Buyer’s Guide

Benefits Administration: Buyer’s Guide

As the employee benefits landscape continues to increase in complexity and employees expect consumer-level technologies in the workplace, the right Ben Admin software is critical to effectively administering employee benefits programs.
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Managing an employee benefits program is more challenging than ever, as benefits increase in complexity and employee engagement is critical. Hence, the right technology platform is a key component for efficiently deploying employee benefits programs. 

Buying a benefits administration software can be complicated and time-consuming but choosing the right ben admin software vendor can transform how you manage your employee benefits programs, providing tangible improvements for the business and its employees.

What’s Benefits Administration Software?

What is the definition of benefits administration software?  

Benefits administration is managing benefits packages and employee requirements, selection of those packages and, in general, includes the following: 

  • Efficient enrollment process. 
  • Educational communication to employees regarding available benefits plans, so they can understand the options and choose the best one for their personal and family circumstances. 
  • Costs and contributions calculation for employees to understand the financial impact and plans comparison. 
  • Detailed reporting functionality for employers. 

As today’s workforce is a unique mix of different income levels, age groups, and lifestyles, your benefits programs need to reflect their varying needs. Countless software providers help organizations administer their employee benefits programs.  

Also known as benefits administration systems, benefit enrollment platforms, benefits administration software, benefits enrollment technology, or just simply ben admin, there are many great options to help you streamline employee benefits delivery.  

But how do you choose a partner? 

Note: For simplicity, we’ll refer to this technology as “ben admin” throughout.

About this Guide

This Benefits Administration Buyer’s Guide offers a set of criteria for comparing and evaluating benefits technology solutions, giving you a vendor-neutral framework to guide your decision-making process.   

This guide is designed to help you navigate the buying process for the employee benefits management platform and enable your organization to: 

  • Create a competitive benefits package for your employees. 
  • Create an efficient enrollment process, improve employee engagement, and guide smarter decision-making.  
  • Plan the buying process by using an actionable set of tools and resources.  
  • Understand the right questions to ask vendors to learn which ben admin solution best meets the needs of your stakeholders. 
  • Reduce repetitive administrative tasks and save time and money.  
  • Predict and control costs.

Steps For Selecting a Ben Admin Vendor

Phase 1: Identify & Prepare
25%
Phase 2: Compare & Evaluate
50%
Phase 3. Identify the Winner & Contract
75%
Phase 4. Implementation & Beyond
100%

Phase 1: Identify & Prepare

It’s tempting to dive headfirst into demos and pricing proposals, and you certainly can if you want to get a feel for what’s out there.

However, it’s crucial to spend time thinking about and documenting how you’re administering your employee benefits programs today and how you’d like to do so differently tomorrow.

The amount of time you spend preparing has a direct correlation to the ultimate success of your new vendor.

1) Map Out Your Timeline

Rushed vendor selection processes rarely become successful implementations and deployments. Ensure you’re allowing adequate time for the project.

Understand your internal processes – is there a strict procurement procedure or a lengthy contract review process to consider?

It is common for a company to take several months to review and evaluate vendors before making a decision.

Pro Tip: Try to align your “go-live” off-cycle from your annual enrollment. It’s better to roll out new technology mid-year and try it out on your new hires and life event changes rather than on your entire population. This will give you time to get comfortable with your new processes and catch any missed issues during testing.

2) Inventory & Document your Current Benefits Programs and How they’re Deployed

Are all employees offered the same benefits at the same cost, or do you have different plans and/or contribution structures? 

How many insurance carriers do you have? 

What are the demographics of your workforce?

3) List your Current Processes 

Include those supported by technology and those that are manual. 

Identify what is working well and what needs changing – don’t try to slap technology on top of inefficient processes and expect improvement.  Use new technology as a chance to change your current way of doing things. 

Are there any obvious areas to streamline?

