December 07, 2022
A global broker partnership can be remarkably effective in helping to transform company benefit programs across the world. Engaging all company stakeholders, aligning the broker reporting structure to the company and working out potential challenges early in the process will make the relationship stronger. Building measurable service-level agreements (SLAs), developing an issue escalation process and reviewing the broker on a regular basis can keep all parties accountable and provide awareness of issues. Global brokers with strong consulting and technology arms can support employers and deliver on emerging areas of the employee value proposition, including well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and digital benefits delivery. With these key components, companies can work with their global brokers to make successful strategic initiatives a reality.
Building the Business Case
With limited resources, employers may struggle with their global benefits efforts and priorities, whether they be governance, implementation, renewal management, strategic initiatives, data collection or analytics. As business operations expand and new challenges emerge for employers with global workforces, some HR/benefits leaders are thoughtfully partnering with a global broker to help manage what for many companies equates to over 100 unique benefit plans. Partnering with global brokers also offers employers further opportunities to drive strategic impacts and move the proverbial benefits needle.1 Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, forming a solid business case for all relevant internal stakeholders is important. To do so, employers can think through these steps:
Step 1: Understand how business strategies and needs can be met by leveraging global partnerships
Review the company’s business and benefits strategies and identify how collaboration with a global broker can enhance those efforts. Employers that have not yet documented their global benefits philosophy and/or guidelines may want to consider first doing so. Providing potential partners with a clear strategy and guiding principles will assist in establishing proper expectations.
”Benefits was thought from C-Suite as something that needed to be managed, now it is an asset as part of a successful people structure.”
-Alan Buckley, Global Consulting Leader, Mercer
Outline existing challenges and opportunity gaps. Employers can include any current issues and/or opportunities for improvement with regard to service quality and access, costs, administration, data, analytics and regulatory and internal governance compliance. Prioritize these challenges based on the company’s business objectives and/or benefits strategy (e.g., to develop global consistency) and identify how a broker could address those needs.4
Additionally, as a result of the pandemic, there has been an acceleration of many benefit trends, including well-being, DEI, mental health and digital benefits delivery. Local and global solutions vary significantly, as does the scope of initiatives organizations implement to address these topics. As C-Suite priorities and the employee value proposition continue to change, it is important to consider the evolving benefits landscape when selecting a global brokerage partner.
Questions to Ask When Considering a Global Broker Relationship
- Future goals: What does the 3-to-5-year strategy look like and how could leveraging a global broker or external vendor partner enhance this work?
- Internal resources: What are the internal resources and how could a broker assist with limitations and enhance existing resources?
- Data analytics: What data access needs and challenges exist? Does partnering with a global broker meet those needs?
- Benefit communications: What challenges exist with communicating benefits locally and globally? Can partnering with a global broker help address the challenges? Can a global broker provide a rewards platform to communicate Total Rewards to employees?
Factor in company structure and C-Suite priorities. For employers with a decentralized structure, it can be more challenging to build consensus for a global broker as it increases the number of stakeholders that need to be engaged. However, having a global broker can provide consistency across a decentralized structure. Yet lack of resources is often a company’s biggest barrier regardless of the company’s structure. If the company’s central philosophy has been made clear to the global broker, that person can better assist with resource limitations and is a key rationale in most business cases.3
- Regional/local support: What do local and regional colleagues think about breaking ties with their long-standing broker? What will they gain and what will they lose?
- Quality assurance: Where are the current service gaps and/or quality concerns, and could they be improved with a change? Where is there already high service and quality, and would this be affected by the change?
- Cost considerations: Are there any anticipated savings? If so, what is the estimated potential savings target? Will there be increased cost in some cases (i.e., higher fee or commission from one broker than another, smaller headcount countries where fee structures may vary, benefits administration or other transition costs)?
- Governance considerations: Where are the current areas for optimization as it relates to governance processes? Could a global broker partnership enhance existing governance? Will there be any issues ensuring internal alignment? Will the partnership follow an existing internal governance structure? What communications will be needed to ensure governance compliance?
- Benefits financing arrangements: What financing mechanisms (e.g., self-insured, multinational pooling, global underwriting and captive) might the company implement or actively manage with a broker? What financing mechanisms make the most sense for the company’s size and structure?
