Why my RIA brought health care planning services in-house

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As a financial advisor, I hear firsthand how anxious clients are about meeting health care costs in retirement. I’m not alone. In a survey, financial planning professionals ranked health care costs  as clients’ second-largest area of concern, coming in only after asset growth.

Roch Monnig of Burney Wealth Management

Roch Monnig, wealth advisor at Burney Wealth Management

But what is the best way for advisors to get health care planning services to their clients? Here are the choices our RIA, one consisting of 38 team members managing assets of clients across the U.S., considered to achieve that end — and what we eventually decided on.

Insurance brokers, cost calculators or in-house planning?

Candidly, when it comes to outsourcing health care planning, there aren’t many good, scalable solutions for a firm like ours with clients nationwide, particularly when it comes to selecting health insurance. Insurance brokers and insurance agencies are an option, but they typically work off of commission and can only guide clients through the plans they have contracts with. 

On most insurance agency websites, you’ll find a disclaimer similar to this: “We have contracts with many but not all plans. As a result, we do not offer every plan available in your area. Any information we provide is limited to those plans we do offer in your area.”

A drawback to working with insurance agencies or brokers is that your clients might miss out on the ideal option for their needs if the agency isn’t in contract with that plan, meaning it’s the agent’s interests, not your clients, that are being prioritized. Additionally, it’s difficult to find brokers in every state that our clients reside in, and vetting their quality and objectivity is hard without a personal relationship with the agent.   

Another option we considered to help clients in their planning was to use general health care cost calculators. Some are free and available online to anyone, while others come with a cost and are available to advisors. These simple tools give a rough estimate of clients’ future health care costs based on a few basic inputs and criteria, and some also have Medicare matching capabilities based on a few client preferences questions. It can be a good start, but the more personalized you can be, the better.  

READ OR WATCH: Bank of America’s Ben Storey on how to prepare for the health care costs of retirement

The third option was to bring health care advice in-house. Some firms do this by hiring a health insurance expert to work with advisors and clients. Our RIA chose to contract with a noncommissioned health care planning software firm called Caribou

The advisor initiates a “HealthPlanning Analysis” in the platform, and the client answers questions and provides information that allows Caribou to create a personalized analysis of their best-fit health care coverage options. Caribou doesn’t sell health insurance plans, so they don’t receive commissions from any of the plans. 

This model allows the client to receive unbiased health insurance guidance and personalized and accurate health care cost projections. For the financial advisor, the benefits include being the source of advice for important health care decisions and standing out from competitors by offering a unique, value-added service.  

Who pays?

Whether you choose to hire an in-house Medicare expert or contract with a third-party, noncommissioned health care planning software company, there will be a cost. Some financial planning firms might choose to offer health care planning as a value-added service included in the client’s total fee already paid to the firm. In this scenario, a portion of the client’s annual fees is allocated to finance the firm’s health care planning offering. 

Whether you keep fees at the same level after adding this service or increase them all depends on what makes the most sense for your practice and how you structure your fees

READ MORE: The financial advisor’s guide to Medicare

The other option is to offer your health care planning services as an add-on with its own one-time cost. There are tools used by financial advisors (AdvicePay, for example) that can make it easy to invoice for one-off services like this.  

Whichever you choose, you’ll want to consider your bottom line before diving into health care planning, but don’t overlook the long-term revenue opportunity from delivering more comprehensive planning and strengthening your client relationships. 

Rolling out a full-service offering

When rolling out your firm’s health care planning service, I recommend beginning with clients who are approaching Medicare eligibility. This is an easy one to filter for in your CRM, as it’s just an age-based criterion. As long as you have clients’ age in your CRM, it will be simple to find clients who are 63 and older. Although clients aren’t eligible for Medicare until 65, it’s crucial to start having conversations about Medicare before then. 

Even if clients are still planning to work when they turn 65, don’t miss the opportunity to discuss the option of transitioning to Medicare with them. Transitioning from employer-sponsored health insurance to Medicare is a source of stress for clients approaching 65 and, with limited income in retirement, it will become more important than ever to ensure their financial plans are as accurate and comprehensive as possible.  

Then, extend that support to include helping those clients review their coverage each year during open enrollment, ensuring they’re on the optimal coverage for their current health needs. The plan that worked best for their health needs and budget at 65 is likely not the same plan that will work best for them at 70: Not only do client health needs and finances change every year, but plan costs, provider networks and drug formularies do as well.

READ MORE: What’s the best health insurance for early retirees?

That same methodology can be used for clients of any age who are about to retire. The average age of retirement is 61, giving clients a few options to pick from when they lose their employee benefits: COBRA, a spouse’s health plan or the marketplace. Supporting them through this decision is critical to their greater transition into retirement. Then support these clients during the open enrollment period every fall in the coming years.

Helping clients through the health care process has led to a deeper sense of trust and satisfaction in our client relationships, resulting in better retention and more referrals for our practice. Incorporating this and other services into your firm’s offerings can help you meet client expectations and stand out in the current competitive financial planning space. 

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