4) Identify what Technology is in Place Today

Understand your current vendor’s contract and termination provisions, including notification requirements and your access rights to your data. 

5) Integration

As with any HR software, you can opt for a standalone solution or one that is integrated with the rest of your HRMS functionality. If you need your new Ben Admin software to integrate with another technology, such as a payroll or HCM system, understand the requirements and if there are any preferred partnerships in place.

6) Compliance

The benefits software should be updated alongside the relevant legislation (ACA, FMLA, HIPPA, COBRA, etc.) and should ensure compliance for your company.

7) Flexible & Customizable

The benefits administration module must be customizable to fit your specific company and employee needs. Establish your needs regarding customized offers, workflows, and support based on employee eligibility for each plan.

8) Data Storage & Security

All new technology implementation has some risks and pain associated with it.

Mitigate any potential threats by answering where data will be stored, how data security is ensured, etc.

9) Figure Out Priorities for Key Teammates

IT, finance, human resources, C-suite, payroll, legal, managers, employees, etc.

You may consider including some of these colleagues in the evaluation process or invite them to key pieces. Still, at minimum, you need to understand their objectives and keep them in mind throughout.

Assembling a cross-functional team of key stakeholders will help you meet the needs of different departments, build your business case, and ensure successful adoption across the company.

10) Plan for the Future 

You’ll likely have your new Ben Admin system in place for the next 5-7 years; what are your 5–7-year company goals? 

Don’t just buy technology to solve today’s problems.

Are there any big mergers, acquisitions, or divestitures on the horizon? 

Do you plan to double in size? 

Are you trying to focus more on engaging your employees? 

Do you want to expand your benefits offering? 

Document your desired future state and keep it top of mind as you begin evaluating vendor options.

11) Determine Appropriate Vendors for Your Size & Complexity 

If you don’t know where to begin, visit some HR and benefits trade shows and talk with the vendors with booths.  

Find a vendor you like? 

Ask who their key competitors are. 

Network with peers of similar size and needs to you. Browse HR and benefits blogs and publications. Take advantage of vendors who host free webinars and onsite learning events. Have preliminary demos or conversations with vendors who intrigue you to get a feel for what’s out there.

Strategic Questions for Identifying & Preparing:

  • What challenges or pain points do different departments face daily regarding benefits administration? Low employee engagement, compliance issues, not enough accessible data?
  • What are the costs associated with these challenges?
  • How would a new Ben Admin solution help streamline these processes?
  • How often do you interact with the current system, and what do you usually use it for?
  • How easy is it to access the information that you need?
  • Can a new solution be designed and implemented within an acceptable time period?
  • What would constitute a stress-free implementation of a new Ben Admin solution for you?
  • What short- and long-term priorities would you like to achieve with the new Ben Admin system?

Phase 2: Compare & Evaluate

Now you’re prepared and have a list of your must-have requirements and a “wish list” of things you would like but can live without. You’ve also identified vendors with whom you’d like to dig a little deeper. 

Time to meet with the vendors! 

Keep the following in mind as you’re evaluating options:

1) Keep your Requirements Top of Mind throughout this Phase

Depending on the complexity of your requirements identified in the previous section, you may want to request that the vendors provide written responses to how they can or can’t meet them. This will help you better compare options and how they meet your needs.

2) Assess Risk, including the Vendors’ Security Protocols, Financial Attributes & Business Characteristics

It’s easy to be impressed by innovative and flashy technology, but make sure the company has a strong foundation. You should understand their security protocols, integration capabilities, company culture, market reputation and behavior, business maturity, service methodology, funding, and more.

3) Solicit Pricing from the Vendors

They’ll need the number of benefits-eligible employees, the number of insurance carriers and plans offered, differences in plan offerings or contributions based on location, class, or other factors, and needed integrations with your other HR software.

PEPM: Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $3-$6 per employee per month (PEPM) for most standalone Ben Admin software (meaning software that is not bundled along with your payroll, HRIS, or other HR technology solution). 

