As an employee benefit pro you should get use to answering a lot of questions. Everyday your knowledge of your organization’s benefits program as well as health, life, and disability insurance and retirement plans in general is tested. Your ability to answer questions correctly and quickly will determine your reputation with employees and management.
The Difference Between Employee and Employer Questions
In general, employee questions are more “me-centric and top management questions are more global or “we-centric.” An employee may ask if the plan covers a particular medical service. Top management may ask about the cost to cover a specific benefit.
But one question that comes up from time to time by both groups is the, “have you heard about…” question. Sometimes this question is accompanied by a copy of a newspaper or magazine article or a link to a website. At other times, there is no particular reference, just a question. And the more you can answer “yes” to the “have you heard about” questions, the better your credibility and vice versa.
I said it before and I'll say it again, to be a top-notch employee benefit professional you have to love learning. Constant learning. You also need to develop a relevant list of resources you can access regularly to track legislation, trends, and general information.
Below is a sampling of the resources I access on a regular basis. Some I value more than others but I placed them in alpha order to make them easier to read.
The great thing about these resources is that most have robust websites, produce a daily or weekly e-newsletter you can subscribe to, or a blog you can follow. Check them all out and add your own. But remember, every resource you use has an agenda. There's nothing wrong with having an agenda. However it is important that you understand the intent of the publication you are reading. This allows you to build a database of resources that cover many different perspectives. For example:
- A publication may have a conservative or progressive point of view about legislative changes such as health care reform or,
- A publication may have a financial interest in promoting a concept or product.
- Code of Federal Regulations (CFR - ecfr.gov)
- Department of Labor (dol.gov)
- Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA)
Most of us learn by doing or we just do things without ever learning. The workplace is full of people saying and doing things that they don't really understand. Now I'm not hating on these folks, but I can usually recognize when someone is talking about or doing something they don't quite comprehend. Mostly because they are unable to answer the most basic question, "why are we doing this?" They know the "how" but not the "why" of what they are doing.
Like I said, I'm not mad at them. I know the feeling of doing something without fully understanding it. It's a feeling that nearly every benefits professional experiences at least once. You see, we are often asked to do things with little or no instruction beforehand. Our boss can't help because he doesn't know how to do it or doesn't want to take the time to teach us; and the person who did it last is either gone or not interested in helping.
So how do you learn and not just do technical work with little or no assistance. You check out what was done before, copy it, and study it. Copy before study? Yes. Sometimes you just need to do the task and worry about understanding it later. But if you do have time to study before copying, by all means do that.
Case Study: Filing Form 5500 for Health & Welfare and Retirement Plans
CEBS stands for Certified Employee Benefits Specialist. It is a prestigious designation, partly because of its association with The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Adding to its distinguished status is the difficulty in obtaining it. To get the certification you have to pass eight (8) exams covering a variety of topics, including employee benefits, compensation, finance and economics.
According to the CEBS website just over 13,000 people obtained the CEBS certification in its nearly 40 years of existence. That's not much. Which got me thinking recently, why did I invest the time and money getting the CEBS certification? Should I have put the nearly $5,000 I spent in my IRA? For me the answer to that question is "yes". And for employee benefits professionals like me l would suggest they save their time and money.
Why I Say “No” to CEBS
The problem with the CEBS certification is the usage of the words "employee benefits". A better name would be the Certified Financial and Insurance Benefits Specialist or CFIBS. Continue Reading...