Q&A with Chris Cerone: Open Enrollment & Industry Revolution

chris cerone headshotChris Cerone is executive vice president at TRI-AD, a total benefits administration firm that serves employers nationwide. We recently chatted with Chris about the fast-approaching open enrollment season, the evolution of the industry and market trends.

As we’re quickly approaching open enrollment season, can you talk about what you’re envisioning in terms of adoption of new plans?

Health savings account (HSA) adoption has grown significantly over the past several years and we expect to see that continue. More employers are adding high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) with an HSA and, more often than not, a limited purpose FSA plan. Post-pandemic, there is a renewed focus on financial wellness. An HSA with a low-cost investment lineup can be a very powerful growth vehicle.

Based on adoption, what do you think employers can do to maximize participation and contributions this open enrollment season?

Employers can continue to educate and express the importance and power of pre-tax savings. In this inflationary environment, it is more important than ever for employees to understand the savings they are potentially leaving on the table by not participating in tax-advantaged plans. When we attend benefit fairs, we still speak to far too many people who believe an FSA is “that thing where you lose your money at the end of the year.” It is incredibly rewarding when someone will give you 5 minutes of their time to explain how these plans work and that they will save a significant amount of money in the coming year as a result.

Are you seeing any market trends based on factors such as return to office? Anything related to lifestyle benefits, for example?

We are certainly seeing that employees value flexibility, both in terms of how and when they return to the office, as well as in their benefits package. A younger, healthy employee may not value the traditional lineup of benefits nearly as much as their older counterparts, but may really appreciate that their employer is paying for their gym membership, food delivery if they are working late and many other options that a lifestyle account can provide. We have had countless discussions around these plans with brokers, clients and prospects this year. While adoption is still relatively low, we believe the trend toward flexibility will continue in the coming years.

As a larger national administrator, as you think about partnerships in the market and where you look to drive new relationships, can you talk about how you set yourself apart?

TRI-AD has always differentiated on service, technology and partnership. All clients are assigned a dedicated service team and our account managers average more than 10 years of TRI-AD tenure (low turnover is a constant through TRI-AD, even in our contact center). Response times are written and escalation paths, when needed, are clear. TRI-AD’s data management team is experienced, adept and flexible, allowing us to integrate data with any platform or vendor. Our relationship managers take the time to know our clients and their business needs and ensure that TRI-AD is scaling and adapting to those as needed. When issues do come up, we own and resolve them with a sense of urgency and avoid finger pointing. We look to develop relationships with brokers and employers that value these differentiators and seek to build long-term partnerships, rather than price shopping every few years.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen from brokers in the last five years?

As mentioned above, while price is always an important consideration, we have seen a trend away from this being THE most important. Many RFPs we’ve received lately start with some introduction of “the client is extremely frustrated with the service, lack of responsiveness, constant turnover of their service team, employee complaints, etc.” Brokers have many priorities and spending excessive time on client complaints around reimbursement and COBRA issues is not high on that list. The minor savings (relative to the employer’s overall benefits budget) that might be achieved by changing vendors often is not worth the time or frustration of service issues and complaints.

Finally, what role does technology play in the eyes of an employer?

Great technology platforms and mobile apps are essential and expected. Employers want user-friendly and intuitive interfaces and the tools to deliver the best possible outcomes for their employees. TRI-AD’s mission is to make it fast, simple and easy for people to manage their employer-provided benefits. Robust technology platforms, paired with exceptional support teams, help us achieve that mission.