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BENEFITS—TheBenefits Of Compliance

Spectrum Benefits Group Core business: Employee benefits Revenues in 1993: $900,000 Revenues in 2001: $5.5 million Employees in 1993: 1 Employees in 2001: 4 Goal: To balance quality of service with growth Driving Force: Keeping companies in compliance with state and federal employment laws A Chalk Hills employee benefits company believes there’s more to taking care of employees than offering health insurance and 401(k)s The average employee benefits firm probably knows where to send you for a good deal on health insurance for your company. Maybe it can find a good 401(k) plan too. But does it know the TAMARA-listed criteria for judging COBRA compliance? Can it analyze the latest family medical leave requirements as they apply to a company doing business in California? How about Texas? Or New Jersey? Ted Aldershof believes the answers to those questions would most likely be no. And that is the edge he thinks his company, Spectrum Benefits Group, has over the competition in what many consider a pretty cut-and-dried, meat-and-potatoes business. Aldershof insists “the employee benefits business has changed drastically over the years” and yet very few of his competitors let alone companies providing benefits to their employees know that. Spectrum Benefits Group provides employee health and life insurance packages, disability plans and 401(k)s. But so do many other employee benefits companies. What’s different is that Spectrum focuses on making sure clients are in compliance with state and federal laws as well. The need to provide incentives to employees by way of benefits packages may ebb and flow with the job market, but not much. “HMOs have become highly mandated and highly regulated,” Aldershof, founder and president of Spectrum, said. “And pricing is a very small variable; they’re just all going up.” What makes the difference, as far as he’s concerned, is the ability to help a company stay in compliance with the varied and constantly changing rules and regulations, laws and codes that affect employers. “We believe compliance with federal and state laws is as important as any of the employee benefits a company offers,” Aldershof said. So, working with a small staff out of a suite of offices on Woodland Hills’ Chalk Hill, Aldershof says keeping clients out of trouble they never knew existed has become “my mission.” You can figure the insurance industry veteran believes almost any company anywhere could learn from his expertise and, of course, he’ll talk to anybody. But clearly the companies that benefit the most are those that either operate with work forces at multiple sites in multiple states or have seen their businesses grow so quickly they haven’t had time to keep up with the demands that come with a rapidly expanding workforce. Quite frequently, overworked human resources officers based in the San Fernando Valley have little idea of the employment laws they’re supposed to administer in other states. Susan Kunselman, the corporate administrator for Regency Lighting, a lighting distributor with company headquarters in Van Nuys, is responsible for 160 employees in four states. An experienced human resources administrator perhaps could handle the 100 based in Southern California. But the 60 spread out in Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and New Jersey present challenges. “In Texas, for instance right now, it’s very volatile in terms of what’s going on with health care,” Kunselman said. Consequently, Spectrum has been busy keeping her up to date on what her company has to do to make sure it’s in compliance with laws that regulate Regency’s employee benefits packages there. Even if a company is not doing business in far-flung locations, it can be difficult to keep track of everything especially if it’s moving fast. “Companies in a growth mode will get new facilities, hire new people, take on new customers,” Aldershof said, “but benefits are always the last thing to grow for them.” U.S. Pole Inc. makes commercial light poles. Five years ago it had five people working out of one plant in Sun Valley. Today it has 266 employees in three locations spread around the Northeast Valley. U.S. Pole hired its first full-time human resources administrator just this past January. “It’s been a tremendous change with a lot of issues to deal with,” said company controller Sonia Wassefi. “Most (employee benefits companies) get their commissions and only call me when they hear from the insurance companies that they didn’t get their check,” Wassefi said. Spectrum, Wassefi said, guides her through the intricacies of employment law, keeping her on a schedule as far as paperwork that has to be filed and deadlines that have to be met. Aldershof spent nearly 20 years in the property and casualty insurance business, 11 with Aetna Life and Casualty, until, he said, “in 1993, I decided it was time to take what I’d learned and set up my own company.” He started with a handful of accounts he brought with him. That first year, working practically by himself, he had $900,000 in revenues. This year, with a slim staff of four, he expects gross sales of $5.5 million. He has just over 200 clients, most with 20 to 25 employees. Aldershof said he hopes to continue to grow his business in the future, but slowly: He wants to average 4-percent to 5-percent growth a year. “That way I can do it with the same number of employees I have now,” he said. And, Aldershof said, “My goal is to be here in 20 years, doing business as it has to be done then, not as it’s done today.”

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