Meredith Beam of Winston Benefits sets her sights high. The vice president of employer solutions for the New Jersey-headquartered brokerage and one of Employee Benefit Adviser’s Most Influential Women in Benefit Advising for 2017 likes to address the needs to the larger-scale employer.
“Once you get to the larger group, their processes become so complex because they have employees across multiple states. They have multiple divisions and often have multiple language needs that they have to address,” she says. Since joining Winston in late 2014, her focus has been on clients with 5,000 to 6,000 employees.
To select this year’s Most Influential Women honorees, EBA editors asked readers to submit the names of thought leaders who are making their mark on the benefit business through their unique approaches to client relations, benefits technology and/or mentoring other women. From the dozens of submissions received, the editors chose 30 benefit advisers to recognize for their outstanding achievements.
Beam works out of her office in the suburbs of Atlanta and she says that unlike serving smaller-scale clients, larger employers spend more on benefits, which often ranks as the second-most expensive item on their operating budget after payroll. Beam often starts by asking, “How can we look at cost containment strategies, improving processes and supporting the complexities associated with being a large employer now?”
This requires special attention. For her clients, the attention to customer needs does not change once a contract is signed and the benefit programs are set up. “With some of our clients, we're doing weekly status calls sometimes. We have daily standing calls with clients just in case something comes up, they know that they have access to us every single day at that time and they will have our undivided attention.”
With a larger client base, the benefit administration problems can be larger, as well. “It’s impossible to think of every single scenario that will come up in the large-group space. You want to be prepared when they come up,” she says.
Beam has more than a decade of experience on the employee benefits space with stints inside Strategic Employee Benefit Services and BeneSync. In 2014, she was named the first female principal inside Hodges-Mace Benefits Group. While at Hodges-Mace, she was approached by Winston Benefits to be the southeastern representative of the New Jersey-based firm. Although she says she enjoys visiting the northeast, she likes living with her family in the Atlanta area where she can focus on clients in Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The Carson Newman College graduate says that she enjoys working closely with the Winston sales teams and their specific territories. “Making sure that we all know what's going on in each other's markets and we're connecting the dots wherever we can [is important.] If an opportunity with someone that I have a great relationship with comes up outside my territory, it's just a matter of connecting with the rest of the sales team to see who is the best fit.”
Despite her current focus on larger firms, Beam expects to expand her focus to companies with more than 500 employees in the coming year. “We would like to continue to go ‘down market’ and I kind of hate that term because getting employers with any number of employees is a phenomenal accomplishment,” she says, adding, “There's lots of opportunity in that market in the southeast and that's probably been the direction I would like to continue to grow.”
One of Beam’s challenges is communicating the details of her client’s benefits to their employees, especially those who are intrigued and envious of benefits offered by larger companies like Google and Facebook. Beams believes there's a lack of education and communication informing employees of the richness of their benefits packages. She says she has seen employees express concerns that their medical insurance deductible is increasing and they are paying out of pocket more than ever.
“While yes, that's happening, I also think that employers are trying to do everything that they can to prevent that from happening. We've got to find a way to make sure they do understand what they have, what their plans are capable of doing and then how they can supplement things like the out-of-pocket cost associated with medical claims should they incur one,” she says. “There's ways to do it and we're going to have to help bridge that gap.”
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