CFOs and HR Express Different Benefits Priorities

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A recent survey of corporate CFOs highlighted financial executives' concerns about rising health and pension benefits costs, while a poll of HR managers showed their top rewards priority to be helping employees to better understand their benefits.

The Grant Thornton survey of U.S. chief financial officers, conducted in June 2012 with results released at the end of September, revealed that U.S. CFOs believe the biggest barrier to employee and company financial growth is the cost of employee benefits, with 56 percent identifying health care and pensions as the prime culprits. Moreover, as the cost of health care grows, 77 percent of those surveyed anticipate company and employee contributions to increase over the next year.

“With the economy in a fragile recovery, CFOs are most concerned about rising health care costs when it comes to compensation and benefits,” said Stephen Chipman, chief executive officer of Grant Thornton LLP, in a media release. “Most companies will continue to see a significant increase in health care costs unless they have taken proactive steps to promote wellness and better utilization of health care benefits, which can help ease the increase of these costs.”

In contrast, a September 2012 poll of HR managers showed that educating employees about their benefits was a top goal, while controlling costs, either for the organization or for plan participants, ranked low on their scale.

“HR managers don’t feel like employees are receiving the message when it comes to their benefits,” said John Turner, CEO of Corporate Synergies Group, the benefits brokerage that sponsored the survey, in a media release. “Creating greater understanding of health benefits is critical to the physical health of plan participants and the financial well-being of the business bottom line.”

Referring to the CFO survey, Turner noted, “There is a disconnect between what CFOs think is important and what HR managers think is important.” He added, “It’s an issue that begs a conversation between the two to ensure that their priorities are properly aligned. As it so often is, this is about communication.”