As another open-enrollment season winds down, the market remains bullish on voluntary benefits. According to Eastbridge Consulting Group, voluntary sales grew from 2015 to 2016, with dental, hospital indemnity, and life and disability being among the most popular categories. And the growth is expected to be consistent in the year ahead. As a small group broker, are you ready to meet the demand and discuss voluntary benefits with your clients?

There is a large gap in the voluntary benefits offerings of large and small firms: among large firms, 97 percent offer dental benefits and 82 percent offer vision benefits. For small business with less than 100 employees, this number is dramatically lower, with 30 percent offering dental benefits, 17 percent offering vision benefits, and 40 percent offering life insurance. Similarly, only 47 percent of brokers offer dental, 34 percent of brokers offer vision, and 38 percent offer life insurance. The fact is, voluntary benefits are not well understood in the small group market, yet offer an undeniable opportunity for brokers to fill coverage gaps left by small group health plans and serve their clients better.

First, it’s important to understand why voluntary benefits are so attractive for employees, and hence their employers. For employees, voluntary benefits can relieve financial stress and anxiety over uncovered costs. Benefits like life or disability protect employees and their families in the case of health events that might cause severe financial stress. Additionally, offering voluntary benefits allows employees to close the gaps in their health coverage and have an all-encompassing coverage plan they feel confident about. And, it’s not to be forgotten that voluntary benefits are, of course, voluntary; employees can customize their coverage according to their specific needs and risk appetite. As a broker, it is very helpful to communicate the malleable nature of voluntary plans with business owners so they feel confident offering voluntary benefits.

Furthermore, voluntary benefits include some of the most frequent doctor visits. For example, more than 65 percent of Americans pay a visit to the dentist every year. It’s extremely important for employees to know they are covered for such services and have the flexibility to regularly make these doctor visits. For brokers, it is important to take the role of chief communicator and ensure their clients are aware of how beneficial the cushion of voluntary benefits can be.

Voluntary benefits are also a great strategy for employee retention, because they contribute to overall employee satisfaction. Aside from offering competitive compensation, employers should think about offering voluntary benefits as a sign of goodwill. In fact, voluntary benefits are already the norm in large enterprises. Smaller businesses' willingness to relieve employees of future expenses by offering voluntary benefits is key to attracting, and retaining talent whilst competing in the job market against large corporations.

Increasingly, more small businesses are looking into buying voluntary benefits for their employees. Successful brokers should aim to make the process simple for their clients by not just having a good grasp of the products, but also in communicating the value of voluntary benefits to business owners and employees.