Implementation fee: Most vendors also charge implementation fees, which can easily be 10-20% of the annual PEPM spend. 

Carrier integration fees: You may pay extra for integrations with your other HR systems or insurance carrier data feeds. 

Depending on the vendor, there are a plethora of other possible add-on solutions; things like COBRA administration, an employee call center, ACA tracking and reporting, and decision support tools often come at an extra cost if offered.

If you’re unsure of everything you need/want – don’t worry!

You’ll become savvier as you go through this process, and vendors are happy to revise their proposals as you hone in on your needs.

4) Schedule & Score Demos and Don’t let One Flashy Demo Decide your Fate

Is the system visually appealing and easy to navigate?

Does the sales team have thorough technical and product knowledge?

Is it a “canned” demo, or is it tailored to your needs?

Make sure you tell the vendor candidates your key areas of concern ahead of time so they can spend time reviewing that functionality. Keep your list of requirements handy, so you can review and even score the vendor demos against your list of needs.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “wow” factor of some of these technologies but ensure you stay focused on your requirements, lest you end up with a technology system that provides a lot of flash but no substance.

5) Know you’re not “Buying” the Sales Team

Most of these vendors are pros at the sales process!

They have personable sales and sales support staff who are proficient at “wow-ing” you with a stellar system demo.  Be sure to remember that the sales team typically isn’t around after the sale; it simply isn’t their job. 

Understand the post-sale hand-off and the team you’ll be working with on an ongoing basis.

6) Ensure a Level Playing Field 

Give equal time to all vendor candidates for discussions and demos.

Provide all of the vendors with the same set of information but be sure to notice who is asking the smart questions – this is indicative of a good partner. A savvy vendor will ask many questions to understand your needs better and demonstrate how their technology can meet them.

7) Listen to the Vendors when they Tell you What Their Best Practices are & Be Wary of Vendors Who Say “Yes” to Every Question

Remember – Ben Admin software is usually configurable but not customizable.

In other words, vendors have a certain amount of leeway within their programming to configure their technology to meet your needs. Still, even though it is customizable, it’s not built specifically for your rules.

If a vendor can’t configure their technology for your needs, they may offer a “workaround.” Be wary of this and try to identify any workarounds up-front.

Workarounds = manual processes

Manual processes = More room for error

Indeed, some vendors are more flexible than others, but if most or all of the vendors are telling you your needs are outside of their best practices, you may want to consider changing your rules rather than trying to force them into technology that can’t naturally support them.

8) Check References 

Your vendor candidates should be able to offer you at least a couple of references from a similar-sized company within your industry.  Try to secure feedback outside of references provided by your vendor; after all, they’re only going to provide references from companies they feel will speak highly of them.

9) Don’t Hesitate to have Several Meetings & Demos with your Key Vendor Candidates

You may have started this phase with 5-10 vendor options and have narrowed it down to 2 or 3 favorites. Spend a lot of time with these finalists, ensuring you’re comfortable with the technology, support, and timeline.

Before moving on to the next phase, take a minute to review the key features that you should be looking for in a benefits management package.







Desired Product-Specific Capability  





Description  





Benefits record management 



  • Such as employee eligibility tracking, life event documentation 





Enrollment planning and scheduling   

 



  • Prepare benefits enrollment & information packages 

  • Project coordination 

  • Distribute enrollment packages  





Automatic benefit changes 



  • Due to employment status or role changes (e.g., move from union to non-union, reduction of hours below full-time threshold)  

  • Flexibility to set company rules for dependents and beneficiaries and to customize and configure the events in your lifecycle   





Onboarding and offboarding 



  • New hiring and/or termination of employees supported by software that offers significant automation and streamlining at these stages, reducing the administrative burden. 





