Alera Group Bolsters Wealth Management Practice with the Acquisition of Sitzmann Morris & Boyle Insurance Agency

Posted on July 30th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, today announced the acquisition of Sitzmann Morris & Boyle (SMB) Insurance Agency, a California-based financial services agency providing wealth-preserving strategies and life insurance products and services nationwide.

“Throughout our six decades in business, SMB has been serving affluent, multi-generational families with comprehensive financial planning services in which the legal, tax, investment and insurance aspects complement and enhance each other. We take a holistic and strategic view of the wealth planning process that includes risk management as a cornerstone for protecting and promoting our client’s financial futures. Our collaborative approach results in a well-integrated team and a seamless financial plan that exudes sustainable confidence. Joining Alera Group will allow us to expand our offering and provide a greater array of resources for our clients,” said Donald Morris, President of Sitzmann Morris & Boyle Insurance Agency.

Sitzmann Morris & Boyle (SMB) Insurance Agency is an industry leader in designing sophisticated life insurance programs, administering client policies, and monitoring ongoing product performance. The firm is a member of the M Financial Group, which is a unique nationwide network of select independent insurance & investment firms dedicated exclusively to serving wealthy individuals, successful corporations and their executives. The combined benefit of SMB and M Financial provides innovative and proprietary solutions tailored to meet each client’s financial and wealth preservation needs.

“Sitzmann Morris & Boyle Insurance Agency understands every client deserves a financial planning model supported by multiple perspectives,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “Their emphasis on collaboration and communication are in line with our core values here at Alera Group. We’re excited to offer their industry-leading life insurance structures to our clients.”

“The addition of the Sitzmann Morris & Boyle team is an important part of our plan to expand the breadth, depth and geographic reach of Alera Wealth Management,” added Tina Hohman, executive vice president of Alera Group and practice leader of Alera Wealth Management.

The Sitzmann Morris & Boyle Insurance Agency will continue serving clients in their existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not announced.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $650 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 2,500 professionals in more than 100 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.

Alera Group Adds Utah-Based Fringe Benefit Analysts in Latest Acquisition

Posted on July 28th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, announced today the acquisition of Fringe Benefit Analysts, a full-service insurance, consulting, employee benefits firm that provides educational tools and systems to simplify the benefits process for both employers and employees.

“With more than 50 years of experience in the employee benefits marketplace, our team at Fringe Benefit Analysts serves a wide variety of businesses and individuals with the highest degree of expertise,” said Scott Deru, President of Fringe Benefit Analysts. “We focus on simplifying compliance regulations, cost controls and HR assistance. Joining Alera Group will offer us a unique opportunity to collaborate with other leading experts in our field and build on our extensive products and services.”

Fringe Benefit Analysts was founded in 1970 and has grown to five separate locations across Utah with more than 800 business clients. The company provides a suite of insurance of products including group health, dental, vision, life and disability coverage in addition to voluntary benefits plans and medical insurance for individuals and families. Consultative services include compliance, cost controls, HR assistance, tools and education for benefits administrators in all industries.

“Fringe Benefit Analysts’ longevity in the industry speaks to their strong customer service and unmatched expertise,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “They are dedicated to establishing lasting relationships between their teams and their clients and we share those values at Alera Group. We welcome Fringe Benefit Analysts to the Alera family and we’re confident they will be a great asset to our growing organization.”

The Fringe Benefit Analysts team will continue serving clients in their existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not announced.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is a leading financial services and risk management company with more than $650 million in annual revenue offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 2,500 professionals in more than 100 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Alera Group Acquires Keller Insurance Agency, Bolstering Expertise with Senior Living Facilities

Posted on July 22nd, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, today announced the acquisition of Keller Insurance Agency, a firm specializing in commercial property and casualty insurance, with a particular focus in senior living facilities.

“As a member of CARE and Leading Age of Oklahoma, Russ Keller is recognized as one of the premiere insurance experts in the senior living field,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “Welcoming Russ and his team to Alera Group will allow us to expand our insurance capabilities for assisted living and memory care facilities nationwide.”

The agency is affiliated with Rich & Cartmill, Inc., based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Keller Insurance Agency was founded in 2011 by CEO Russ Keller, who has more than 30 years of insurance industry experience.

“As a charter member of the National Council of Healthcare Agents, Keller Insurance provides coverage for more than 90 senior living facilities and hospice agencies in Oklahoma and Texas,” said Russ Keller, CEO of Keller Insurance Agency. “Joining Alera Group will allow us to extend our reach and collaborate with other insurance experts across the country, ultimately providing clients with more comprehensive insurance solutions.”

The Keller Insurance Agency team will continue serving clients in its existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $650 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 2,500 professionals in more than 100 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.

