CSBT: A Disruptor in The Employee Benefits Field

Paul Wheeler | GroupHEALTH Benefit Solutions
For 40 years Paul Wheeler worked in and on behalf of Canadian community social service organizations, and he currently serves as Board Chair and Chief Governance Officer at the Community Services Benefits Trust (CSBT). He also works as an Ambassador for the Trust. Formed in 2002, the CSBT is a non-profit trust formed specifically to ensure that community social service organizations have access to competitive employee benefits plans.

We talked to Paul about the CSBT, how community social service organizations can benefit from membership in the CSBT, and why he believes that their employees need the best coverage while the organizations need better value and control over their benefit programs.

What is your role, and what responsibility do you have at CSBT?

I have two roles:
I am the elected Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Community Services Benefits Trust. Our Board makes sure that the CSBT is meeting its responsibilities to its stakeholders, including good governance and accountability.
Also, in retirement, I work part time with GroupHEALTH, which provides CSBT with our employee benefits program, as an Ambassador for the CSBT. I liaise with Advisor Partners across Canada to help them understand why their community social service clients should be in the CSBT, and I consult directly with agencies to ensure CSBT is meeting their needs.

What is the relationship between the CSBT and GroupHEALTH Benefit Solutions?

CSBT is a not-for-profit trust created, owned, and governed by its volunteer Board of Trustees. Our goal is to provide the best possible employee benefit solutions to member organizations. The CSBT has appointed GroupHEALTH to be its Administrator, with responsibility to achieve the ENDS set out by the CSBT – starting with providing a superior employee benefits experience for both the organizations themselves and their employees.

Why was the CSBT created?

The CSBT launched to address a need for community social service organizations in British Columbia: they had few options when choosing an employee benefits program, and their experience in the program was poor, financially, in coverages, and in service. We quickly realized, in setting up the CSBT as an alternative, that community social service organizations across Canada could benefit from the flexible, comprehensive, and affordable benefits offered through CSBT by GroupHEALTH, so we expanded. We clearly tapped a need: over 1,000 community service organizations across Canada now get their employee benefits through CSBT!

How does CSBT help its members?

CSBT considers its members – in effect, participating organizations – to be the “moral owners” of the Trust. Those members are represented by a Board who themselves are made up of active and former community social service leaders. They direct our provider, GroupHEALTH, to ensure that our members get the best possible benefit plans while enjoying sustainable cost-contained solutions. The CSBT Board monitors the performance of GroupHEALTH to ensure it is both complying with CSBT’s policies and providing the best experience for our members. As well, the board educates itself about best practices and innovation, and uses that to guide and direct GroupHEALTH to develop better plan solutions.

What do you think makes CSBT an expert in the community social service sector?

CSBT is an expert in community social services because its Board of Trustees are all current or recently retired senior executives in the sector. In addition, the Board, as outlined above, seeks further knowledge and suggestions from its “moral owners” and uses that information to continuously improve CSBT’s program. You can read more about our trustees here.

What has the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic been on the community social service sector and how has the sector met the challenges of the pandemic?

The sector provides support to vulnerable people in every community in Canada. To a very large degree these are individuals and families, who, without the support of their social service agencies, would either cease to thrive or, at the least, experience greatly restricted lives. Therefore, the agencies consider that during the COVID-19 crisis their work must go on with as few restrictions as possible.

While some agencies closed their programs due to government direction (for example, childcare centers and museums) the vast majority continued to offer most of their programming while adjusting to both public health directives and the health needs of both employees and the people they support. They did so despite inadequate pandemic education, funding, or logistical support from government. I’m proud of our sector’s ability to continue to meet the needs of our society’s most vulnerable people even through extraordinarily challenging times. This just reinforces our belief that employees deserve strong support, including excellent employee benefits.

What are the biggest issues in the community services sector? How can an employee benefits plan address these issues?

Employers in this sector consider their employees to be their most important asset. They are aware these employees’ function in an environment that creates high levels of stress and conflicting expectations. Often these employees are under-valued, and this manifests itself in underfunding for wages, benefits, and ongoing training.
Low wages, poor benefits, long hours, high stress, and conflicting expectations are major contributors to high levels of staff turnover. This, in turn, leads to increased expenses and a lower ability to provide support as efficiently as possible and with the levels of excellence desired.

An employee benefits plan can help resolve the problems noted by:

  • Refraining from providing the traditional “cookie-cutter” package of benefits and, instead of providing a flexible program of solutions tailored to the employees of the individual agency.
  • Ensuring the solutions are aimed at contributing to employees’ physical, emotional, and mental health in a preventive fashion. Examples would include the supply and strong promotion of things like disability management services and employee and family assistance programs. These can lower the possibility of illness (physical, mental, or emotional) and shorten the duration of such events should they occur.
  • Provide communication and education to employers about best practices in supporting employees around health issues.
  • Provide tools and programs that, if used, result in long term cost containment.

What differentiates CSBT from other organizations offering similar products or solutions?

CSBT is owned and governed by its Board members who are community social service experts rather than insurance experts. It approaches its task from the point of view of seeking to provide what its owners want and need rather than what an insurance company wishes to provide. This is a very person-centred approach!

As well, CSBT, along with its administrator GroupHEALTH, is a disruptor in the field of employee benefits: it finds solutions that are the best for both employers and employees even while knowing these will lead to lower costs in the long term. While other similar programs claim to be cost-effective, CSBT and GroupHEALTH deliver cost-containment by providing value adds that are innovative and address the root causes of driving costs.

What are the advantages of CSBT membership?

The biggest advantage is that, by becoming a CSBT participating organization, the agency joins a network of over 1,000 similar agencies who band together to use their collective knowledge, innovation and buying power to obtain exceptional support for their employees.

This is the story of the development of all community social services and its focus on collaboration and cooperation is instinctively understood by member agencies.

As well, CSBT member organizations can expect:

  • No legal obligation to membership
  • No cost to membership
  • Having a “voice” in the ongoing development of the program (ownership linkage)
  • Access to a best-in-class, flexible and affordable benefits programs
  • Ability to match any existing plan
  • Automatically greatly enhancing any benefits plan by adding more features and services without additional cost
  • Long term cost-containment – our plan solutions embed affordability directly into plan designs, making costs predictable and sustainable.

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