Let’s face it: Insurance is not a glamorous field.
People will never pay to watch us crunch numbers, we communicate in AJTIIDA (an acronym I just made up for “a jargon that includes impossibly dense acronyms”), and even the most seasoned reality-show producer would be challenged to find drama in our daily work. (On this last point — even so, I still carry a faint hope that someone at Bravo will like my idea for “The Real Underwriters of the Jersey Shore,” but that’s another story.)
This acceptance of the limitations of our star appeal has made many of us understandably shy about discussing our work outside the comforts of industry conferences and roundtables. After all, who else but us would want to plumb the depths of the North American Industry Classification System?
Well, I’m here to say: Those days are over. It’s time for insurance and benefits professionals to accept that we should be in the spotlight—and that employees and consumers want to hear from us.
As has been noted in many forums, employees and consumers are taking more control of their benefits. They’re paying a greater share of health care premiums, they’re buying more voluntary plans that require they pay the full share of the premium, and they have more options from which to choose as carriers offer products with greater flexibility and range.
What they need from us, more than ever, is that we speak up, help them understand their risks, tell them what our products will do for them and how our products will benefit them and their families.
It seems like an obvious conclusion, but too often the model for benefit communication still resembles the traditional format in which the employer provided the benefits and essentially told employees what they were getting. This was usually communicated in the nicest terms possible, and employees were no doubt grateful for the benefits and the information. But with the changes we are seeing and yet to come, more work is needed to make sure that communication and administration at the consumer level are consistent with their needs.
This is especially true of voluntary products, which are still unfamiliar to many employers and employees and thus require more explanations.
Insurance professionals are an essential part of this conversation, and brokers should look at what carriers can offer to ease the process for employers, association managers and consumers.
Here are a few key areas where carriers are stepping up to meet consumers’ and employees’ needs for eased communication and administration of benefits.
Education. Most employers cram all benefits enrollment into one process—either in meetings or online, with far too little help (or none) for employees to understand their risks and insurance needs. Some still think insurance is a dirty word.
This lack of understanding by employees is a major reason why most consumers are underinsured. For example, according to the Council for Disability Awareness, 64 percent of wage earners believe they have a 2 percent or less chance of being disabled for three months or more during their working career—while the actual odds for a worker entering the workforce today are about 25 percent. Against this backdrop, 69 percent of workers in the private sector have no long-term disability insurance, according to the Social Security Administration.
On the life insurance side, LIMRA research indicates that the proportion of adults with life insurance protection is at an all-time low, and 41 percent (95 million) of American adults do not have any life insurance at all. And only 1 in 10 insured adults own both permanent and term life insurance—which is half as many as could say that in 2004.
Rank-and-file employees need help in understanding what it will take to protect their families’ future needs for basic living expenses, college tuition and quality-of-life in the event of death or disability of the primary or secondary bread winner. This education process should happen early and occur often.
Speaking from the carrier side, I’m happy to say, many of us get it now, and we have greater information and tools at our disposal to help brokers and employers educate employees.
On-demand enrollment. On a related note, enrollment meetings are still important and should be the first choice in educating employees about their benefits. But we now live in an on-demand world where a wide range of goods and services are accessed by consumers at their convenience on their own terms.
For benefits, this includes call centers with extended hours, materials that can be customized for specific groups, posters with QR codes that take users to enrollment-specific websites, and even product videos that can be hosted on an employer or carrier’s website and linked to through company emails and intranets.
Product packaging. Several carriers now offer packages with as many as five voluntary benefit products providing well-rounded protection in areas including life, critical illness, accident, disability and vision insurance. These packages can make enrollment and administration much easier for brokers, employers and employees who are not used to dealing with voluntary benefits, by offering several products through one simple application with simplified or guarantee issue.
As with traditional medical plans, employees can usually select a benefit level that meets their needs, so they are making choices in a process with which they feel comfortable. As an added bonus, the packages are also usually priced at affordable levels since participation is assumed to be wider.
Speaking of reluctance to discuss our work, I’m reminded of this in my own experiences when I was a young group sales rep living in the Boston area. I’d attend social events with friends, and when the conversation inevitably turned to what I did for a living, I’d do everything I could to avoid using the word “insurance.” I learned through experience that people generally walked away once I used that word.
But throughout my career, what I’ve found is that what we bring to everyday employees has a much more significant value than I gave it credit for back then, and more credit than I think employees give to it now. The vast majority of people who buy our benefits are rank-and-file employees who don’t have financial advisors helping them plan and to cover their risks, and make sure that their families are taken care of depending on what might happen to them.
So what we do is a noble cause, and we should be very excited about what we bring to our customers. We just have to find the right way to tell them, and I’m glad to be in a position to help.