 

Cargo Insurance: The Shipper vs. Carrier Decision

Posted on July 21st, 2021

If you’re a manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler or retailer whose business involves the shipment of goods, your principal decision regarding Cargo Insurance shouldn’t be whether to purchase the coverage, but from whom — the shipper or an insurance carrier?  

Protecting yourself with Cargo Insurance — also known as Goods in Transit Insurance — is always the right decision. Whether by land, sea or air, shipping is full of risk, with perils including theft, fire and more. All freight carriers are legally required to carry a minimum amount of Liability Insurance, but the coverage Liability Insurance provides is insufficient to fully protect you in the event of theft or cargo damage or loss resulting from natural disaster or accident. So, Cargo Insurance is a must. 

Whether to obtain it through the shipper or an insurance company comes down to which option is more cost-efficient.  

If shipping goods is a one-time or rare event for your business, obtaining coverage through the shipper is typically the better option. Shippers mark up the cost of Cargo Insurance — much the way car-rental agencies do with Auto Insurance — but they don’t impose the $2,500 to $3,000 minimum premium insurance companies generally require, so for individual shipments, purchasing Cargo Insurance through the shipper usually winds up costing less. 

If shipping is a regular function of your business, a program custom-designed by an experienced broker, with coverage provided by a reputable insurance company, is the way to go. In addition to being both more cost-effective and specific to your needs, coverage from an insurance company gives you control over the claim process — a frequent source of dispute when the insurance is provided by the shipper. Several of the best-known commercial insurance companies offer excellent Cargo Insurance programs that include optional features allowing for customization, which affords you and your broker the opportunity to put your business out to market for the best available coverage and price. 

What Cargo Insurance Covers 

Originally written for ocean transport, Cargo Insurance also covers inland and air transport, warehousing and other aspects of the shipping process under a Marine Extension Clause, Warehouse-to-Warehouse Clause or similar clause that continues coverage throughout the cargo’s route, until it reaches the buyer.  

When designing your policy, a good broker will instruct you to “Take me on the voyage,” to ensure your goods are fully covered. This includes assigning responsibility for the cargo throughout transport, to reduce the risk of dispute over coverage in the event of a claim. 

Coverages you may need to consider for your business include: 

  • Land Cargo Insurance — For goods transported by truck, van or train, this covers claims resulting from theft, collision and other risks.  
  • Marine Cargo Insurance — This covers goods in transit by sea or air, including damage during loading and unloading, and risks including weather, piracy and disaster. There are three basic categories of Marine Cargo Insurance: 
  1. Open Cover — Policies in this category cover all cargo for a specified time period, often one year. 
  2. Specific Cargo or Voyage — As the name implies, this kind of policy applies to specified goods or a single voyage. 
  3. Contingency — When responsibility for damage or loss is in dispute, this coverage effectively provides backup, including in cases where “general average” is applied. For example, if a crew jettisons cargo to save a vessel, the loss is assessed to all shippers, based on an average of the vessel’s entire load. Contingent Cargo Insurance covers the claim. 

Top Marine and Shipping Risks 

Worker shortages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, port and supply chain disruptions resulting from the pandemic and natural disasters, the blockage of the Suez Canal by a massive container ship — all have contributed to turmoil in worldwide shipping and air freight, with an impact on countless industries. This is why, in assessing shipping priorities in the brewing industry, the firm Global Logistics Management cited Marine Cargo Insurance protection, stating: “It is essential you insure your shipment covering the risk of loss or damage to your goods during transit by sea, air, rail or road, plus held storage.” 

It’s also essential that you evaluate your Cargo Insurance coverage on a regular basis. 

Compiled by one of the world’s leading Cargo Insurance companies, The Allianz Risk Barometer reflects potential disruption and loss scenarios, based on a survey of more than 2,700 experts in 92 countries and territories. For 2021, the barometer ranks the top three risks in the marine and shipping sector — based on the percentage of respondents who ranked the risk among their top three — as: 

  1. Pandemic outbreak (51%) 
  2. Business interruption (36%) – up from fourth in 2020 
  3. Natural catastrophes (27%) – down from second in 2020. 

Among all business sectors — both in the United States and internationally — business interruption ranks first on the 2021 Allianz Risk Barometer, followed by pandemic outbreak and cyber incidents, forming what Allianz calls the “Covid Trio.” Natural catastrophes rank sixth on the overall list of risks, immediately behind market developments, and changes in legislation and regulation, respectively. 

The point is, risks evolve — as do your business and the Property and Casualty Insurance marketplace. As Supply Chain Management Review notes, “As business conditions change and your products evolve, you need to make sure your cargo insurance coverage changes in response. In addition, insurance carriers may introduce new features and take others away. With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of these changes and how they will affect your business.” 

