It’s fair to say I’ve witnessed more than my share of conference presentations.

But since I’ve been the official Conference Chairman of UCS conferences since 1995, it goes with the territory. After all, we hold four events per year and have 45-plus workshops per event. I haven’t seen every presentation, but the number I have seen has to be more than 1,000.

But the great thing is this: the presentations have never gotten stale, and I myself keep learning from them. You could say there’s never been a dull moment! OK, that’s not quite true—I have to admit the world of retirement and healthcare benefits isn’t always exciting. But it seems to be constantly changing, so there’s always plenty to talk about and learn at our conferences—and that was true even before the Affordable Care Act was passed.

With that in mind, I thought it would be valuable—especially for those who’ve never attended one of our events—to take a look at the kind of information that gets shared. Instead of providing general information—yes, we cover everything from health care reform to ERISA to high-deductible health plans to 401(k) plans—I’d like to take a look at three great presentations from our May 6 conference in Boston. Past attendees can view them at

1. “Wellness Programs May Be Hazardous to Employee Health” by Michelle Spehr of The Benefits Group, Inc. What a great title—and the presentation lived up to it! Here are the basic points:

  •  Almost all companies do wellness wrong. Most wellness programs do little to help employees become healthier. The problem, Michelle said, is organizations don’t give their employees the skills and opportunities they need to succeed. Instead of providing comprehensive programs that make a positive difference, employees feel that organizations are far more likely to pry into their employees’ personal lives through “health risk assessments,” poke their workers with needles and prod them to go to the doctor when they aren’t sick.
  • There is a better way. Spehr advocated that organizations use Dr. Michael O’Donnell’s AMSO Model: 5% Improve Awareness, 30% Enhance Motivation, 25% Build Skills and 40% Provide Opportunity. Using the model empowers organizations to help their employees make positive changes—one employee at a time. There is too much detail in the model to go over here but you can find more information about it at

2. “Making Corporate Health Education a Corporate Priority” by Sherri Samuels-Fuerst of Sargento Foods, Inc. Theories and models are great, but I don’t think much can beat great case studies. They really make an issue come alive, and that’s why we feature them in our conferences. Sherri’s detailing of how Sargento (yes, the Wisconsin-based cheese company) increased participation in its wellness programs is one of my favorite examples.

What’s interesting is how theory and reality interact. I don’t know how familiar Sargento was with the AMSO Model but its practices certainly included elements of the model. For example, it emphasized the importance of communication for improving awareness and enhancing motivation, as well as the importance of providing support. On the other hand, Sargento also heavily used incentives, something the AMSO Model cautioned against relying on too heavily.

Combined, these first two presentations gave wellness program administrators a lot of food for thought. Healthy food, I hope!

3. “Fiduciary Issues and How to Avoid Being a ‘Defendant’” by Sherwin Kaplan of Nixon Peabody. Let’s face it—fiduciary issues aren’t always the most exciting. But Sherwin Kaplan really got my attention with his presentation. After all, who wants to be a defendant? Certainly not me!

So how do fiduciaries protect themselves? Sherwin made sense of the complex issues and put them into an understandable checklist (also detailing how to do each):

  • good process
  • documentation
  • monitoring
  • retention of experts when appropriate
  • avoidance of non-exempt Prohibited Transactions

He also laid out common mistakes fiduciaries make. Number one was very simple: failure to devote enough time to do the job right. Too often, he said, being a fiduciary is considered secondary to other job duties, which can cause lots of problems, the worst of which can get the fiduciary in a lot of hot water!

I hope this brief look at these presentations gave you a taste of what our events have to offer. Of course, to fully appreciate our events, you need to attend. Not only will you learn valuable takeaways that will help you be better at your job, but you’ll also develop valuable connections with other attendees that can further your career.

To learn more about our conferences or to register, visit We have our final 2014 conference Sept. 7-10 in Las Vegas. Hope to see you there!