Employee self-service 



  • Check and update their own information  

  • Access their profiles and view their balances, plans, and claims  

  • View their coverage  

  • Enroll via self-service  

  • Trigger e-forms or hard copy materials corresponding to employees’ voluntary benefit elections 





Manager self-service 



  • Access their team members' profiles  

  • Approve inquiries from their employees  

  • Trigger requests for benefits for new hires 





HR Administrator self-service 



  • Administer and manage benefits 

  • Enroll employees 

  • Manage and process premium payroll deductions 

  • Make changes and additions to the system (e.g., to reflect plan changes) 

  • Validate data “up front” (e.g., to prevent employees from omitting required information or entering invalid data combinations) 

  • Determine and adjust eligibility  

  • Implement controls to prohibit employees from enrolling in plans for which they are not eligible 

  • Track employee enrollment process status 

  • Administer incentive surcharges (e.g., financial incentives for engaging in specific healthy activities, such as obtaining vaccinations and refraining from or quitting smoking) 





Reporting 



  • Multiple delivery options for analytics reports – paper, email, and 3rd party delivery  

  • Interactive solutions (e.g., drag-and-drop tools)  

  • Option to create, edit, and collaborate on strategic plans in real time  

  • SmartView (i.e., CSV-compatible reports and visual tools for use in presentations) 





Calculator 



  • For employee and employer contribution/cost calculations displayed throughout the selection and enrollment process  

  • Cost calculations based on individual activities and personal circumstances (e.g., wellness incentives, domestic partnerships, etc.) 

  • Deduction effective date calculations (e.g., upon entry of employee benefits enrollment, the timing of life event);  

  • Automatic calculation of salary-based benefits (e.g., disability and life insurance) 

Phase 3. Identify the Winner & Contract

You’ve gone through a thorough discovery and shopping process, and you’re ready to move forward with a decision! 

Congratulations! 

Key milestones here include:

1) Notify your Winning & Losing Vendor Candidates 

Of course, you’re going to notify the vendor to whom you’ve awarded your business but be sure also to take time to provide feedback to the vendor candidates who didn’t win your business.

They have invested time and resources into your project and hearing a bit of detail about the decision is a good practice and will only help them improve.

2) Finalize Pricing 

Your requirements and list of needs may have been fine-tuned during the selection process and may necessitate revised pricing from your chosen vendor.  Be sure you understand the pricing and when additional fees may be charged. 

To be safe, budget 20% more than what you think your annual spend will be. 

Pricing is almost always negotiable, but this is most certainly a case of “you get what you pay for.”

3) Review & Negotiate a Contract (Be Sure to Include your Attorney) 

The contract is the framework for your relationship with your new vendor partner and outlines the delivery and functionality of the system. The contract should account for security provisions, implementation obligations, payment terms, data protection, exit terms, updates, upgrades, length of the contract, ownership of data, service level agreements (SLAs), liabilities, and more.

Don’t hastily sign a contract just to move the project forward. Contracting can easily take a month and don’t be surprised if it takes longer.

4) Plan for Implementation 

Implementation timelines for Ben Admin software typically range from 6-12 weeks, depending on the project’s complexity. 

Add a few weeks to whatever your vendor tells you their standard timeline is. Review and meet with key internal stakeholders involved in the implementation project. Gather all your relevant documents. 

Notify your insurance carriers and understand any limitations they have. Understand this is a time commitment for you and your team, not just the vendor.

Strategic Questions for Vendor Contract, Implementation & Service:

  • Do you offer hands-on implementation support and a project management tool with best practices to manage every step of the project?
  • Do you offer professional services and automated tools for internal communication, rollout support, announcements, and ongoing engagement?
  • Do you offer automated pulse surveys and reports for managing stakeholder feedback on Benefits Administration challenges, pain points, and opportunities?
  • Do you offer premium support for benefits, rewards handling (return, issues, etc.), and customer billing? Email support and phone support?
  • Do you offer a single (1) ticket management solution integrated into the Benefits Administration product to manage and track open tickets and resolutions?
  • Do you offer visual design and UX services to fulfill their program?
  • Do you offer marketing services to shape the rollout and communication of the program?
  • Do you offer strategic consulting services for business?
  • Do you train the managers and the leaders to buy into the program and create the necessary materials?
  • Do you support customers with how they should measure the success (ROI) of the benefits administration program?