- Internal expertise: Are the right internal resources in place to develop, implement and manage well-being, mental health and other employee-focused programs?
Step 2: Identify stakeholders and create a process to develop buy-in
Determine who the relevant stakeholders are and who will be involved in the benefits strategy and vendor selection process. Engaging a cross-functional group, which may include finance, risk, purchasing/procurement, HR, occupational health, IT and legal, is critical to drive today’s business strategy. Including local colleagues is especially important in helping to learn more about their perspective, resulting in the selection of the broker with the best fit for the organization’s needs. Hearing everyone’s perspective is not only important to reach the best decision but also for ensuring long-term sustainability. The internal stakeholder teams involved may look different depending on a company’s culture, structure and benefits strategy. Regardless, it is key for employers to identify which internal stakeholders they will need approval from in order to move forward.
Step 3: Outline the Return on Investment (ROI) in a comprehensive business case
Once all relevant stakeholders are identified, it will be vital to form and clearly articulate the business case to those parties. While motivations for utilizing broker partnerships can vary for each individual company, some of the top reasons include improved governance and oversight; enhancing employee well-being; benefits inventory, data analytics and cost controls; supplier consolidation synergies; and the ability to leverage for other global initiatives (e.g., global consistency strategy, implementation of minimum standards, global DEI initiatives).3,5
As companies weigh their options, there are various partnership approaches to consider: Partnership with a global broker for the company’s captive strategy, leveraging a multiple-broker arrangement or utilizing one global broker.
Captive: A solution that gives employers more control over cost and design. It is growing in popularity as employers strive for more global benefits consistency. It’s worth noting, the captive model changes the relationship between an employer and its broker.6-8
While initially a cost-savings mechanism, captives are seeing an increased focus on providing employers more control and enabling more consistency in benefits design (e.g., achieving minimum standards, across countries). Four main reasons employers state for implementing a captive are global consistency, DEI initiatives, governance and cost. With a captive, employers own the risks associated with costs, but also can benefit from cost savings that are not available with other financing mechanisms such as reduced brokerage and insurance fees.6-8
” Over the last 1-2 years we have seen a significant increase in employer interest in captive solutions for international benefits. Much of this recent interest is driven by a desire from Global HR and Risk leaders to improve governance and provide more consistent and inclusive benefits with cost savings often being a secondary priority.”
- Barry Perkins, MMB Multinational Financing & Global Mobility Solutions Leader
Multiple Broker: Some employers leverage a multiple-broker approach, as one global broker may not have the coverage strength needed in all markets where they are located. This multiple broker approach may result in the loss of some governance simplification and cost savings. Having a global coordinator for multiple brokers can make this more feasible to manage, as can having a global policy that outlines the roles and rules for the broker relationship. The global coordinator can function as a referee in providing direction to regional and local teams, and when necessary, enforce the global policy. Here are three examples of multiple broker approaches:
- Local brokers: Focuses on building tailored packages to meet local needs but creates challenges for governance and global consistency effort;
- Regional brokers: Allows for global consistency while partnering with a broker who understands regional nuances; and
- Two global brokers: Creates competition between the two brokers and allows local teams to use the broker who is stronger in their market while ensuring that the global consistency strategy works.4,5,9
While considerations may differ for each employer, the underlying components of the governance process remain consistent whether pursuing one global broker or a multiple global broker partnership arrangement. These key elements include the Request for Proposal (RFP), Scope of Work (SOW) and Relationship Management.
Engaging Internal Stakeholders to Drive Strategy
Proactively engaging with the appropriate internal stakeholders early on is advantageous as it helps streamline subsequent processes—from RFP development and vendor selection/interviews to implementation and long-term relationship management.
Who Should Be Involved in the Decision-making Process?
While each company takes an individualized approach, ideally internal support will come from a range of cross functional teams including HR, Benefits, Risk, Finance, IT, Administration, Procurement and Legal. Once stakeholders are identified, companies may consider outlining roles and responsibilities to clearly identify the part they play in the process for vendor selection and relationship management.
Here are some role and responsibility examples:
- Procurement: Build out the RFP and drive the broker selection process.
- Legal: Provide legal counsel on broker partnership.
