Lead with Empathy: Ameriflex CEO Works to Make Employees Feel Heard

July 28, 2020
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Author: Glenn Hunter

Bart McCollum For many years, Dallas-based health-benefits administrator Ameriflex “took the temperature” of its employees with a survey that was sent out annually, semi-annually or once every three months. However, once the coronavirus pandemic hit and 99.0% of its employees began working from home, the company stepped up the pace by sending out the employee-engagement survey on a monthly basis. The survey asked workers: How are you feeling? Do you have everything you need to do your job? Please give us feedback, it went on, both about your general disposition and with respect to your role.

As a result of the formal monthly check-in, employee engagement at Ameriflex has increased since April – and so has trust in the company. Remote work “requires a lot more investment of time and empathy to build and maintain employees’ trust,” says Bart McCollum, Ameriflex’s president and chief executive officer. “We had been at the tail end of the longest period of prosperity in the last 50 years, so a lot of people have never felt a downturn or felt true uncertainty economically. While you can’t solve the problem, obviously, what you can do is listen and find mechanisms to make people feel heard. Making that effort and showing you care can pay a lot of dividends.”

Successful leaders learn to listen and value the input of the people they work with.

McCollum, who helped transform Ameriflex from a small startup into a successful, much-awarded enterprise with customers in all 50 states, recently joined the Executive Advisory Board of ThinkWhy, a SaaS platform that helps companies navigate a new era of work. He will leverage his operational expertise as the company’s flagship product, LaborIQ® by ThinkWhy, aims to assist more companies by forecasting and managing their talent costs.

And, his 12 years with Ameriflex make him uniquely qualified for the role.
Founded in 1998, the company McCollum leads is one of the nation’s largest independent administrators of consumer-directed spending accounts like Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Ameriflex boasts more than 30,000 employer-clients and a number of strategic partners, including Aetna, Uber, MasterCard and the American Bankers Association. It employs about 200, most of them at its Texas headquarters and at a regional office in Greater Philadelphia. But it also has employees working throughout the country.

Discovering “All These Other Metros” for Hiring

In fact, Ameriflex was an early adopter of LaborIQ by ThinkWhy and has used the software product to “help us broaden our labor strategy,” McCollum says. According to Jennifer Telfer, the company’s talent acquisition manager, the product bucked up a stressed hiring manager after a “severe drop-off in the number of candidates” who’d applied for a key role. After she built out a salary analysis tool using LaborIQ by ThinkWhy and posted the position on two job boards and in eight markets that were new for the company, Telfer says a whopping 356 applicants responded to the posting within 24 hours. In contrast, an earlier, single posting in Dallas had drawn just 147 applicants over a period of five weeks.

“In the last 60 days, we’ve hired a number of people in cities where we’d never hired before,” McCollum says, citing Denver, Orlando and Nashville specifically. LaborIQ by ThinkWhy, he adds, has “opened our eyes to all these other metros we didn’t really have any data on.”

McCollum, a Dallas native with a law degree from the Tulane University Law School and a B.A. degree from Washington University, says intelligent recruiting and judicious expense management have helped the company increase its market share and improve its customer retention rate to the high 90s. It also has won five “best places to work” awards over the years and returned more than $1.5 billion in savings to American families.

“Our mission – the ‘why’ for us – is to help millions of American families contend with the high cost of healthcare. That’s why we get out of bed every day,” McCollum says. “Everything that’s happened with COVID-19 has only made our mission more important. Our customers need us more than ever, and the work has become more meaningful than ever.”

Bart McCollum, a member of ThinkWhy’s Executive Advisory Board, is President and CEO of Ameriflex, one of the nation's largest independent administrators of Flexible Spending Accounts, Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Health Savings Accounts. Under his leadership, Ameriflex has won five top places to work awards and a Torch Award for Ethics. Additionally, Ameriflex holds multiple awards for payments innovation and customer experience. During McCollum’s tenure, Ameriflex has grown aggressively without outside capital, boasts an industry-leading client retention rate and has put over $1.5 billion in savings back into the pockets of American families. McCollum also co-founded WorkforceGo! and served as its COO to a successful exit. WorkforceGo! offers cloud-based human capital management, outsourced HR and payroll administration to businesses in over 40 states.

ThinkWhy continuously monitors and forecasts labor data at all levels, measuring impact to MSAs, industries, occupations and businesses across the U.S.