Varnum Group Assists With Benefit Services


    GRAND RAPIDS — The Human Resources Group at Varnum Consulting is the firm’s largest cluster, offering a full range of benefit services to companies throughout the region.

    Just one facet of those offerings is what the firm calls a “business concierge service” that has been designed to provide clients with HR consultants who have expertise in the health benefits field, having dealt with multiple issues involving health providers, hospitals and insurers. But the group’s personnel do more than consult.

    “Sometimes we also do an outsource arrangement, where we will actually take over the responsibility for benefits or maybe even all the human resource activities, depending on the nature of the organization,” said Ardon Schambers, Varnum Consulting human resources practice leader.

    Schambers said his staff of six help company executives put their arms around the rising cost of providing health benefits to workers, and then explain reasons for the whys of those costs to employees.

    “That is an area we spend a lot of time working on. You can have the right program, but if people don’t understand it, you’ve missed the winning stroke,” he said.

    Schambers said his staff spent a year putting a communications program together for one client so the customer’s employees could understand the “real world” of health benefits, and they did that before they introduced the plan.

    But there is one truism that is clearly implicit in the health benefits field: One plan doesn’t fit all businesses. Every company and each nonprofit has different needs, have been around for dissimilar lengths of time, and have diverse amounts to invest in a plan. So solutions have to be different.

    “Maybe a program works really nice if you’ve got 6,000 employees. But if you’ve got 300 and certain types of staff, you have to recognize how sophisticated the staff is,” he said.

    Cost management, program availability and what management is prepared to do in terms of communication are three other not-so-noticeable issues that have to be resolved. Add in the fact that health plans become more complicated each year, and it becomes easier to see why more business owners are seeking help with their benefits.

    Varnum clients cover the business spectrum, as does the work that is done for them. A few just want services for their management team, while others want a plan for their entire firm. Some companies only have 10 employees, while others have thousands. Retail, financial services and nonprofits are among Varnum customers. Most fall somewhere between 100 and 800 employees.

    But Schambers said a likely client is a smaller company where the president has followed the advice given by the firm’s insurance agent as to what type of health benefit plan to offer.

    “What they have to recognize is that it is sort of the fox in the hen house, a little bit. We work with agents around the community, and they’re very reputable people. I don’t want to paint any bad pictures. But the reality of it is they get paid for selling certain kinds of products. So there is always an inherent conflict of interest there,” said Schambers.

    “With us, what you see is what you get. We’re going to charge you a rate, and we will give you the best possible solution for what the circumstances are.”

    Prior to getting into consulting, Schambers directed benefits at Steelcase Inc. Another member of the health benefits group held a similar position at Amway Corp., while a third did the same for Spartan Stores.

    “So we do have a fair amount of expertise,” said Schambers.

    Mike Grass, strategic communications practice leader at Varnum Consulting, said the firm has been providing concierge health benefit services since 2001 when it acquired Humanco Resources. The practice began, though, with a niche focus on the corporate and personal health benefit issues of business executives — “Issues that they may not have been able to resolve in-house or needed expertise on the outside that could be addressed inside,” said Grass.

    Today, any issue that deals with lowering the cost of employment needs to be addressed. And those expenses go beyond compensation and can enter into an often muddled and complex realm that many business owners just don’t have the time to explore.

    “When you start talking about health care, you automatically get involved with disability management. That, of course, also ties into workers’ compensation — did it happen at work or did it not happen at work,” said Schambers.

    “So our health benefit practice is pretty broad in how we approach helping clients.”   

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