Looking out for Your Workforce 

Running a successful business requires not only protecting your goods in transit but also caring for the wellbeing of your workforce. At a time when recruiting and retaining talent is more challenging than ever, you need to offer valuable benefits and a culture that attracts employees, and you need to support your current workers with a holistic approach that addresses total wellbeing. Those are the subjects of Alera Group’s upcoming webinar “Adjust Your Organization’s Total Wellbeing Strategies to Integrate Top Trends and Support an Evolving Workforce.” The event takes place on Thursday, August 19, from 2-3 p.m. EDT, and participants are eligible for Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) credits.  

To register, click on the link below. 

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR 


About the Author  

Christopher Breck, CIC, CRM
Senior Vice President
Alper Services, An Alera Group Company 

Christopher Breck began working at Alper Services in 1989 and is now a Senior Vice President managing the day-to-day insurance and business needs of many of Alper Services’ oldest clients. He specializes in delivering alternative risk solutions, including captive insurance programs. Chris maintains a broad industry focus that includes manufacturing, service, retail, healthcare and nonprofit organizations. 

Contact information: 

Holistic Strategy: Shift to Total Employee Wellbeing

Posted on July 21st, 2021

Since late spring of this year, employees have been returning to the workplace in ever-increasing numbers, as COVID-19 vaccination rates have risen and pandemic restrictions have eased. But the workplaces to which we’ve been returning are different from the ones we left in pre-pandemic 2020 — in ways both large and small.  

Structural and layout changes designed as temporary adaptations have become permanent. New rules and procedures have become routine. Some longtime co-workers have moved on.  

Many of us are different, too – our perspectives altered by the losses, sacrifices and, in some cases, unexpected gains we experienced after COVID began its global rampage 18 months ago. What we considered to be of paramount importance before may seem relatively trivial now. Something that previously might have been merely attractive now may be regarded as essential. And options that once appeared forbiddingly remote today may be well within reach. 

All these developments have brought about inexorable change to the employer-employee dynamic, with the balance of power having shifted in many cases to the employee. As HRO Today observes, “COVID-19 accelerated the future of work as employers adjusted to a new normal overnight. In a moment of severe disruption, wellbeing became a core focus for most organizations, with flexibility, health, and work-life balance emerging as key parts of the employee experience.” 

Employers who ignore or resist this shift toward a holistic HR strategy that prioritizes total employee wellbeing do so at their own peril. You might not be offering flexible work schedules, work-enhancing tech tools, extensive mental-health support and child care benefits, but your competitors are. 

In an April article for Harvard Business Review, “The Pandemic Is Changing Employee Benefits,” Care.com CEO Tim Allen writes of his company’s “The Future of Benefits” report: 

“Those we spoke to confirmed the toll the pandemic has had on their employees and their business: decreased productivity and retention, increased absenteeism, and declining mental health. That’s why almost all (98%) of the leaders we surveyed plan to newly offer or expand at least one employee benefit, prioritizing the ones workers deem most essential, like child and senior care benefits, flexibility around when and where work gets done, and expanded mental health support.” 

This new world of work and benefits is the subject of the upcoming Alera Group webinar “Holistic Wellbeing: Shifting Total Wellbeing Strategies.” During the August 19 presentation, we’ll discuss how to adjust your organization’s total wellbeing strategies to integrate top trends and support an evolving workforce. We’ll provide you with practical tips for implementing these strategies and achieving your recruiting and employee-retention objectives, helping you navigate what the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and others have dubbed the “Turnover Tsunami.” 

Employer Response 

According to the Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2021 Engagement and Retention Report, 52% of employees said they intend to look for a new job this year — up from 35% in 2020 — with one in four of those respondents citing work-life balance as the main reason they planned to job hunt. Work-life balance also was a key factor among those planning to stay in their current job, according to the report, with 23% of respondents citing that as a determining factor. The No. 1 reason for seeking a new job, according to the report: better compensation and benefits (35%). 

Between February and October of 2020, the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research and the American Psychological Association teamed up to interview leaders from 14 manufacturing companies and survey 578 employees from five of those companies about motivating factors that influence worker retention. While survey participants’ top reasons for staying with their employer were enjoying their work (83%) and job security (79%), family-oriented culture (69%) and work-life balance (68%) also scored high. Here’s what the organizations had to say about key retention practices in the executive summary of their 2021 report “Manufacturing Engagement and Retention Study”: 

“The most sophisticated retention efforts described by manufacturing leaders focus on actively involving employees, ensuring that every individual understands how their efforts are linked to overall company success and equipping frontline managers to support workers. Successful approaches also included formal employee development plans and clear career paths, cross-training with opportunities for broad and challenging assignments, comprehensive employee recognition, a supportive organizational culture with close ties to the community and competitive pay and benefits.” 

