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The benefits broker’s secret to serving the small business market

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When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law, companies scrambled to understand — and then adapt to — the changes in regulation.

No market segment struggled more than small businesses.

Businesses with 100 or fewer employees have found themselves at a crossroads over the past few years, challenged by how to affordably attract employees and keep the ones they have.

It’s not an unfamiliar position. Small businesses have long struggled to balance cost with valuable benefits options — a challenge that’s compounded by confusion over the changes ushered in by PPACA and exactly which responsibilities lie with the small business owner. Amid the confusion, small businesses still have to attract and retain quality employees like any other business — only with fewer resources. That means small business owners are spending valuable time shopping for benefits options they often don’t fully understand.

No matter which industry they inhabit, small businesses face some universal challenges:

    • financial pressure;
    • employee retention; and
    • productivity.

Employers are constantly trying to simplify their benefits process, respond to their workforce’s diverse needs, reduce the amount of time they spend shopping for benefits and stay within or under their budget. The right benefits strategy can help them achieve this balance, but it’s not always easy — particularly if they’re going it alone.

Law of attraction and retention

Five years after ACA implementation, employers still struggle to comprehend the law’s structures and requirements. Many small businesses need help navigating the regulatory requirements, exploring options and staying compliant.

The challenge continues to intensify. Thanks to the advent of a new presidential election cycle, the ACA is once again front and center for the small business owner. New questions about potential changes, uncertainty about the future of a program, and a lack of clarity about how it will affect the business itself have employers searching for help.

And they’re wise to do so. According to MetLife’s annual Employee Benefit Trends Study, benefits play a larger role than ever in small business employee attraction and retention. The study shows that employees consider their benefits to be an important part of their financial futures. Over one-third of small business employees said that dental insurance is a key reason they’ve remained with their employer, with nearly the same proportion naming vision coverage as the primary deal breaker.

Jimbo Story, vice president of Small Group Sales & Specialty Markets at MetLife, thinks that’s good news for employers.

“Understanding what their employees’ needs are is the first step for employers,” he says. “Then, it’s a matter of choosing the right funding mechanism — whether they’re committing employer dollars or a portion of employer dollars along with employee contributions toward benefits.”

Such decisions make the broker’s role more important than ever.

“Small business owners aren’t benefits experts,” Story says. “They place a high value on expert guidance, and they want to build strong relationships with their advisors.”

Those advisors, he says, can offer a wide range of benefits options to small business owners and their employees. Products like vision and dental can be a low-cost way to increase employee loyalty. And a solid benefits package doesn’t have to hurt the pocketbook. Employees aren’t opposed to shouldering some of the expense: The MetLife study shows that over half of employees are willing to bear some of their benefits costs in exchange for more choices that meet their needs.

Benefits that drive results

To demonstrate to small business owners the value of voluntary options, Story says brokers should connect the dots for them. Brokers, he says, can show an employer the gaps in a benefit strategy and how those gaps can be filled.

“Agents and brokers can help their small business clients provide a range of cost-conscious benefits — and the best way to help them is to simply show the employer options,” Story says. “Brokers can illustrate which plan design options would reduce costs or how cost-sharing can ease the financial burden on both employer and employee.”

Though health care costs will continue to be a top concern for small businesses, the broker can play a valuable role in helping employers offer key ancillary benefits that improve loyalty and job satisfaction.

“For brokers looking to expand their client base or add new product lines, there is an opportunity,” Story says. “By becoming a trusted resource for small businesses, brokers can help them locate right-sized options that improve business results and make for happier, more loyal employees. “

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Exp 10/17


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