Few brokers optimistic about benefits industry

Given the uncertain impact of health care reform and a rocky economy, there’s a lot for a broker to worry about these days. And it’s all having a big effect on how they are looking at the benefits industry.

A MetLife study released Monday finds only 25 percent of benefits brokers and consultants with large clients, and 12 percent with small and mid-sized clients, are very optimistic about the benefits industry overall.

Three out of five respondents expect employer-paid medical insurance will still be an important growth opportunity in the next three years, but 73 percent are very concerned about reductions in commissions in light of health care reform.

There’s more optimism, though, when it comes to a broker examining their worth—more than half (52 percent) of brokers and consultants with large clients say they are very optimistic about the growth potential of their firms as are approximately one-third (31 percent) of those with small and mid-sized clients.

“With new challenges for employers often come new opportunities for those brokers and consultants who can bring creative solutions to the table," says Anthony Nugent, executive vice president, U.S. Business, MetLife. 

"While wary of how health care reform might change their own business operations as well as those of their clients, four out of five benefits brokers and consultants say their firms are actively exploring new models and strategies in order to stay relevant and pursue growth opportunities. The optimism expressed by many firms about their own futures indicates confidence in their ability to successfully meet these challenges.”

For the most part, brokers feel reform will give them an advantage: Nearly three-fourths of brokers expect their clients to rely on them even more three years from now. Virtually all respondents (97 percent) feel that they have worked hard to keep their clients up-to-date on health care reform developments. 

The economy is more worrisome, with two-thirds of brokers concerned the it may cause employers to cut benefits, particularly in small and mid-sized employers. The study reveals other concerns include:

  • Keeping up with legislative changes and their impact (68 percent);
  • Maintaining/growing top-line revenue at the firm (63 percent); and
  • Attracting and retaining clients (62 percent)

For brokers and consultants with clients with fewer than 1,000 employees, concerns were a little different:

  • Reductions in commissions due to medical loss ratio (85 percent);
  • Maintaining/growing top-line revenue at the firm (82 percent); and
  • Keeping up with legislative changes and their impact (78 percent).

“The convergence of economic issues and health care reform is reshaping the benefits landscape, and demanding agile navigational skills from brokers, consultants and their clients alike. The key to growth for brokerage and consulting firms will be the ability to differentiate one’s self from the competition—a concern expressed by two-thirds of survey respondents,” says Ronald Leopold, vice president, U.S. Business, MetLife.

To increase overall profitability and sustainability of their firms, brokers say they intend to enhance consulting services, sell more voluntary and ancillary products and play a greater role in health and wellness. The study finds 58 percent of brokers and consultants “see an opportunity to enhance or expand their broker consulting services.” The same amount also see a potential to sell more voluntary benefits and ancillary products over the next three years in post-health care reform world.

Brokers say they expect to see a rise in the importance for these benefits on a voluntary basis: disability, 67 percent; life, 66 percent; long-term care, 65 percent; dental, 62 percent; medical, 61 percent ; and critical Illness, 59 percent.

MetLife’s survey was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011 and consisted of a telephone survey fielded by GfK Custom Research North America and face-to-face interviews conducted by the Churchill Group. The survey comprised 502 interviews with brokers and consultants who sell group employee benefits to companies of all sizes. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 24 brokers and consultants, representing various geographic areas in the U.S.

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