Employers have been paying attention. And responding. 

In an article by Principal Global Investors published by the Washington Post, Principal Vice President for Business Solutions Mark West cites “5 factors that help businesses and employees stick together:” 

  1. Compensation: This may be especially important regarding jobs, such as skilled trades, for which remote work is not an option. 
  2. Benefits: While retirement savings and Health Insurance remain staples of benefits packages, West says, the pandemic has brought about heightened appreciation for the value of other employee protections, such as Life Insurance and Disability Insurance
  3. Culture: More than ever, workers want to be part of an organization that reflects their values, with many citing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 
  4. Individual fit: Taking the time to match the right person with the right role will help avoid additional turnover down the road. 
  5. Flexibility: This factor, West says, “has grown exponentially,” with employers prioritizing productivity over “presenteeism.” 

Empathy and Mental Health 

Productivity — as Alera Group colleague Thomas Showalter noted in his Mental Health Awareness Month blog post “No Single Solution for Post-Pandemic Return to Workplace” — is largely dependent on employee wellbeing, making employer empathy another major factor in an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. And if that wasn’t apparent before the pandemic, it certainly should be now. 

Empathetic leaders have seen a hard-working employee try to run a Zoom meeting with a toddler throwing a tantrum in the background. They can relate to the worker who cares for an elderly parent while managing a key account. And having experienced more than their own share of pandemic-related stress, they understand the risk of burnout and the need for holistic wellbeing, including mental health.  

But while empathy has long been a trait of great leaders, simply being empathetic isn’t sufficient for the challenges organizations currently face. Spearheading uncomfortable conversations, detaching the stigma from difficult topics, allowing employees to bring their whole and vulnerable selves to work — these are the actions that be necessary to foster a culture of total wellbeing. 

Employee Benefit News recognized this in a recent opinion piece titled “Employers can lower turnover through health and wellness benefits,” sharing these observations and tips: 

  • “Ongoing education about and promotion of mental health offerings is essential. It’s also important to let employees know how to access these benefits and programs and how their privacy is protected when they use these offerings. 
  • “Mental healthcare can be expensive. Employers can help make the cost more affordable by setting moderate co-pays for this care or adding dollars to employee HSAs or HRAs to help defray the cost. 
  • “Because of the increased demand for mental health services, getting an appointment can take weeks or months. To help employees cope in the meantime, consider providing free or low-cost access to on-demand digital mental wellness tools and online therapy options.” 

At Alera Group, our support of employee wellbeing includes regularly posts of available resources, such as our June 21 release, “Making Work More Effortless and Supporting LBTQ+ Professionals.”  

Employee Engagement and Additional Resources 

Of course, all the resources and all the benefits in the world won’t matter to your employees if they’re not aware of them or don’t understand how to use them. Alera Group addressed this topic in our July Employee Benefits webinar, “Employee Engagement: Do Your Policies and Communications Meet Your Goals?,” covering how to make employees active participants in communications regarding company policies and procedures, and how to quantify the results of such communications. To view a recording of the presentation, click here

Our August 19 webinar, which has been approved for SHRM credit, promises to be an invaluable complement to the July session. To register for “Holistic Wellbeing: Shifting Total Wellbeing Strategies,” click on the link below. 

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR 


About the Author  

Elisabeth Euglow
Senior Total Wellbeing & Engagement Consultant
Boston Benefit Partners, an Alera Group Company 

Liz Euglow joined the Boston Benefit Partners team in 2018 to assist clients in building and growing their total wellbeing and engagement programs by leveraging data and aligning strategies with core HR and business values. She previously worked at Marsh & McLennan Agency, partnering with employers and their HR teams while leveraging data analytics to build lasting and effective health management and wellbeing programs. 

Contact information: 

Alera Group Broadens Northeast Footprint with New England Employee Benefits Company in Latest Acquisition

Posted on July 21st, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, today announced the acquisition of New England Employee Benefits Company (NEEBCo), an agency combining extensive experience, technology, analytics and unique funding options to deliver cost-effective employee benefits solutions for employers throughout New Hampshire, New England and the U.S.

“NEEBCo takes a progressive approach to supporting the ever-changing benefits landscape by designing plans that are current, appropriate and cost-effective. We pride ourselves on taking a tailored and personalized approach with every client,” said Brett Houston, NEEBCo Principal & President of Operations. “Alera Group’s national presence and strategic acquisitions means we can offer even more resources to our long-standing and highly-regarded customer base. Joining Alera Group allows us to continue our presence and growth in the employee benefits marketplace, provide stability for our employees and to be of service to our clients for years to come.”

