VERNON HILLS, Ill. -- If luck truly is where preparation meets opportunity, Baxter Credit Union should have plenty when it comes to its healthsavings account offering.
A proactive strategy has been key to the credit union's foray into the HSA market. "It was a long process before we actually jumped in," said BCU Cards/Fraud Director Lori Reiss. "We saw all the articles on it, did our research, talked to our larger SEGs to gauge their interest in it, and we decided we wanted to have the product in place to offer our large SEGs as another valuable BCU benefit to partner with them in the future. It's also an opportunity to stay competitive in the marketplace so our SEGs won't have to go elsewhere for the service."
A cross-functional approach to process design also led to input from departments including IT, member relations, compliance, marketing, operations and the service center as to how the HSA product should be created and implemented. According to BCU Account Services Manager David Brydun, HSAs fit nicely with the credit union's overall growth strategy.
"It's a strategic objective of ours to grow though our larger SEGs and offer them new products and services that add value," said Brydun. "In the meantime, we still wanted to offer this product to our general membership should they have an HSA-eligible, high deductible health plan or be interested in getting this type of health plan."
The focus at this stage, said BCU Senior Vice President for Business Development John Bratsakis is on creating awareness.
"As we deal with large employer groups we try to position the program as another value add our credit union can bring and take off their hands," said Bratsakis. "When we meet with the senior management team and, during our annual reviews with SEGs, we let them know what's going on at their credit union and that we're ready to work with them. We're laying the groundwork so they contact us before anyone else when they are ready."
He added that at this point, wading into the HSA pool isn't about volume as much as it is about driving the value experience, which means developing the product expertise that SEGs will want and need.
With one of the biggest obstacles to consumer-directed health care is consumer education and understanding how the product works. So, Baxter CU turned to HSA experts at Members Health Network, a health banking CUSO and wholly owned subsidiary of Members United Corporate FCU.
"It can be a difficult concept to grasp, so we view it as critical to provide our members with the right tools and support. The Members Health Network advisory tools do a nice job of addressing this obstacle," said Bydun. "We really liked that their health advisory tools are Web-based and could be customized and branded to match our site."
He added that outside of macro threats (changes in U.S. law or health care delivery), what will ultimately determine the program's success or failure is consumer and employer acceptance of consumer-driven health care. Providing as much information, support and advisory tools as possible can only work to increase acceptance and reduce apprehension.
With a focus not only on member education but BCU employee education as well, the credit union has been providing ongoing internal HSA employee training. Reiss said bringing that expertise to the table makes a difference to its SEGs.
"Having that knowledge and understanding is critical. Each employee doesn't have need to be a subject matter expert on HSAs. They still need to have a base understanding of what it is and isn't--especially front-line staff," said Reiss. "So our whole organization is getting prepared for that growth, and what is fantastic is that everything our SEGs need is situated at the credit union. We're not ceding the service to our competition and are slowly building the reputation among our SEGs that Baxter CU is the source to turn to."
So far in addition to SEG visits, a soft launch on its Web site and at branches is yet another phase of Baxter CU's methodical approach to entering the HSA market.
"It gives us an opportunity in a controlled environment to make sure we are well-prepared to meet their needs and build some of that knowledge expertise across the organization as a whole," said Bratsakis.
Currently BCU has started research on possibly offering a brokerage option for its HSA members and other benefits that can be added to the account.