When the vendor switch is in the works

By Rick Brunet
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/25/2003

When moving a benefits plan to a new carrier, advance planning and a focus on key details pave the way for a smooth transition.

Here are a few things to consider when planning a move:

•use the opportunity to implement change;

•gather and verify employee information;

•explore carrier project resources and your own;

•broadcast news about approaching change; and

•track and highlight your results.

Use the opportunity to implement change

This is a good time to review plan design and processes. You’re making a significant change that will affect all your members, so use the opportunity to adjust plan structure and processes as needed. One employer that had benefits staff answering basic inquiries from employees introduced customer service centre support for member questions as part of the transition. Members made the switch easily. In fact, member calls were logged the day the plan took effect. With routine questions taken off their hands, the benefits staff had a chance to attend to unique situations requiring extra attention.

Verify employee information

Use the move to ensure personal information (mailing addresses) and coverage details (dependent names and ages, salary data) are up to date. Capturing details for employees who are on leave or retired may require more time and a creative approach. Do you mail tax information to disabled or retired staff members? Is that an opportunity to confirm details so they aren’t left out of the transition process? Ask the current carrier for support; it may be able to assist since it processes claims for all members.

Explore carrier project resources and your own

How will the carrier make this move easy? All carriers should be prepared to offer a detailed plan for managing a smooth transition. Ideally, the carrier will work with the employer to establish a strategy and a schedule for transition. At the first meeting, establish a meeting schedule, ask for minutes of discussions and agree on shared milestones.

Assign clear responsibilities on both sides. You need to be available to review the contract with the underwriter, but staff at the carrier’s end should be able to customize and print your forms and cards or assemble kits. The carrier should provide a range of expertise to support the new client including a senior staff member to oversee transition.

Broadcast news about approaching change

Announce the pending move as early as possible, but let members know when they can expect more information. A brief e-mail or posting on the company Web site may be all that’s needed initially. It’s important to review messages explaining the move to employees but most carriers have communications professionals. Find out what they can do and make use of their abilities so that the HR department can spend more time helping employees adjust to the transition.

Track and highlight your results

Ask about customer care provided in the months following implementation. The move isn’t complete on the day the plan takes effect. The carrier should have a strategy for easing the client and the client’s employees through the early weeks and months. New processes, phone numbers, forms and cards will be unfamiliar to members. How will the carrier handle that? Will it bring issues to the HR department before declining a member’s claim? Get details, and agree on a process that will work best.

Moving a benefits plan is a big decision and working through the details of transition can be a daunting task. Before choosing a carrier, be sure you’re getting a partner willing to offer strong support that sets the foundation for an enduring relationship.

Rick Brunet is vice-president, marketing and underwriting for Manulife Financial Group Benefits.

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