- Benefits/Rewards: Guide the broker relationship and inform all stakeholders of the organization’s global benefits strategy. Ensure alignment to employee well-being strategies and bring in additional stakeholders as needed.
- IT: Review technical components and ensure compliance with the organization’s requirements.
- Finance: Navigate fee structure and other costs.
- Operations: Ensure alignment with benefits strategy and local business needs.
To attain buy-in during development and ensure successful implementation, companies should engage local and regional colleagues early on and as needed throughout the RFP process. By actively incorporating local and regional feedback in the RFP design, review, and bidding process, a company can be proactive in addressing integration challenges. Doing so can also facilitate improved oversight, a smooth rollout and effective collaboration between internal and external stakeholders.
Which Stakeholders Make the Final Decision?
As part of the RFP process, companies will need to determine which internal stakeholders need to be engaged and who will make the ultimate decision about whether a global partnership moves forward. The answers vary for each company for a myriad of reasons. But generally, this process is a joint effort between key corporate and local teams looking at capability and cost. At some companies, the capability analysis might be done locally, but the final decision is made collaboratively. In others, local and regional colleagues might provide input, but the decision is made centrally. Alternatively, regional colleagues may be an equal stakeholder. Incorporating the regional team in the RFP selection process can make the regional colleagues feel more positive toward the global partnership.
Request for Proposal (RFP), Scope of Work (SOW) and Vendor Selection Process Considerations
Along with engagement of the appropriate internal stakeholders, an employer can leverage the RFP and SOW processes to select the global broker partnership that works best for their workforce needs and/or benefit strategies.
What is the Role and Value of an Employer-Driven RFP?
Regardless of the broker arrangement approach or internal structure of a company, putting in the time and effort early on to create a strategic RFP with meaningful, targeted questions that reflect key areas of importance to the employer is a worthwhile investment. As such, companies may consider the following components as they approach the RFP process: strategy, SOW, criteria and interviews.
What Is an Employer Trying to Achieve?
As companies build out their RFP and SOW, it is important to share the company’s strategy and guiding principles to ensure that both parties are coming to the partnership with the right vision. These principles assist the company and global broker in aligning expectations surrounding benefits and business strategies. Using the guiding principles, companies can articulate priorities—what is a must have vs. nice to have—as well as what the company’s key markets are.4 Company priorities go beyond employee benefits, but there is often a connection. It’s important to think broadly when outlining guiding principles to potential global brokers.
Generally, the RFP includes:
- 1 | Information on the company’s strategy, vision, guiding principles, key global initiatives, organizational structure and governance framework;
- 2 | A clear outline of the company’s needs (geographical footprint, volume of policies), as well as expectations [both general and service-level agreements (SLAs)] that the company has for services provided by local, regional and global contacts;
- 3 | Detailed questions the company wants to see in the response regarding capabilities and technology (including data inventory and analytics systems);
- 4 | Top competitive advantages;
- 5 | How a particular broker’s approach differs from competitors; and
- 6 | What consulting, technology and other value-added advantages a particular broker can bring to support company priorities.
What Are the Role and Purpose of an Employer-Driven SOW?
When looking to establish a global broker relationship, taking the time to build out a detailed and clear SOW can be extremely beneficial. The SOW is an agreement between an employer and broker that outlines what is included in the broker contract and what the fees/commissions are. Having a sufficient level of detail included in the SOW provides reassurance to the company regarding what services will be provided and establishes a shared understanding for both parties on deliverables and expectations.
A SOW can:
- Identify what is in and out of scope (out-of-scope work can identify projects that could be added later via a change order, including corresponding additional fee for service);
- Contain deliverables and processes;
- Clarify price, criteria, requirements, timeline and invoice schedule; and
- Provide flexibility as business priorities and strategies evolve.
Based on employer best practices, key areas to highlight in the SOW include:
What is the biggest differentiator for a successful global broker relationship? According to employers, it’s an effective arrangement with their account managers. The importance of this role(s) should not be underestimated. This person is an extension of the team, and therefore must be aligned on strategy and priorities and be positioned to build relationships to coordinate messages across regions and communicate effectively between their internal stakeholders and the company, their client. Having the right account manager can truly make or break the partnership. Depending on the organizational structure, some companies have both global account managers as well as regional account managers. With personnel changes on either side, it is critical to have an effective transition plan that enables an uninterrupted experience.1 The SOW should identify the employers expectations of a broker partner.