“NEEBCo has been a trusted establishment in the employee benefits and insurance industry since 1988,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “As a results-driven industry leader, NEEBCo is a great fit for Alera Group, offering long-term benefit strategies, inventive technology-based solutions, compliance management and wellness programs for clients nationwide.”

The NEEBCo Team will continue serving clients in its existing roles without change or interruption. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $600 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 2,500 professionals in more than 100 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.

Wellbeing Resources: Screen Time, Return to Office Conversation Guides and More

Posted on July 19th, 2021

When it comes to wellbeing, employers often find themselves challenged by how to approach a shift from a traditional wellness model to a comprehensive and holistic program that supports the whole person. Below you’ll find this week’s curated list of wellbeing resources. Feel free to share these resources, as appropriate, with your team. 

A special note: This September, we’re hosting a Virtual Employee Wellbeing Fair where your teams can come to hear from experts on how to pursue a holistically healthy life. We’ll host the event; all you need to do is invite your team. Register and learn more on our event portal

Career Wellbeing

  • Don’t Let Anxiety Sabotage Your Next Presentation – If you want to beat speaking anxiety, you need to stop focusing on yourself and point your focus outward. This shift isn’t something that can happen instantaneously. It takes time, patience and practice. This article provides some tips on how to get started.

Social & Family Wellbeing

Financial Wellbeing

  • How to Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping – The list of necessary school supplies can be lengthy and expensive. Here are 14 tips on back-to-school shopping that can help you prioritize your spending and save money.
  • Why You Need a Will and How to Create One – If you have assets, financial accounts, children, or all of the above and then some, a will is important to have. Yet, only 33% of adults have one in place. Join Principal for a webinar to learn the importance of a will, six simple steps you can take to create one and how to protect your retirement savings and other funds. Don't miss the webinar on Wednesday, July 21st at 12 PM ET.

Physical Wellbeing

  • Learn to Listen to Your Body Again – Your body is constantly giving you signs about your health, but we’ve been trained to tune it out. Stuffy nose and dry eyes? Brain fog and bloating? Chronically sore muscles? Raging hunger? They’re all signs. Your job is to, at the very least, acknowledge them. And if you’re so inclined, do something about them. Your body is politely trying to get your attention. Start giving it the respect it deserves to make strides in your health.
  • What to Eat and Do to Promote Detoxification – In a healthy body, the process of detoxification runs smoothly. When our detoxification system becomes overwhelmed and overloaded, we start developing symptoms and get sick. This is why supporting our innate detoxification system is a vital component of full-body health. In this 15-minute podcast, Dr. Mark Hyman speaks with his colleagues at The UltraWellness Center about how proper detoxification starts with our diets. They explore how food and lifestyle practices can be used to enhance detoxification and support our overall health.

Emotional Wellbeing

  • Feeling ‘meh’? You might be languishing. – Languishing falls somewhere between joy and depression. It can be described as feeling aimless or lacking in purpose, or not being able to focus or function at full capacity. If this feeling resonates with you these days, here are some tips to help you move forward. 
  • 12 Best YouTube Yoga Channels to Learn Yoga – If you are eager to start a yoga practice but overwhelmed by the thousands of yoga channels on YouTube, this is a great list to get you started.

Community Wellbeing

  • The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others – Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Here are some tips to maximize your impact and your happiness.

Employer Focused Wellbeing

  • How to Have Tough Conversations About Returning to the Office – The only thing that’s certain about the upcoming return to the office is that there will be a lot of uncertainty. Not only will your team be working differently, but your customers, suppliers and partners will be, too. Some people are more than eager to return to work, some are dreading it and others are ambivalent. Engaging in these conversations calls for a little more preparation than normal. This article presents several pitfalls to watch out for and guidance for creating return-to-work plans with your team members.
  • How HR Pros Solved Four Employee Wellness Concerns – There's always something new when it comes to employee wellness initiatives. Namaste Wellness CEO, Julie Wald, will take you through four case studies that address return-to-work concerns, employee engagement and retention. You can join the event on Tuesday, July 27th at 12:30 PM.

AGM Benefit Solutions Joins Alera Group

Posted on July 15th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, announced today the acquisition of AGM Benefit Solutions, a leading provider of voluntary benefits, enrollment services and benefits technology. AGM improves how employees enroll, engage and understand their benefits through custom communications, education and enrollment solutions that provide individualized support on-site and through a nationwide call center.

“As the job market becomes more competitive, employee benefits serve as a key metric to attract and retain employees. Our personal approach helps employees understand the value of their benefits package, which in return increases employee morale and retention,” said Adam Miley, Founder and CEO of AGM Benefit Solutions. “With our benefit communications and enrollment strategies, we can efficiently communicate, educate, and enroll each employee in their core and voluntary benefits while also eliminating unnecessary headaches for HR professionals and benefit brokers.”

Headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, AGM Benefit Solutions provides voluntary benefits, benefit communications, enrollment services and benefits administration technology for clients nationwide. AGM’s expertise in voluntary benefits allows brokers and employers to enhance their benefit offerings. The firm’s one-stop benefits portal gives employers full control over employee enrollments from initiating and completing enrollments, to running reports, processing life events, terminations and managing COBRA. Company employees also have access to a personal portal where they can enroll online, make changes, access forms and documents and review benefits at any time.

“AGM’s benefits management approach and their superior technology and self-service portals take customer service to a new level and align with our vision of delivering exceptional national resources to our local clients,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “This new offering provides yet another way to educate employees and build appreciation for their benefits. We look forward to scaling this solution across the organization.”

The AGM Benefit Solutions team will continue serving clients in its existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $600 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 2,500 professionals in more than 100 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.

Natural Partners: Insurers and Cleantech Companies 

Posted on July 15th, 2021

Shared values can unite people and motivate them to work together toward a common goal. Shared recognition of an existential threat, an understanding of the risks involved and basic pragmatism may be even stronger motivators. 

Hardly a day goes by without even the most hardened climate skeptic being confronted by dramatic evidence of the global environmental crisis, from the breakup of one of the fastest moving glaciers in the Antarctic to temperatures topping 125 degrees in the Middle East to triple-digit temperatures setting daily records across U.S. West Coast. This growing threat is bringing together a new set of allies who are partnering on solutions to combat climate change both now and in the future.  

Insurance companies and investors in the cleantech industry historically have not seen eye-to-eye due to the nature of the new technologies being pushed by the investors. But with climate change related losses ramping up, insurers are now looking to these new technologies to help in the climate fight and are expanding their coverage appetites to help achieve this.  

Insurers, now more than ever, are extraordinarily motivated to play a key role in this fight alongside their new ally, the cleantech investor. 

Climate, Severe Weather, Costs and Resilience 

In 2021, nowhere in the United States has the crisis been more evident than at Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, created by Hoover Dam and supplier of water to 25 million people in the U.S. West. The reservoir’s record-low levels are a threat not only to the region’s water supply but also to farmers and recipients of the electrical power the dam’s hydropower plant provides

Insurance Information Institute (III) CEO Sean Kevelighan recently addressed the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) Climate and Resiliency Task Force, sharing some staggering statistics showing what climate-related disasters have cost insurers. According to PropertyCasualty360, Kevelighan told the task force that insured losses caused by natural disasters had grown by almost 700% since the 1980s, with four of the five costliest disasters in U.S. history occurring in the past decade.  

During the past 40 years, Kevelighan said, insured losses from natural disasters climbed from an annual average of $5 billion in the 1980s to $35 billion in the 2010s. In 2020, he said, U.S. insurers paid almost double the average of the previous decade: $67 billion in claims related to natural catastrophes last year alone. 

Where is this leading? To a very bad place, if things don’t change. Given our current trajectory — as projected in the CRO Forum whitepaper “The heat is on: Insurability and Resilience in a Changing Climate” — economic losses related to climate change by the end of this century will reach $550 trillion. 

Such losses would be unsustainable, of course — not only for insurers and the businesses they protect but for the planet. Cleantech, along societal awareness and sensible regulation, is the key to environmental resilience. 

“Environmental, social and governance issues — ESG — are in the insurance industry’s DNA,” the Insurance Information Institute’s Kevelighan said, adding, “The insurance industry’s focus on resilience is starting to pay dividends as more Americans recognize the very real risks their residences face from floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.” 

Informed Advice  

While residents recognize the risks to their property and businesses recognize climate-related disasters’ role in creating the ongoing hard market for Property and Casualty Insurance, insurance agents and brokers experienced in cleantech recognize the unique risks individual companies in the industry face. These companies include: 

  • Contractors — companies that construct LEED-certified buildings or install cleantech apparatuses, such as solar panels and wind turbines. 
  • Manufacturers — companies that produce the equipment that creates environmentally friendly energy. 
  • Developers — including producers and distributors of electricity from clean technology. 
  • Financiers — investors and lenders who provide the capital necessary to operate a cleantech company and monetize the company’s product or services. 
  • Service firms — businesses that enable contractors, manufacturers and developers to optimize operational efficiency. 

Each sector faces unique risks, and no two companies within a sector is exactly alike, with variables including exposures, size, clientele, local regulations and financials. For companies that produce, distribute or store clean energy, risks are typically property-related, with exposures that include equipment defect and severe weather. Storm-prone locations such as the Midwest and South, for example, are especially prone to damage from wind and hail.  