Phase 4. Implementation & Beyond

You may feel like it’s been a long road to get to this place, but the truth is the hard work is just beginning! 

A deliberate, collaborative implementation process is critical to a successful project. 

It’s tough to turn around a bad implementation. These steps will help things stay on track:

1) Define what “Go-Live” means to You & Your Vendor 

Does it mean that the system has been thoroughly tested?

Have carrier connections been established and tested? 

Is the payroll integration set up? 

“Go-live means different things to different vendors, so understand what it means to your vendor early on to save yourself from surprises later.

2) Be a Good Partner 

Understand implementation is a shared responsibility, and the project’s success does not rest squarely on the shoulders of your chosen vendor. Provide complete and accurate information on time, and understand that if you miss a deadline, it will impact the overall timeline. 

Participate in the scheduled calls. 

If you feel there is an issue, raise your concern early.  Designate appropriate time and resources for the projects. Attend all of the calls and training courses. Spend a lot of time testing the system.

3) Accept that Things Might Go Wrong 

No technology implementation is without issue and prepare for problems to pop up during implementation and beyond.  Have realistic expectations and goals.

Understand what issues are critical (i.e., an employee being shown the correct contribution amounts) and which issues are less of a priority.

4) Prepare for your New Way of Working & Prepare your Employees Too

Your work isn’t done at “go live” – it’s just beginning. 

Remember all the things you envisioned for your desired future state of working and your company, and now have the technology to support that! 

Acknowledge that you will have to adopt a new way of working and let go of some old processes.  And remember that change is hard for everyone – your employees, your colleagues in payroll, or the C-suite – even when the change will ultimately improve previous ways of doing things. 

Early communication is key, highlighting the efficiencies that will be gained and the reasons behind the change.

Top Benefits Administration Solutions for Employers

logo_deel
Deel's benefits administration offers a seamless platform to manage international workforces, ensuring compliance, payments, and onboarding in over 150 countries.
Businessolver_logo
Businessolver's benefits administration platform ensures maximum employee understanding and engagement while supporting all facets of benefits management.
logo_remote
Remote offers an outstanding global HR platform that empowers employers to find and hire the best talent worldwide, simplify global HR operations, provide HRIS solutions, and more.
ebm_logo
ebm's efficiently manages the benefits administration process with a portfolio of industry-leading technology platforms and administrative services that empower benefit consultants and HR professionals.
selerix_logo
Selerix simplifies benefits and empowers employees by including world-class benefits technology solutions, a workforce communications suite, ACA compliance, and reporting.
onpay_logo
OnPay's benefits administration provides user-friendly cloud-based solutions, guaranteeing smooth payroll processing for businesses across various sizes and industries.
Optavise_logo
Optavise offers year-round solutions with a multimodule benefits enrollment system to streamline the entire enrollment process while reducing costs.

Conclusion

As the employee benefits landscape continues to increase in complexity and employees expect consumer-level technologies in the workplace, the right Ben Admin software is critical to effectively administering employee benefits programs.

The capabilities outlined in this guide can help determine if your organization is equipped for efficient benefits management year-round. Our biggest takeaway for you is to take your time and be thorough.

A rushed selection and implementation process rarely results in success. A thoughtful, planned approach is the best way to make your Ben Admin software dreams come true.

Disclosure: Some of the products featured in this blog post may come from our partners who compensate us. This might influence the selection of products we feature and their placement and presentation on the page. However, it does not impact our evaluations; our opinions are our own. The information provided in this post is for general informational purposes only. 

Written by SHORTLISTER EDITORIAL TEAM

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