Clearly state in the SOW what services are expected of the broker, detail the commissions (or fees) payable, thus allowing an employer to regularly audit the broker to ensure they are delivering the services promised and only receiving the agreed-upon compensation.
For more details on what to include in the Scope of Work, see the next section, Ongoing Relationship Management.
Benefits Inventory Database
Often, better governance, including improved access to data, is a prime business case for using a global broker. However, while this is a key business need, even with a global broker maintaining the benefits inventory database, it is a recurring challenge for global employers. Employers have found the update process much easier than the initial data load process. A major problem noted for database inventories, however, is that the project tends to lose priority in light of other competing demands. Also, turnover among HR staff and/or the local brokers may result in both parties not realizing the database even exists. It can take a full annual cycle to get the database initially loaded with updates being made when renewal dates take effect. Employers struggle with the accuracy and limitations of cost data included in the database. For example, if an employer requires having more specific information (such as company and employee cost vs. just total benefit cost), indicate that in the SOW. Please note that some companies incorporate this information in the RFP process.
What Criteria Is Most Important in the RFP Selection Decision?
Internal stakeholders involved may want to identify and agree upon a scoring process/score- card before reviewing any RFPs. Doing so preemptively helps ensure that all involved parties understand how they will evaluate RFPs so that they can weigh criteria based on agreed-upon priorities. When drafting the RFP, consider the key criteria (e.g., geographical presence, cost, benefits inventory database, technological platform, business alignment, prior relationship, consulting capabilities) and ensure that the company is asking for enough information in each of those areas to be able to effectively compare and evaluate responses. This will allow all parties to arrive at a consensus on which global partnership to choose.
What Are the Key Elements of the Interview Process?
After the RFPs are reviewed, typically the internal stakeholders/decision makers involved will then move on to the interview process. During the interview, bidders will share evidence and anecdotal examples; this serves as an opportunity for the interview team to react, ask questions and gather more specific details on areas of importance to the employer. The interview portion also serves as an opportunity to ensure that vision, strategy and expectations align between all parties, both externally and internally.
Ongoing Relationship Management
Once the broker decision is made and the implementation process starts, it is the ideal time to review the SOW to develop an effective ongoing relationship management process. Sharing guiding principles is key to a strong strategic partnership as well as reviewing critical elements, including governance, fees, service level agreements (SLAs), renewal process, escalation protocols, benefits database and analytics. Companies should establish a review process to ensure that the partnership is working as expected and to see what can be improved.
Sharing a summary of the guiding principles with all relevant stakeholders internally and with the broker will ensure that everyone is on the same page. The global partnership can be critical for effectively implementing a global consistency strategy (e.g., well-being strategy, minimum standards, benefits harmonization, vendor integration, governance, financing mechanisms).1,3,6 When reviewing and finalizing the global broker SOW, it is ideal to have a high-level understanding of key strategic initiatives and clarify what falls within the scope of the global broker SOW and fees and what will be out of scope. Any global initiatives should be communicated from the very beginning and look for synergies across global efforts to reduce workload and change management.
With adequate, transparent discussions, employers can create a solid partnership with their global broker. Spending time in the SOW phase to build realistic expectations and creating viable processes in the Account Management phase will allow employers and brokers to be more in sync. This dynamic will strengthen the governance process and enable a global consistency strategy.1,3
Brokers can be key partners for a company’s governance process. Companies utilize their broker relationships to assess whether their benefit offerings and changes align with their strategy and priorities. This is done tactically through the renewal process, benefits inventory database management and analytics. Companies can be clear about who is responsible for governance and making sure it’s not just the broker’s responsibility; otherwise, the governance process may meet resistance from internal stakeholders.3 For more information on governance, please see the Global Benefits Governance Guide.
” The Governance Process should be clearly outlined in the Global Benefits policy.”
