A Nua Approach to Benefits

Have you ever thought about what you’d do differently if you could start an employee benefits program from scratch? For a benefits professional, this is a rare opportunity, as even in mergers, spin-offs, and redesign efforts, there are expectations and history with current employees that must be satisfied.

After working as an employee benefits consultant for over 20 years for one of the large global firms, together with a few partners, we started our own consulting firm - Nua Group LLC - in early 2017. Now going into 2018 with about a dozen employees, we needed to develop an employee benefits program for our own employees. With my grand creative ideas, 20 years experience, and a blank slate, I started down the path of creating our new benefits program.
 

Our Total Rewards Strategy

As a Total Rewards consulting firm, we quickly put a few stakes in the ground that would be the foundation of our benefits strategy:

  1. The value of our firm is all about the talent of the people we employ and their engagement. Having top-tier compensation and benefit plans is critical.

  2. Part of our business proposition is to be bold and disruptive in the market. We should reflect bold thinking in our benefit offerings and not fall to offering the same as everyone else.

  3. Employee benefits support our employees and value proposition but are not the lead.  People will work at Nua Group for the team, career opportunities, and culture. Benefits should not be a headline nor distraction, rather valuable and easy to use.

  4. Part of our culture and rewards strategy is to be very egalitarian and team-based.  We want the company investment in benefits to be fairly consistent across different employee cohorts.


Health Benefits

We wanted a valuable health benefit plan that would be above the market norm in-aggregate.  At the same time, we needed to keep the plan affordable and tax efficient and avoid waste and misaligned incentives. Here is what we went forward with:

  1. We have two medical options - both with a similar plan design - one is through Kaiser and the other one through a national health plan PPO network. This was an important choice to provide as people are usually “In” or “Out” of the Kaiser system.

  2. We offer high deductible health plans (HDHP) that are HSA-eligible. Our workforce is well-compensated and able to manage the potential out-of-pocket costs associated with an HDHP.  To make these plan highly competitive, we seed every enrolled employee’s HSA with $2,000 per year. With deductibles in the $2,700 range, this provides a very generous benefit.

  3. Medical and dental plans are FREE for employee-only coverage and we require a 50% contribution for dependent coverage. The dependent portion itself is higher than the norm in the market, but it’s competitive when combined with the free employee piece.  This difference from the market is intentional. We want our employees to be covered by our plans. By requiring higher dependent contributions, we can afford to provide FREE generous coverage for our employees.

  4. We offer all the extras like dental, vision, commuter, and even some voluntary benefits but keep the number of options to a minimum and don’t push employees to enroll.

 

Retirement

We decided to go against what most employers do in the market - structure the employer contribution through a match. Instead, we provide a fixed employer contribution (4% to start in 2018) that vests immediately. We believe retirement savings is critical, regardless of an individual’s other obligations. By providing a 4% contribution to all employees, everyone will be saving a minimum amount towards retirement - even if they have other financial obligations.  This helps in a few ways:

  1. We don’t need to spend communication effort trying to convince employees to enroll just to get the match.

  2. As a safe harbor plan, we’re not worried about non-discrimination testing limitations on highly compensated employees.

In the future, as we reward our employees through profit sharing, we may choose to direct a portion of these rewards to employees’ 401k accounts.

 

What’s Next

This initial program has been very well-received by our team and we view it as the first step. Our future plans are to be more disruptive where we can. In some cases, we’ll test new players or co-develop solutions that don’t yet exist.

We’re interested in your comments and questions.

 

About the author

Chris Renz is a co-founder of Nua Group, a human resources advisory firm based in San Francisco. Chris has more than 20 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes and industries address their most significant benefits challenges. He has helped Fortune-500 companies develop market-leading programs and guided smaller firms as they scale programs to match their growth.