be more interested in imparting information and helping people learn about benefits than with showing how smart he or she is about insurance. Even complex topics should be presented in simple, non-insurance terms, whether being directed to your executive team or an HR intern.
  3. A strong backup team. For all their expertise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find employee benefits advisers who can do it all and do it well. You want bench strength, so ask how compliance, risk management, claims and even matters like human capital management are handled, and what the credentials of the team members are.
  4. No ties that might bind. You definitely want an adviser that knows the markets and has good relationships with the carriers, but not one tied to a particular one. Since carriers regularly go in and out of markets, ask about this cycle’s recommended carriers and don’t hesitate to question if they provide the adviser extra compensation or bonuses.
  5. Data helps drive insights. Data is an increasingly important tool – putting it to better use results in smarter, more strategic and more customized benefits offers. But mid-market employers are just now getting up to speed on its potential and so, for that matter, are employee benefits advisers. Are your candidates savvy about how data is collected, its purpose and how it can be put to work?

Contact HUB to learn how our dedicated team of employee benefits advisers can help your organization.