- Charles Azu Jr., Global Employee Benefits Leader, Stellantis Solutions Leader
Fees and Commissions
Fees are an area where companies have different approaches: local remuneration, global/regional coordination fees, minimum commissions, flat fees and other services and retainers. A base global fee applied to each separate business entity or plan brokered can serve to compensate the broker for the services that must be provided to the company at a global level (benefits inventory, financing evaluation, reporting, etc.) Often a pre-negotiated base commission fee level applies for each country and/or benefit plan type. Locally, the commission fee can be higher if other services such as benefits enrollment administration are conducted by the broker. In addition to the fee structure, a retainer is useful to meet unexpected needs, especially if there are budget restrictions. Make sure the retainer has clear guiderails in the SOW to keep the broker from always pushing the retainer. Employers can make sure the services outlined in the RFP process are reflected in the SOW and set clear expectations to limit challenges.
Types of Fees and Commissions
The most common method of remuneration for local benefit brokers are commissions. Commissions are paid directly from the insurer to the broker per terms agreed upon at placement/renewal of a benefits contract. Commissions are generally seen as the most efficient means to pay brokers, as the company makes just one payment for its insurance, with the built-in commissions forwarded to the appropriate broker.
Global/Regional Coordination Fees
Core brokerage fees cover the costs to operate a global brokerage model. The fee ensures that the global and regional account managers who are not compensated through individual policy commissions are remunerated for the services they provide, including (but not limited to) establishing a governance framework, implementing the global brokerage model, managing and reporting on annual renewals, providing strategic guidance on benefits-related issues, and acting as an escalation point for any perceived local issues.
Depending on the size of the business in a country, local commissions may not be enough to cover the costs for a local broker to deliver the additional services required by a sophisticated global governance model. In these cases, local brokers may require a minimum fee to ensure that they can adhere to the agreed global requirements. It is important for companies to identify where minimum fees may be applicable early on whenever engaging with a global broker partner.
Flat Fees and Other Services
A flat fee may be charged for certain aspects of the model regardless of size and scope of global engagement. This can include fees for technology, access to research materials or other out-of-scope services such as alternate financing feasibility studies, health care analytics or benchmarking and management of non-insured benefits.
Global benefits cover a large population through a variety of policies that differ in each country. This inevitably leads to unexpected situations for a variety of employees who will turn to their employers for guidance and hold them accountable for resolution of any issues that occur with their employee benefits. Internal resources often do not have the capability to resolve all issues and will turn to their global broker partners for assistance in navigating country-specific complexities and situational anomalies. For companies that have strict budgeting guidelines and a low tolerance for out-of-scope time and materials charges, a pre-agreed-upon retainer can help ensure that these unexpected needs are met immediately without a lengthy contracting phase or volatile periodic costs.
Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
To effectively manage the relationship, creating and tracking against effective SLAs is key. One way employers evaluate service is through surveys. In the SLA, some employers identify a minimum score value that is expected to be earned in such surveys.
Key elements of SLAs include:
- Recommendation report expectations (bidder quotes, global financing mechanism impact);
- Project management metrics and milestones;
- Regulatory guidelines and guidance;
- Claims data reporting and analytic recommendations;
- Invoice reconciliation;
- Inventory database implementation and maintenance; and
- Customer satisfaction measurement (e.g., net promoter score).
Companies can build performance guarantees that meet the SLA. Penalties of performance guarantees include a percent of fee or commission--or an available consultant credit—due if expectations are not met for the impacted quarter.
Work with local and regional colleagues to ensure that the SLA reflects the work the global broker has to do at the local level and includes issues like benefits administration and claims inquiries.
The renewal process does not always have to be a time crunch, nor does it have to sideline global consistency imperatives. With effective planning, timeline management, communication and reporting, companies can have a smooth process that allows them the time needed to think strategically and also complete the plan task at hand. For a company to effectively implement its strategies prior to renewals and smoothly throughout the endeavor, it needs to develop a renewal process and timeline in collaboration with the global broker. Most brokers have a template to guide this process. The timeline should include key milestones, such as obtaining and reviewing quotes from insurers, financing mechanism viability (captive, pooling, underwriting), negotiation time, company approval requirements, documentation requirements and employee communication requirements.
