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

What they don’t know will hurt them

In our last article we discussed how some employee benefit brokers are moving ahead of the pack in their voluntary efforts. But what about those brokers who are not yet at the same level of development? Many brokers know they should embrace voluntary more—especially as commissions for health insurance are squeezed by health care reform—yet they still sell very little voluntary. Why?

The most frequently mentioned reason is that they don’t believe their accounts would be interested. On the contrary, there’s significant evidence from numerous sources that employers are indeed interested. About two-thirds of all employers with 10 or more employees offer at least one voluntary product and the number is even higher in businesses or accounts with more than 100 employees.

What’s more, few of those offering at least one voluntary product stop at one. Most employers today offer three or more voluntary products.

The numbers support the fact that there’s been a dramatic change in how employers view voluntary. For many employers in the past, voluntary has been an afterthought, something “extra” that wasn’t really a part of the overall benefits package. Today, however, employers embrace voluntary as an integral part of their benefits offering. Brokers who still think their accounts aren’t interested are hurting themselves. They must overcome their reluctance to offer voluntary as a key tool to help employers design better benefit programs without more cost to the company.

Brokers not selling much voluntary should also re-examine their belief that they need products which offer a better value than those in the market today. These brokers must understand that the employee, not the employer, is the primary customer for voluntary and that employees judge value differently than do employers and brokers. On employer-paid plans, for example, a big “value” factor is the cost of the product, which is why brokers strive to find the lowest price for the employer. But on the voluntary side, employees consider many other factors such as choice, convenience and affordability (not just price) in their evaluation of voluntary.

Brokers who think that today’s voluntary products don’t offer good value need to take another look. Many carriers provide good-value products that employees want to buy.

Lastly, some brokers who don’t sell much voluntary feel they need new or different products that address unmet market needs. Again, these brokers should re-think their reasoning. Employees definitely have unmet needs when it comes to benefits, but new products are not needed—at least as far as employees are concerned. All of the products employees are interested in purchasing on an employee-pay-all basis are currently available in the market. So, while new products are always good to have, there are plenty of unmet needs that can be satisfied by products already offered on a voluntary basis.

There’s no doubt that turning a blind eye and ear to the data which proves increased interest in voluntary can hurt a broker’s business. It’s time for those brokers to re-examine their practices and learn from those that know what their voluntary customer (the employee) truly wants. And it’s time to start selling more voluntary.

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