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The Responsibilities of a Benefits Consultant

by Steve McDonnell

Add up all the salaries that a company pays to employees, multiply that number by 30.3 percent, and you'll estimate the typical cost for a company to provide employee benefits, as of December 2010. The Employee Benefit Research Institute also reports that almost 70 percent of employees consider employee benefits very important when choosing a job. To provide benefits that are competitive and affordable, companies hire benefit consultants to help them select, design and administer their employee benefit plans.

Health Care Benefit Consultants

Some benefit consultants specialize in health care benefits, which are the most important benefit to employees, according to EBRI. They work with companies to design competitive health-care coverage plans that provide employees with the features and options they want and are affordable for both the company and the employee. Consultants often manage the process of insurance companies placing bids to provide health care insurance for a company. They evaluate proposals and work with the client to make a decision. Many health care benefit consultants have a background in insurance and are licensed insurance brokers.

Retirement Consultants

Companies can provide retirement benefits in a number of different ways, such as a defined benefit plan, also called a pension plan, or a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k). Benefit consultants who specialize in retirement benefits work with companies to select the kind of retirement plans to offer and the features of those plans. They might help to decide the matching percentage on a 401(k) plan, based on what the company wants to provide and what it can afford. Consultants also help client organizations find plan administrators to maintain the balances in each participant's 401(k) account, issue statements and manage the process to distribute funds.

Actuaries

A benefit consultant that specializes in retirement plans might be an actuary. Similar to the requirement for a CPA to certify financial statements, every company that taxes a tax deduction for its retirement contributions must have an actuary certify its IRS filing. Actuaries estimate the amount of money a company needs to set aside in order to pay future retirees. They use advanced mathematics to predict how long companies will have to pay retirement benefits to employees based on life expectancy and payout options, such as a pension paid to a spouse after an employee's death.

Paid Time Off and Other Beneifts

Some benefit consultants have a Ph.D. in organizational psychology or a similar field. They conduct employee surveys for companies to gauge their satisfaction with the employee benefits the company offers and solicit feedback on employee needs. Based on the survey results, these consultants help companies understand what benefits are most important to employees. They also gather data on the kinds of benefit programs that competitors provide and use this information to help a company decide which benefits to provide and the features of those benefits such as holidays, vacation, sick time, office dress code and employee assistance programs.

About the Author

Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.

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