Volume management is key when it comes to renewals. For a global employer with a footprint in dozens of countries, each having various policy types (e.g., medical, life and disability) and the possibility of multiple policies for each policy type within a single country, the majority of that work is all occurring simultaneously. This can lead to strained resources, making the need for a strong process and adherence to individual policy timelines crucial. It is important to note that some countries/markets have a higher degree of complexity or maturity when looking for solutions. The number, frequency and/or intricacy of the activities required can vary significantly from one country to another. As a result, differences in local requirements are to be expected.2 What should not be expected, however, is a different form of governance or varying protocols from country to country. A knowledgeable global broker should be able to walk a client through the countries where added complexities are required and set expectations accordingly. For employers with a captive, this is a critical step for ensuring that broker and captive resources are clear on roles and responsibilities.
While neither party wants issues to occur, given the scope and complexity of global benefits, there will inevitably be issues that result in escalations. To best address these, the company and global broker should define a process stating how escalations and issue resolution will be addressed. This should include which stakeholders should be informed and who has ultimate responsibility. A documented process with expectations removes the surprise factor, mitigates confusion and increases the likelihood of a faster resolution.
A global broker’s global benefits inventory database is a web-based tool that enables multinational companies to efficiently store, manage and analyze the design and financing information for employee benefits, HR and compensation programs. Information stored in the database includes plan design, financing, contacts and policy documents. Available reports include individual country reports, cross-country reports and market comparison reports.
Major purposes of a regularly maintained global benefits inventory database identified by participants include:
- Collecting information to help set priorities and use economies of scale for purchasing and administering benefits;
- Guiding employers when planning strategies for multinational pooling networks;
- Ensuring adherence to corporate governance processes and compliance; and
- Conducting benchmarking that is industry specific.
Most brokers have technology systems for the inventory database and analytics, some with ongoing enhancements. It is important to understand the features of the technology system, its capabilities and what will be available at the time of launch, as well as future enhancement possibilities. While companies may receive straightforward data reports such as costs of benefits, they don’t feel that they receive analytics from their broker, such as claims costs drivers, upcoming trends and innovative benefits/programs. However, some global brokers continue to enhance their technology capabilities to provide clients with access to additional analytics, such as year-over-year cost trends, placement within the market, etc. Keep in mind that some countries may not meet the company’s expectations for data reporting based on the maturity of the market and other factors. Some employers are moving to a captive in order to get better claims and reporting data. As claims are paid out of the captive, reporting from external vendors does not slow down employers given their data access within their captive systems. In addition, more details of the claim are reported in the captive systems compared to external vendor reports (Figure 1).
It is important to set aside time to regularly review the global broker arrangement. This review provides an opportunity to assess progress against expectations and contractual obligations, as well as identify areas of improvement and action plans for both the company and broker stakeholders.
To make the review process effective, employers can:
- 1 | Determine frequency: Typically, companies hold quarterly reviews.
- 2 | Identify stakeholders: Ideally, there should be input and representation from local, regional and global stakeholders. Also, understand which team (supplier management, procurement, benefits, broker) should facilitate and lead the review.
- 3 | Have an agenda: Make sure that all participants know what is expected of them, what is being assessed and what constructive, pointed feedback is sought. A template(s) for collecting and reporting feedback is a best practice to keep everyone on task.
When measuring the success of the broker relationship, it really depends on the company’s strategy and priorities, including cost avoidance, savings, global consistency efforts, global financing mechanism (pooling / captive / underwriting) and value from the partnership.
” The strength of any partnership relies on a solid foundation. It is important to start any relationship by developing a complete understanding of a client’s strategy, vision, philosophy, programs and challenges and quickly determine their objectives for the relationship going forward. Lately, the global brokerage relationships have grown to be more strategic, including a lot more consulting advice. Well-being, Risk Finance-Captives, DEI/Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) are some great examples of that.”
- Emerson Soma, Senior Vice President, Global Benefits, Aon
A global broker partnership—whether leveraging one global broker or a multiple broker approach—can help make an employer’s global strategy a reality. The key is to be intentional and transparent at the beginning of the process by sharing the employer’s strategic vision with its potential partner(s), bringing all the stakeholders to the table, and clearly defining the SOW. These efforts will make the relationship management undertaking easier to navigate once a broker decision is finalized. As the relationship is established, building metrics, escalation protocols and regular review cycles will ensure that challenges are addressed before becoming untenable. Meeting the needs of a diverse global workforce with globally consistent benefits is more feasible with a strategic broker partnership.