Yet the importance of a comprehensive insurance program to cover exposures within the cleantech industry too often is undervalued or even overlooked. Case in point: here’s a Medium article from a cleantech expert with a master’s degree and Ph.D. from MIT who expounds on “Cleantech’s Comeback” for 2,570 words — many of them on investment, but with no mention of insurance. 

And yet a customized insurance program that addresses a cleantech company’s risks and exposures is among the attributes that attract venture capital investors and enable businesses to procure both private and government contracts.  

As the author of the Medium piece himself writes: “The efforts to align capital to the realities of technology development and the needs of financial markets at all stages will remain undervalued without commensurate attempts to tackle the daunting challenges on the commercialization side for cleantech startups.” 

Among those challenge is providing the essential insurance coverages. For most companies, these include: 

  • Business Interruption 
  • Commercial Property
  • Commercial Crime
  • Cyber Liability
  • Directors and Officers (D&O) 
  • Employment Practices Liability
  • Equipment Breakdown
  • Errors and Omissions (E&O) 
  • Fiduciary Liability
  • Intellectual Property 
  • Key Person Life
  • Transit/ Marine
  • Premises Pollution Liability
  • Product Liability 
  • Umbrella and Excess Casualty 
  • Workers’ Compensation 

To have a conversation about your insurance program and services that include risk identification and analysis, contract review, claims handling and brand protection, contact me. You’ll find we share the values of protecting the planet and running a successful, responsible business.  

To learn how you can keep your employees aware and engaged, and to ensure your company’s policies align with your business goals, register for Alera Group’s July 15 webinar, “Employee Engagement: Do Your Policies and Communications Meet Your Goals?” 

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR 


About the Author  

Drew Bolger 
Partner 
Legacy Risk & Insurance Services, An Alera Group Company 
 

Drew Bolger joined Legacy Risk & Insurance Services in 2015, focused on extending the firm’s client base in strategic client segments. A 2014 recipient of Business Insurance Magazine’s 40 under 40 award, he most recently worked for Wells Fargo Insurance Services (WFIS), in San Francisco. At Legacy, he focuses on developing and providing risk management and insurance brokerage services for a range of companies, including businesses in the technology, life sciences and real estate industries. 

Contact information:

 

Employee Engagement and Absence Management

Posted on July 7th, 2021

What do you get when you combine accumulated vacation time, delayed medical procedures, hybrid work arrangements, an assortment of COVID-19 related health issues and a snarl of regulatory red tape? If you’re a manager or HR professional, you get recurring absence-management headaches.

Fortunately, this malady has both a treatment and a cure. The treatment: intra-organization communication. The cure: employee engagement.

“Employee engagement” is a buzzword in the HR world, but it begs three questions:

  1. What is its value?
  2. How do you achieve it?
  3. How do you measure its success?

Join Alera Group on Thursday, July 15, for “Employee Engagement: Do Your Policies and Communications Meet Your Goals?,” a webinar designed to answer those questions and more. During the SHRM– and HRCI-certified session, you’ll learn how to:

  • Make your employees active participants in communications regarding your organization’s policies and procedures;
  • Ensure those policies and procedures align with your business goals
  • Quantify the results of your organization’s communications with employees.

Timely Topic: Absence Management

Employee engagement and purposeful, effective communications are always important — but never more so than amid the disruption caused by a pandemic.

Because of shutdowns that limited travel and activities from late winter of 2020 through late spring of 2021, employees have lots of unused time personal off (PTO), along with plenty of uncertainty about how to use it. In addition, many be in need of paid or unpaid leave for:

  • A voluntary medical procedure delayed due to the pandemic
  • Short- or long-term disability resulting from COVID-19
  • The need to care for a family member.

Many employees are confused or anxious about using the time available to them, uncertain about whether they’re entitled to pay during leave, and worried about their job status when they return from leave. Some may wonder whether they’ll have a job to return to at all. Employers, meanwhile, face mounting financial losses from decreased productivity or increased staffing expenses — or both — due to extensive and concurrent employee absences.

Adding to the confusion are layers of laws related to COVID-19 and family or medical leave, with new state and local regulations to follow in addition to already-existing federal leave and accommodation laws. Increasing numbers of employers have their own organization-specific policies, particularly regarding paid family leave and, as per the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) are in the process of deciding if temporary changes they made will become permanent.

As Alera Group detailed in our June 2020 report “COVID-19 Pulse Survey, Part 2: Update on Employer Impacts,” about one quarter of surveyed employers with fewer than 500 enrolled lives were offering employees who were unable to work due to COVID-19 leave and/or pay beyond what was required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which was extended by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on a voluntary basis through September 30, 2021.

The report continued: “For employees who are unable to work because of COVID-19, the majority of employers are providing full pay through company sick leave, PTO or vacation banks. Companies are also providing full pay through a combination of sick leave, PTO, vacation, statutory paid leave requirements and a COVID-19 company program. These policies are primarily applied to all employees throughout the organization.”

