Common Benefits Advisor Problems: Plan Design – Don’t Be a Commodity

Robert Crowder, founder and President of The Benefits Trust, has over 30 years of experience serving pension and employee benefits clients. In 1994, he founded The Benefits Trust as a Third Party Administrator serving small and mid-sized business across Canada. Through Rob Crowder's dedication and leadership, The Benefits Trust has grown into the successful benefits provider that it is today.

Common Benefits Advisor Problems: Plan Design – Don’t Be a Commodity

Here’s a hard truth – your clients don’t owe you anything.

The small group benefits industry is largely commodity-driven. Successful business owners (your clients) are concerned with getting value from their benefits plan so they can go back to focusing on their company’s success.

For most off-the-shelf benefits solutions, “value” is equivalent to “cheap”. So if you’re selling an off-the-shelf benefits plan, don’t be surprised if your clients start shopping around to find the cheapest option.

What’s the solution for an advisor facing this problem? Simple: don’t sell an off-the-shelf benefits plan. Instead, offer them something they can’t get anywhere else – a custom benefits plan – and watch as the meaning of the word “value” changes for them.

A custom benefits plan starts with a blank canvas. Help your client design any type of benefits plan they want – and one that is perfectly suited to their specific needs.

In this article, we’re showcasing three different case studies to illustrate how advisors can structure custom plans to meet a wide variety of client goals and thereby provide true value to clients.

Make Your Benefit Plans Difficult to Replace

As we’ve said, don’t sell your clients a commodity. Not only are commodities price-sensitive, but they can never be the best overall solution for your client.

To build a custom benefits solution, ask your clients about their company’s growth and future plans. How can their benefits plan support those goals?

Once you have built something for your client with their needs in mind, it makes life difficult for competing brokers to scoop the case. These brokers all peddle the same wares – don’t fall into that trap.

Let’s look at this case study example to see how a custom benefits plan might work:


The client’s employees, some of which had been with the company for a long time, had diverse skill sets and a wide range of salaries. The active owner was over 75 years old and liked to travel out of Canada.

Benefits Approach:

The business owner loved the idea of their employees having a choice about the level of benefits coverage they wanted. Here was the benefits approach:

  • 100% Executive Plan for family and key people
  • Special Out of Country coverage for active owner (priced separately)
  • Three levels of traditional plan coverage available to employees:
    • Bronze Plan: 60% reimbursement funded fully by employer
    • Silver Plan: 80% reimbursement top-up available to all employees at their cost
    • Gold Plan: 100% reimbursement top-up available to all employees at their cost


  • Tax effective for executive group
  • Executive Plan helps client retain key employees
  • Owner is covered when travelling abroad
  • Employees make purchasing decisions annually based on their benefit needs
  • Employer maintains their benefits budget

Consider Your Client’s Business Philosophy

We bet that no other advisor will ask your clients about their corporate philosophy when recommending a benefits solution. But it’s a critical part of creative benefits plan design!

What if your clients aren’t sure how to answer when you ask them what their corporate philosophy is? Ask them what differentiates their service or solution. Ask them why they think their last customer chose them over the competition. Ask them about their company culture (or the company culture they’d like to build).

The answers will give you a picture of how they see their business philosophy.

Here’s an example of how a savvy advisor was able to align a benefits plan with a client’s philosophy, to the advantage of everyone involved:


A benefits client in the sales industry had wide-ranging employee earnings, as 75% of the employees were paid a base salary plus commissions. Their corporate culture was cool and dynamic, matching their business philosophy of empowerment.

They wanted their benefits plan to be the same for all employees, including the small team of executives. To keep costs down, they had a cheap off-the-shelf solution for all employees; however, the employees weren’t happy with this approach because a one-size-fits-all plan didn’t match the business philosophy of empowerment that had attracted them to the company.

Benefits Approach:

It was important for everyone to be treated the same on this benefits plan – but that didn’t mean everyone had to receive the same level of benefits. Here’s the benefits approach the advisor took for this company:

  • $75,000 Critical Illness
  • $250,000 AD&D
  • Out of Country
  • 90% Drug Plan
  • Healthcare Spending Account (HCSA) at 2.5% of previous year’s total earnings
  • No Life Insurance (it was left up to individual employees to seek life insurance on their own, depending on how much they need)


Although this plan was more expensive than the stripped down version of the off-the-shelf plan the company previously had, it came with significant advantages:

  • Rewards people with an appropriate plan based on last year’s earnings
  • Matches the company’s philosophy of individual empowerment
  • Pooled benefits matches the company’s belief in protecting their employees in case of illness or AD&D
  • All employees, including executives, have the same benefits – but different
  • One year waiting period for the HCSA encourages employee commitment and retention

Both the client and their employees were excited about this new benefits solution, which matched their business philosophy perfectly.

Harness the Power of Executive Benefits

Traditional benefits plans can be limiting, especially for executives and succcessful entrepreneurs.

An Executive Benefits Plan is a powerful option because it tranforms many medical costs to a pre-tax expense, saving owners money.

Most plans with 100% coverage have limits, and depending on their family’s needs, this may be very constraining or they may have significant out-of-pocket expenses. However with this plan, 100% of all CRA-eligible expenses are covered, with no co-insurance, limits, or deductions.

If you are paying for your medical expenses regardless, why not pay for them in a way that maximizes the opportunities that exist within the CRA?

Ask your clients this very question, and we bet it will be of interest to them.

Many business owners have a “cost plus” arrangement for their benefits, but it requires a convoluted process before the benefits are fully paid. With an Executive Benefits Plan, they only need to touch it once and it’s paid at 100%. For busy executives, this alone makes the plan a valuable inclusion.

Let’s look at a case study where an Executive Benefits Plan helped a large Canadian company:


A well-known Canadian company with over 500 employees and six C-Suite executives had a problem that needed to be resolved quickly and confidentially through a benefits solution. The business also wanted a solution that would help them be competitive in the marketplace.

When this company reached out to advisors, they made it clear that they did not want to discuss the entire company’s benefits plan and that they wanted to keep the solution confidential within the C-Suite. However, most of the advisors they spoke with could not discuss a solution to their problem without pulling in the entire benefits plan.

Benefits Approach:

The advisor this company chose offered them an Executive Benefits Plan that would not require any change to the existing company-wide benefits solution. Here was the approach:

  • All defined executives receive 100% Executive Benefits Plan for extended healthcare (EHC) and dental benefits (no deductibles, no co-pay, no limits)
  • All defined executives will remain in the company plan for all pooled benefits and waive their EHC and dental coverage
  • No changes to company benefits plan


  • The problem in question was resolved confidentially and quickly
  • Tax effective for executives, enhancing compensation and improving retention
  • Helps the company become a more competitive employer for C-Suite individuals

How Do You Do All of This for Clients?

You start with a blank canvas and get employers thinking differently about benefits plans. Why would they have a standard, cheap, off-the-shelf benefits plan when they can have it any way they want?

This is how you add value to the relationship you have with your clients. Design a benefits plan that helps them achieve their goals.

Building a better benefits plan starts with understanding your clients and their businesses better. Remember… solutions are abundant, great questions are rare.

The Benefits Trust helps successful business owners build a better benefits plan than they can get anywhere else. Get in touch with us today!

Don’t miss our conversation-starter resource: 101 Sales Questions Every Benefits Advisor Should Know.

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