Mercer, the global consulting firm, launched earlier this month an on-demand HR and benefits consulting service for small and midsize businesses. The product was developed in Mercer’s Innovation Hub. Shortly after the introduction, John McComick, editorial director for the benefit group brands at SourceMedia, EBN’s parent company, sat down with Jo-Anne Bloch, who heads the Innovation Hub, to find out more about PeoplePro.

[Jo-Anne Bloch, head of Mercer's Innovation Hub]
[Jo-Anne Bloch, head of Mercer's Innovation Hub]

EBN: Tell me a little more about the new service.
Bloch: For employers, PeoplePro is an on-demand solution for companies that are in fast-growth mode. It allows them to access quick advice or get an extra pair of hands to help with a whole range of HR issues – compensation, employee communications – anything where you just need a job to be done and you just don’t have time to do it.
The other half of Mercer PeoplePro is the pros. We’re providing a great place for flex workers who are expert in HR/benefits to be able to come on board and monetize their expertise very quickly and efficiently.

EBN: You’re targeting small and mid-size businesses with this product?
Bloch: We certainly are. It’s very well suited to companies that are growing fast but have small HR departments, or just one HR generalist, or, in many cases, where you have the CEO or co-founder trying to recruit people, get them on board, and understand what their benefits are. Your people are always your best asset. They are powering your growth and your success. And there’s an awful lot to think about as you bring people on. So it’s right for quite a variety of smaller businesses.

EBN: How does it work?
Bloch: You’re a small company. You have, let’s say, 75 employees. And you’re looking to standardize benefits or you’re looking to compete for talent with bigger competitors. That’s a big issue we hear about – how can small businesses compete with the big guys.

You go onto mercerpeoplepro.com and type in a query: “best employee benefit package,” “healthcare” or “compensation” – whatever you need help with. You’re then matched with a number of benefit pros or consultants who will have expertise in that area.

Some of those pros will be available immediately – you can look at their schedules. And if they’re available and you want to talk to them on the spot, you can.

You may have a project that might take a couple of weeks. You can post the project. When you connect with a pro, you can discuss with the pro what is it you’re interested in accomplishing, a price for the project, the time it will it take to complete. If the two of you agree on the details, off you go. It’s all very quick and efficient.

EBN: How does the matching work?
Bloch: There’s a filtering system that takes in what you’re interest in and the areas in which our pros are able to provide advice. That meshing, or filtering system, provides the matching.

EBN: The information on PeoplePro says that the pros, on averages, have more than 20 years’ experience. Where are these people coming from?
Bloch: We have a diverse mix of people.

It should come as no surprise that we started sourcing most our pros in this early stage through Mercer. We have a great alumni network of people who have retired but who actually don’t want to retire full time. They miss their clients. They’ve had years of fantastic experience and they want to be able to share that.

We’re also working with pros who are moms – people who have other responsibilities.

We will continue to build out our pros based on the demand we see from customers.

EBN: Can you tell about the employer-pro engagement? What would the two be working on?
Bloch: Many times it’s going to be around the sorts of things that a company needs to grow, as it starts to put people on. What do you pay them? What sort of healthcare plans might you put in place? What do you do about pensions, savings, 401(k) plans? How do you communicate about benefits to your employees? Do you have to have an employee handbook? What’s the dress code? Other areas include how do you attract people and how do you retain people.

A lot of these topics are regulated. And there are different requirements in different state. How do you deal with employees in California and to New York?

We’re getting quite a few queries, too, from companies looking to start a business in Canada and others that are based overseas and want to start up in the U.S.

So it’s really sort of anything to do with the workforce, with people, with health, wealth and careers that you need to get done quickly.

EBN: There’s a rating feature that will let clients rank the pros?
Bloch: Very soon we’ll start to publish ratings. Employers will be able to rate the pros and the companies will be able to publish their names. At the moment we’re maintaining anonymity. But we hope that in due course companies will provide their names and their experiences.

EBN: Very Uber-like.
Bloch: It seems to be the way the world is moving. If you have a quick interaction, you can post what the experience was and tell others if you would recommend the services. So, yes, we’ve very much made that part of Mercer PeoplePro.

EBN: And could you give us a sense of the pricing?
Bloch: At this point in time it’s $250 an hour – and then based on the number of hours. We’re trying to keep it very simple. We’re trying to keep it very flat pricing. It doesn’t matter who you’re accessing or what their experience is, it’s all $250 an hour. We’ll see how that goes. This is sort of our first release, if you like, and so we’re still getting feedback and we’re still listening to our clients.

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