COVID-19, Disability and ‘Long COVID’

According to the Disability Insurance provider Unum, COVID-19 last year was the third-leading cause of short-term disability for U.S. workers overall (and the No. 1 cause of disability among manufacturing workers), causing a spike that made 2020 a record year for short-term disability claims and leave requests. Unum also reported a record number of behavioral health claims in 2020, with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance-abuse disorder and stress making behavioral health the year’s fifth-leading cause of disability.

In 2021, employers have a growing concern: the long-term effects of COVID-19, or what’s come to be known as “Long COVID.” The publication Human Resource Executive recently noted, “As immunization rates rise and the pandemic recedes, employers should turn more attention to those who have had COVID-19 and continue to have disabling symptoms weeks and months later.” The effects of Long Covid vary widely, according to Human Resource Executive, include “difficulty concentrating, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heart rate, loss of sense of smell and taste, anxiety and depression.”

Employees suffering from Long COVID may have limited protections under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), which absent other coverages could be unpaid and result in eventual job loss.

As Human Resource Executive concluded, “HR departments can protect their employees and their companies by becoming familiar with Long COVID, treating employees complaining of these symptoms with empathy, and developing clear policies and procedures to address employees who complain of residual symptoms after recovering from COVID-19.”

Engaging and Informing Your Workforce

If you’re an employer or HR professional, whether addressing Long COVID or other issues related to absence management, employee engagement is vital and, per Spring Consulting Group, one of the top advantages of an effective program.

The best information in the world can’t help you if your intended audience is oblivious or unreceptive, and a disengaged workforce can be very expensive. According to the 2017 Engagement Institute study “DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Can Foster Employee Ownership of Engagement,” disengaged employees cost organizations between $450 billion and $550 billion per year.

Engaged employees share their employer’s commitment to meeting organizational goals. According to a 2020 report on global employee experience trends by the business analytics firm Qualtrics, engaged employees show behaviors such as:

  • Intent to stay within the organization
  • Effort above and beyond their defined roles
  • Willingness to recommend the company to peers or colleagues.

Employee engagement is the result of doing company communications right.

As Alera Group Executive V.P.-Employee Benefits Sally Prather recently wrote in an article for HRO Today:

“Effective communication is targeted, timely, and integrated with the organization’s benefits enrollment program. It’s important to set metrics to gauge the success of the communication’s campaign.

“Assessing health and wellness benefits is an essential task to ensure long-term viability and sustainability, as well as an engaged, satisfied workforce. Given the uncertain impact of COVID-19 on health and wellness benefits, it’s important for businesses to take stock and fully assess their programs.”

For employees who have requested medical leave, communication should begin with initial notification letters and claim forms, followed by a letter of approval or denial, or a request for additional medical information. Each communication should be available to the employee in multiple forms, including mail, email, self-service portal and direct text.

Language in employee communications should be simple and straightforward, personal in tone but in a manner that makes clear the purpose and eligibility requirements of the requested leave. Details should be provided both separately and in summary, and should include information about job protection.

Employees should come away with a firm understanding of each step in the process — before, during and after leave – along with confidence that the organization is looking out for their best interests.

Useful Additions to Your HR Toolkit

During next week’s webinar, we’ll present examples of best practices in employee communications through all phases employee absence and a step-by-step checklist of the communications process, providing you with information and tools to engage your workforce, improve efficiencies and enhance your organization’s reputation as a great place to work.

To register, click on the link below.

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR


About the Authors

Jennifer Bundy-Cobb
Employee Benefits Services Director
Wilson Albers, An Alera Group

Jennifer Bundy-Cobb has worked in the field of employee benefits, including human resources and retirement services, for more than 30 years. A charter member of the Alaska chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters, she is actively involved in grassroots healthcare reform and was a founding board member for Alaskans for Sustainable Healthcare Costs. She also is a member of Alera Group’s Employee Benefits Advisory Council and serves on several national workgroups. Jennifer holds multiple professional designations, including Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS®).

Contact information:

Karen English, ACI, AU, ARM, CPCU
Senior Vice President
Spring Consulting Group, An Alera Group Company

Karen English has more than 20 years of experience in the property and casualty and health & welfare arenas, with an emphasis on product development, risk financing, process improvement and project implementation. In addition to strategic direction and quantitative and qualitative analysis, she provides implementation expertise for workers’ compensation and disability insurance, and particularly absence management, health and productivity programs. Karen is committed to researching how disability, absence management and health management programs can be integrated into her clients’ benefit programs, and she uses that research to develop employee-focused solutions that provide a cost savings for the employer. 

Contact information:

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