From the April 2012 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine • Subscribe!

Meet the new boss

The trend of voluntary benefits puts the employee in charge

Voluntary benefits have been a growing trend for almost 15 years. One way employers have responded to the poor economy and rising health care costs is by shifting the costs of certain benefits to their employees.

According to a 2011 LIMRA study, 30 percent of U.S. employers are considering adding a voluntary benefit to replace employer-paid and contributory benefits within the next two years.

Most likely, the concept of employee-paid benefits isn’t new to you. You may be selling some now. What you might not realize is the magnitude of this marketplace and how much it can impact your business.

Follow the money

Voluntary premiums are growing as much as 10 times faster than employer-paid premiums, according to 2011 analysis by McKinsey. In fact, voluntary benefits are estimated to contribute more to industry profits than those that are employer-paid by 2015. In other words, the majority of the marketplace could flip in less than three years.

As a producer, you have a tremendous opportunity to guide the transition from employer-funded benefits to a more consumer-centric approach. 

Helping both employers and employees with this transition requires an approach that’s consultative and product savvy, which includes finding ways to ease the administrative burden on the employer and educate the person ultimately making the purchase. 

Meet the new boss

When aiding a transition from traditional benefits to voluntary, you must consider the “new boss”—the employee.

Your new boss requires a more individualistic and educationally focused approach to their protection needs. Employees consistently point to benefits communications as an area that needs to be improved. 

For example, the Hartford’s 2011 Benefit Landscape Survey finds only 25 percent of workers completely understand disability insurance. You, as a producer, can help employees understand their dual protection needs—the need to protect both their physical and financial well-being. 

In order to better assist your employer client, you should understand their benefits challenges.

Challenge 1: Benefits administration in the face of reduced HR support.

Employers have reduced their HR teams. That means employers today require more administrative support for roles traditionally played by their HR personnel. They’re looking to carriers and third-party administrators to ease this burden by taking on responsibilities, such as benefits enrollment, billing and employee communications.

The real key here is data management. The volume of data available to employers today can drive a much more efficient and accurate benefits administration. By recognizing these potential advantages, more employers are making a concerted effort to connect their digital environment with that of their vendors for gains in efficiency.     

Challenge 2: Connecting with employees, particularly remote workers.

The time and effort involved in communicating with employees is a real challenge for employers of all sizes, especially those with remote workers. Forty-five percent of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least part-time telework, according to a 2011 study by Telework Research Network. The trend is helping drive the need for digital communication tools, as well as the need for targeted communications.

 

Your role

Market trends all point to voluntary benefits as a strong choice for brokers who are interested in growing their book of business. The question is, are you ready to take advantage of this trend?

If you said yes, one of your first steps would be to carefully assess your book of business to determine where you will have the best opportunities.

Consider these questions:

How many of your current accounts are considering reducing their benefits package due to the economy and/or health reform?

Are your clients’ benefit plans competitive with the industry? To make the benefits package more robust, are your clients open to offering voluntary benefits to attract and retain employees?

Have your clients evaluated the entire benefits package holistically? A well-rounded benefit program should include the basics, such as life, disability and medical gap coverage that complement employer-funded coverage?

Once you’ve targeted the right types of employers, the next step is careful planning with their benefits teams to ensure successful implementation and communication strategies. From there, a successful voluntary benefits program is defined by strong employee participation in the benefits being offered.

Keys to successful participation include:

Targeted education campaigns. Your carrier should work with you to determine which segments of the employee population are the best targets for voluntary benefits. This analysis can be backed by a marketing campaign that includes dynamic educational tools accessible via e-mail or intranet and supporting testimonials that affirm the buying decision.

Communication. The most successful cases are those where a plan of clear consistent communications is a collaborative effort between employer, producer and carrier. With geographically diverse work forces, a range of schedules and a focus on productivity, more and more often digital communications tools supplement the traditional group meetings, benefit fairs and “lunch and learns.” This enables greater flexibility and more personalization.

Simple and flexible enrollment. Be sure to explore whether paper or online enrollment best meets employees’ needs. Employees prefer—and often expect—online enrollment. Their expectations also include a personalized approach on best-in-class platforms that are easy to navigate.

You can help by partnering with a carrier that can simultaneously address the employer’s needs, as well as the employee’s need for integrated educational tools and communications that help them make informed choices.

Mike Fish is vice president of product, marketing and voluntary benefits for The Hartford’s group benefits. He can be reached at Michael.Fish@thehartford.com or 860-843-6249. He will be speaking at the Benefits Selling Expo in May.

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