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Are Your Benefits

By: Kevin McFadden

In their efforts to become employers of choice, some employers are expanding the array of benefits they offer. Kevin McFadden, of Sigurdson, McFadden & Associates Ltd., looks at some of the unique offerings now being included in benefit packages.

There is a trend developing in the field of employee benefits and it appears to be here to stay. Employers are providing a new and interesting array of benefits, expanding the traditional definition beyond regular health and dental plans. Many employers now refer to the benefit offerings as their ‘Suite of Benefits and Services’ rather than simply a group insurance or retirement plan. This trend has been brought on by the shortage of available talented and qualified employees in today’s competitive job marketplace, which can be best described as ‘free agency.’

Today, employers, in an effort to attract and retain their prized talent, are helping employees:  save for their children’s education  finance the purchase of a home computer  find the lowest mortgage rates  insure their cat or dog

It was not long ago that it would be a stretch to use word “cool” and benefits in the same sentence. That now appears to be changing.

A new benefit with a high ‘cool factor’ is the Employee Mortgage Program. This benefit allows the employee access to free mortgage brokering services which provides buying advice and rate shopping of the mortgage marketplace. While mortgage brokering is not a new service, packaging this service up and offering it to employees in the form of a benefit is. Employers offering this benefit are scoring big points with employees because any employee with an existing mortgage, or who is thinking about buying a home or condo, can utilize the service. Most employers are offering access to this personalized service during working hours which adds convenience for employees.

Access To Lowest Rates

Gord Brady, a principal in Bay Hill Mortgage, a Winnipeg-based company that pioneered the Employee Mortgage Program in Canada, describes the service as “…very valuable, having access to more than 30 mortgage lenders, including big banks, who bid on our clients’ mortgage business guaranteeing the employee access to the lowest rates in the marketplace.” He adds “…mortgage brokering is in a huge growth phase in Canada with approximately 15 per cent of all residential mortgages booked through brokers.” He expects the numbers to rise and eventually approach the market penetration in the United States, where brokers book more than 50 per cent of all mortgages.

With a demand for personalized customer service not always received at the banks, and employers now offering access and creating awareness of the service, Brady is confident Canadian companies will embrace this new benefit. There is no cost to employers to offer the Employee Mortgage Program as the broker is paid a finder’s fee from the successful bidding lender. By utilizing the Employee Mortgage Program, employees save time, headaches, and, most importantly, money.

Need To Know

Mike Wade, a financial planner with Sigurdson, McFadden & Associates in Winnipeg, manages the company’s employee wealth accumulation portfolio. He has been very active in ensuring employees of company sponsored pension plans and Group RRSPs have access to professional personal advice and meets with many employees face to face at work or at home. He feels that employees participating in company sponsored plans want and need personal service and advice when it comes to their retirement savings and other asset accumulation. “I find that employees need to know that they are planning properly and are investing to meet their proper investment profile.”

Another cool benefit that has been developed is a Group RESP. The program works similar to a Group RRSP and allows employees the opportunity to save for their children’s education. Payroll deductions make it easier for the average employee to save money for something they feel strongly about but don’t necessarily have the discipline to plan and save for.

The program is beneficial for employers too as it adds one more unique benefit offering to the benefits menu at no cost.

Another benefit new to the scene is pet insurance.

Laura Kemp, marketing manager of Pet Plan, Canada’s leading supplier of pet insurance says, “…more than half of all households in Canada have a pet.” Vet bills can often be thousands of dollars and these unexpected costs may mean that pets are not treated adequately because the owners cannot afford the treatment. With affordable premiums and much interest from pet owning employees, employers such as Purolator have allowed employees access to this new benefit at work.

Pet Plan has recently partnered with benefits consultants who are helping companies set up Pet Insurance for their employees. Insuring a Rover can now take on a new and very different meaning!

So how does your benefits program stack up? Is it a Moped? Harley? Chevette? Corvette? Pee Wee? or P. Diddy? If your benefits program is ‘getting sand kicked in its face,’ then perhaps it is time to ‘bulk up’ with some of the new and innovative benefits now available to employers, many at little or no cost.

Kevin McFadden is a benefits consultant and principal of Sigurdson, McFadden & Associates Ltd. a Winnipeg-based benefits and pension consulting company.

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