The continuing degradation of the Social Security Administration’s Limited Access Death Master File (DMF) makes the choice of a death audit vendor increasingly important. What are the essential aspects to consider in this selection? What important questions should you ask potential vendors? To assist you in this important decision-making process, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide. In this article, we’ll highlight the key areas of focus as you choose a death audit vendor in 2024.

Data Accuracy and Quality

The Problem: In death audit services, the accuracy and quality of data are crucial, yet many vendors rely heavily on limited sources like the DMF and state records, often supplemented by limited obituary databases. The DMF now only reports 16% of deaths and this reliance can lead to significant gaps in death identification, compromising the thoroughness and reliability of the audit.

Questions You Should Ask: When evaluating a death audit vendor, it’s important to inquire about their data sources and the comprehensiveness of their obituary database compared to standard sources like the DMF and state records. Ask about their success rate in identifying deaths and accuracy. Additionally, ask if the vendor offers a preliminary mortality analysis to gauge what deaths might be currently overlooked. This initial analysis can be instrumental in making an informed decision about the vendor’s capability in delivering accurate and high-quality data.

Our Approach at The Berwyn Group: We prioritize exceptional data accuracy and quality. We identify over 95% of deaths with 99.9% accuracy. We achieve this through our proprietary obituary database, which gathers information from over 26,000 sources. This extensive database, combined with our sophisticated analysis methods, allows us to identify 36% more deaths than our closest competitors. To demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach, we offer a free mortality analysis of a client’s population, providing a clear picture of the deaths they are missing before they decide to use our services.

“Validated” Results in a Death Audit

The Problem: Many death audit vendors advertise ‘validated’ results, but this term can be misleading. It’s crucial to differentiate between mere death data and a comprehensive death audit. Often, vendors present a bulk of potential matches, leaving you to sort through and verify each name. This process can be unclear and burdensome.

Questions You Should Ask: When evaluating potential vendors, delve into their validation process. Inquire whether they rank potential matches or treat all data equally in terms of validation. It’s important to understand how their process works to avoid hours of unnecessary work, prevent false positives, and ensure higher data integrity. Effective validation is key to a reliable death audit.

Our Approach at The Berwyn Group: We stand apart as industry leaders by blending an expert internal team with an advanced scoring algorithm. This combination ensures that we deliver not just a list of names, but a thorough death audit with officially validated results. Our method is designed to provide accuracy and efficiency. We find that through human intervention and validation, Berwyn validates 20% more deaths versus relying purely on automated matches.

Cybersecurity

The Problem: Cybersecurity is paramount in death audit services, especially given the sensitive nature of the participant or policyholder Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that is analyzed. While many competitors highlight their cybersecurity credentials, they often fall short of providing comprehensive, auditable, and demonstrable security measures to protect this sensitive data. It’s not just about having certifications; it’s about effectively safeguarding the PII that, in most cases, is crucial to the audit process.

Questions You Should Ask: When evaluating a vendor’s cybersecurity, look beyond the existence of certifications. Read their full audit reports and compare to your internal expectations for security requirements. Ask about their specific practices for data encryption and retention. Verify that a secure client portal is available to exchange files safely and that it supports multiple layers of encryption. Inquire about their ability to support customization according to your requirements. Also, verify whether they enforce Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for added security or, better yet, support your Single Sign On (SSO) so that you can manage authentication yourself. These inquiries will help assess the thoroughness and effectiveness of their cybersecurity measures in protecting sensitive information.

Our Approach at The Berwyn Group: We go beyond the standard annual SOC 2 Type II assessment. Our multi-layered approach starts with a secure client portal for safe communication and transactions. Our end-to-end encryption protects client files while in-transit and at-rest, plus we enforce an extra layer of PGP encryption for files being uploaded. Even further, going live in Q2 2024 is a per-customer encrypted database to protect your data to an exceptional level. Finally, we offer client-driven data retention policies to ensure data is not retained longer than necessary to provide a quality service. We enforce MFA and support customer SSO (available at no cost to our clients) and IP address filtering to further secure user access to our systems.

Compliance Reporting

The Problem: Compliance with Department of Labor (DOL), Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations is a critical aspect of death audit services. Many providers, however, offer reports that may not align with these regulatory guidelines, potentially leaving clients at risk of non-compliance. This gap can result in issues with due diligence in identifying overpayments, leading to potential legal and financial repercussions.

Questions You Should Ask: When assessing a death audit vendor, it is crucial to inquire about their compliance with DOL and IRS guidelines. Ask specifically how their reports are structured to meet these requirements and how they document efforts to identify decedents. Understanding the level of detail and compliance in their reporting process is key to ensuring that you are adequately performing your due diligence and protecting your organization from potential non-compliance issues.

Our Approach at The Berwyn Group: We prioritize compliance in every aspect of our reporting. Our reports are meticulously designed to align with DOL and IRS guidelines. We provide detailed documentation of our efforts to identify decedents, missing participants and beneficiaries demonstrating that our clients have performed their due diligence. This approach not only aligns with regulatory standards but also provides our clients with peace of mind and protection from potential compliance issues.

Business Model

The Problem: In the realm of death audit, a common issue arises when providers offer these services as mere add-ons to a broad range of unrelated services. This approach often leads to a dilution of focus and expertise, potentially resulting in a lapse in the quality and efficiency of the death audit process. Clients may find that these vendors lack the specialized attention and in-depth understanding necessary for high-quality death audit services.

Questions You Should Ask: When selecting a death audit vendor, it’s important to understand the core focus of their business. Ask if death audit and participant location services are their primary function or just a part of a larger suite of services. Investigate how this focus (or lack thereof) impacts the quality and precision of their services. Choosing a vendor whose business design is centered around death audits can significantly affect the reliability and effectiveness of the services you receive.

Our Approach at The Berwyn Group: The Berwyn Group is structured with a specific focus on providing death audit and participant location services. Our business model is tailored to excel in these areas, ensuring that our clients receive the highest level of expertise and dedicated service. We have invested millions of dollars in the progression, security, and data within our systems, making us one of the industry’s only data independent vendors. This emphasis allows us to maintain superior quality and accuracy in our services, setting us apart from vendors who treat death audits as a secondary offering.

Bottom Line

Choosing the wrong death audit vendor can have serious consequences. Missed deaths and inaccurate information can cost you time, money, and damage your reputation. Working with the right partner can help keep you in compliance and preserve the longevity of your plan. As your potential Death Audit vendor, what questions do you have for us? To learn more about how The Berwyn Group can help, contact us here.