Choosing the Best Employee Benefits Technology Provider: A Checklist

Before you select a benefits software vendor, make sure to thoroughly assess your benefits needs, the services they offer, and more.

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Steps to vet benefits technology providers

You know the consequences of outdated employee benefits systems, and are ready to invest in modern technology. But with so many benefits administration technology vendors out there, how do you choose the right one? Here’s a checklist to help you decide.

Assess your benefits technology needs

Before you start looking for a vendor, make sure you know what you want out of the technology. This means conducting a thorough assessment of your current and future benefits administration needs.

Before you start looking for a vendor, make sure you know what you want out of the technology. This means conducting a thorough assessment of your current and future benefits administration needs.

During your assessment:

  • Review your current benefits administration processes and systems. Identify their gaps, bottlenecks, and weaknesses.
  • Evaluate your future benefits administration needs. Growing businesses have rapidly changing employee benefits needs and therefore require scalable technology.
  • Get buy-in from stakeholders, including those who will be using the technology (e.g., managers, HR/benefits staff, and employees).
  • Determine your budget for the technology. When making this decision, consider the total value that the new technology is likely to bring your organization.
  • View the technology as a long-term investment, instead of as a solution for the here and now.

Essential benefits technology features

Though features vary by employer, technology that offers the following qualities are commonly sought after:

  • Configured to comply with changes in federal, state, and local benefits laws

Benefits administration

  • Online benefits enrollment, for both onboarding and open enrollment
  • Integrates benefits administration with human resources, payroll, and timekeeping — to save time and reduce administrative errors
  • End-to-end benefits administration — including benefits planning, implementation, policies and procedures, auditing, recordkeeping, payroll and benefits processing, benefits reporting, and remittances for benefit payments
  • Comprehensive leave management, for paid and unpaid time off

Employee assistance

  • Self-service platform, so employees can view and manage their benefits anywhere, anytime
  • Tools to bolster benefits communications between managers and employees
  • Educational tools to help employees better understand their benefits

Additional features

  • Third-party benefits integrations, such as with 401(k) providers
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), to enable fast communication with insurance carriers
  • Secure infrastructure that stores and protects benefits information
  • Notifications and alerts, to keep you abreast of life events impacting employee eligibility
  • Plan building that lets you personalize benefits according to individual employee needs
  • Benchmarking tools, to compare your benefit offerings with your competitors’
  • Benefits reconciliation with payroll and finance, to ensure accurate financial documents
  • Analytics to obtain actionable insights and enhance decision making

In a nutshell, aim for technology that:

  • Is user-friendly, intuitive, flexible, and customizable
  • Streamlines the entire benefits administration process
  • Lets you fulfill your benefits compliance obligations
  • Motivates employee engagement in your benefits program

Questions to ask benefits technology providers

General questions

  • Can they provide information about their history, client base, and experience?
  • How deep is their knowledge of the employee benefits industry?
  • Can they give you references of clients they’ve serviced in your industry?
  • What differentiates the provider from their competitors?
  • How is the company funded?
  • What is their current financial position?
  • What problems does the technology address?
  • Customer service — what levels do they offer?

Pricing

  • What are the pricing models?
  • What additional costs should you expect?
  • Do they have free add-ons or discounts that can help to offset the pricing?
  • Do free or discounted products come with restrictions?

Implementation

  • Who will perform the implementation? Is it the vendor, or a third party?
  • What’s involved in the implementation? How long will the process take?
  • What issues might arise during implementation or while operating the technology? What are the potential solutions?
  • Strategy, maintenance, upgrades, functionality
  • Does the provider have partnerships with benefits experts, such as brokers, who can deliver strategic advice?
  • Will the vendor handle ongoing system maintenance and upgrades?
  • What internal control measures are included in the technology?
  • What steps are taken to ensure data security and privacy?
  • Can they explain what the service contract entails?
  • What happens if the technology does not perform according to expectations?
  • Can they demonstrate beforehand how the system works, so you can gauge its functionality?

Customer satisfaction

  • Do they provide online resources to keep customers up-to-date on benefits trends?
  • Do they market new products to users?
  • What steps do they take to maintain customer satisfaction?
  • How are customer inquiries or complaints dealt with? What is the response time?

Perform due diligence by:

  • Contacting existing customers (of the vendor) to determine their satisfaction rates.
  • Reviewing and comparing vendor demos of the technology. No demo = red flag.
  • Observing the vendor’s approach from the initial contact. A great vendor is knowledgeable, helpful, ethical, and committed to gaining and retaining your trust.

Prepare a request for proposal

You can send a request for proposal, or RFP, to a select group of vendors that align with your technology needs.

You can send a request for proposal, or RFP, to a select group of vendors that align with your technology needs. The RFP forces you to define your needs plus gives you a basis for comparing functionality, pricing, implementation methodology, and overall service of the different vendors.

While RFPs can be long or short, aim to be as detailed as possible so vendors can get a solid grasp of your objectives and requirements.

An RFP for benefits administration technology may include:

  • A brief introduction to your company, including its mission
  • Why you’re sending the RFP — e.g., to obtain information on the provider’s values, service offerings, technology, customer service, and cost
  • Your benefits administration technology needs and challenges
  • Obstacles preventing you from achieving optimal business administration. These can be technological (e.g., inadequate features and tools) or non-technological (e.g., manual processes or lack of employee interest in your benefits program)
  • What you seek in a benefits administration technology provider
  • Instructions for completing the RFP
  • A series of open-ended questions to determine the vendor’s strengths and weaknesses. Many of the questions we listed in the previous section can go in your RFP.
  • Any supporting documents required
  • When and how to submit the completed RFP
  • Whom to contact with questions about the RFP

When evaluating RFP responses from each vendor, don’t be afraid to request additional Information if necessary. Also, negotiating with top contenders is a crucial part of the decision-making process.

In the end, you don’t want a vendor who will give you the technology and then let go of your hand. You want a vendor who sees you as their partner for the long haul.

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