Intuit plans to expand its presence in the market for helping small businesses manage their 401(k) and health insurance benefits, even though many of its own customers do not offer such benefits.

The company has recently started offering insurance services through The Hartford for managing workers compensation services and expects to sign up more insurance carriers next year, according to Nora Denzel, senior vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Employee Management Solutions. Intuit’s payroll division has also begun pilot testing 401(k) and health insurance services that might be offered separately from payroll.

The company has experienced a marked increase in online payroll customers since its acquisition of PayCycle, which it completed in July. The acquisition has allowed Intuit and its accountant partners to offer payroll services to small-business customers who aren’t QuickBooks users through the Intuit Online Payroll program.

The company has been surveying small-business customers using its payroll services to gauge their perspective on the economy, health insurance and retirement benefits. Eighty-two percent of the 1,004 Intuit Payroll small-business customers surveyed in September say they see opportunities for their businesses despite the current economic climate. Sixty percent say they expect their businesses to grow in the next 12 months.

Forty-four percent of the small businesses plan to hire new employees in the next 12 months. Fifty-six percent of the small-business owners polled predict the recession will last another two years or more.

Eight-six percent of the small-business owners polled by Intuit consider health care to be the most important benefit to attract and retain good employees, while 65 percent rated retirement benefits as the most important.

Fifty-eight percent of the companies do not offer health insurance benefits to their employees, however. The reasons given for not providing health benefits are that 48 percent say they cannot find an affordable plan, 40 percent say their employees are covered through a spouse, 19 percent do not think it’s necessary to offer health benefits, and 7 percent are waiting to see about Obama’s health care reform. Seventy-five percent of the small-business owners say they do not offer retirement benefits to their employees.

Forty-four percent of the small-business owners polled rate the current business climate for small businesses as just fair, followed by 37 percent who rate it as poor, 17 percent who rate it as good, and 3 percent who rate it as excellent. Ninety-eight percent say they have not received any money as a result of the federal economic stimulus plan, but 74 percent admit to not taking advantage of all the benefits available via the federal economic stimulus plan.

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