The past year hasn’t been easy for anyone. The unemployment ratehas remained stuck near 9 percent. The economy is getting worse,not better. We still don’t know what’s going to happen with healthcare reform, how it’s going to be implemented or even if it everwill. But it’s been especially hard on brokers and anyone else inthe business. Though 2011 was difficult—at best—people in the bizare coming up with new ways to keep their livelihood. And a lot ofthose innovative ways involve greater employee contributions—thinkvoluntary benefits and wellness programs. That’s one way to stayrelevant and stay in the game, but as one expert told us, the onlycertainty there is in the coming year is uncertainty.

Scott Mardis

Senior vice president, sales

Ameriflex

Mount Laurel, N.J.

“In 1999, brokers and agents only had to learn threesimple acronyms to be successful— HMO, BOR and a BIC pen. In 2011,acronyms have far surpassed these simple three to become a wholenew language essential for survival in today’s benefit marketplace.Brokers and agents have to navigate through complex plans thatcover a variety of different product designs. It is not unheard offor a broker to implement a CDHC, HDHP with an HSA/LPFSA and HRAwrap on a PPO platform pre-taxed through a POP plan, bridged with aVB GAP plan, a DHMO, and LTD/STD offering all while remainingcompliant with COBRA, HIPAA and ERISA and up-to-date with HCR andPPACA. It’s enough to need a PhD or good EAP.

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If 2011 was the year to learn this new language, the challengein 2012 will be to teach this new language to employers andemployees. I can guarantee you that to most employees, theseacronyms are about as familiar as BFF and LOL are to mygrandfather. We need to be adept at speaking and teaching thislanguage or face the real possibility that both the language andindustry become the new Latin and Roman Empire—DEAD.”

Brian Robertson

Executive vice president, Fringe Benefit Group

Austin, Texas

“2011 has been full of opportunity but it has also required alot of creativity. At Fringe Benefit Group (Framework HealthPlan) we have spent more time building products and ramping upinitiatives than in years past. The changes in the marketplace areallowing for us to meet needs in new ways and we are excited aboutthe opportunities for 2012. While we continue to help employersmove away from the expense incurred limited medical plans, we areactively moving toward new avenues to help more customers withtheir part-time and hourly workers. We did a survey of our largeclients during the summer and frankly, were quite surprised thatnone of them are planning for 2014 yet. Most of them indicated theyare just trying to get through 2012 and 2014 isn’t on their radaryet. It’ll be interesting to see if/how that changes in 2012,especially as a result of the presidential election. I think a lotof everyone’s energy is going to be consumed by election rhetoric,unfortunately.”

Jim Christenson

Field vice president, Allstate Benefits

Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

“2011 was strong transitional for benefits with greater emphasisapplied to voluntary and worksite benefits. Consolidation activitywas strong with smaller and local-based brokerages and agenciesselling in advance of health care reform. Electronic onlineenrollment is now the standard with consulting companies and anintegral part of brokers’ expanding value proposition. Insurancecompanies are challenged with this advance as traditional productsare unworkable in an online enrollment scenario. 2012 will bringmore of the same, as rapid change will be the constant. We, in thebenefits industry, await the Supreme Court decision to hear thePatients Protection and Affordable Care Act as 2014 will be oneyear closer. For me, 2011 was my best year ever. 2012 promises evenmore.”

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Randy Horn

President and CEO, Colonial Life

Columbia, S.C.

After several years of economic woes and health care reformwrangling, the only certainty in the future of workplace benefitsmay be continued uncertainty. But insurance brokers who want to beprepared for 2012 should pay attention to several emergingtrends.

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Voluntary insurance sales will continue togrow. Increasing work force diversity and the need tooffer choices to employees with widely varying needs will drive anuptick in sales. Group products will continue to grow as apercentage of voluntary sales, while life insurance sales continueto fall, which points out the need for better education of workersabout the need to protect their most valuable assets with life anddisability coverage. Critical illness insurance in particular willcontinue to attract new customers. With the costs of treatingcancer, heart attacks and strokes far exceeding most employees’major medical coverage, critical illness insurance can providevital out-of-pocket protection. Updated versions of this relativelynew product include benefits for multiple occurrences of a criticalillness, adding to their value. Brokers will be increasinglyinvolved in the voluntary benefits market as they continue to lookfor different revenue streams. Reduced major medical commissions,uncertainty in the market because of health care reform changes anda continued slow economy are forcing brokers to look for newrevenue sources. Voluntary benefits will continue to grow as asimple solution because brokers are finding they can get in thismarket with little training and no overhead by partnering with anexperienced voluntary benefits carrier.

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Wellness programs will become more prevalent asa way for employers to control health care costs and increaseproductivity and retention. With no let-up in sight for risinghealth care costs, employers are increasingly seeing the value ofworkplace wellness programs as a way to control premium increasesand claims costs. Ranging from health screening tools to onlinenurse services, wellness-related offerings will become a biggerpart of benefits providers’ value-added services. However,the key to seeing a true bottom-line benefit may be as much aboutemployee awareness and engagement as it is about the actualservice, and that requires a strong communication plan as well.

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Government sector employers will focus on costcontainment measures for their benefits plans. Governmentemployers are strongly feeling the effects of several years ofreduced tax revenues, and now find themselves in the unfamiliarposition of being forced to reduce benefits or raise theiremployees’ share of the costs. The good news is there’s a hugeopportunity for government employers to control costs by changingtheir benefits plan design to include higher-deductible healthplans and voluntary benefits.

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Thomas Blomberg

Regional sales director,

Security Life Insurance Co. of America

Minneapolis

The evolution of the benefits marketplace continues—and 2012promises even more change. As a result, opportunities abound forproactive, creative and inventive brokers and carriers, especiallyin the voluntary space.

Mark Lacher

Benefits Selling 2011 Broker of the Year

Partner at Lacher & Associates

Souderton, Pa.

As I look forward to 2012, I expect one thing to remain the sameas 2011—change. Our industry is undergoing dramatic changes thatimpact our ability to grow, hire employees, invest in technologyand remain relevant to our clients. However, ever the eternaloptimist, I think the best benefits shops will continue to thriveby being strategically aligned with their customers, focusing oninnovative solutions, and investing in ways to stay relevant in themarketplace.

Joe Frustaglio

Vice president, private sector retirement plans sales,Nationwide Financial

Columbus, Ohio

As was the case this year, a continued focus on education andthe regulatory landscape will remain important in 2012. Employeesare faced with balancing immediate financial concerns in a tougheconomy with long-term savings goals, and their confidence forhaving enough money for retirement is at an all-time low. Theindustry has to provide educational resources and personalizedsupport to help participants prepare for retirement. That’s onereason Nationwide launched the Nationwide On Your Side InteractiveRetirement Planner this year, a free online tool that allowsconsumers to help calculate how much annual retirement incomethey’ll need, where their potential gaps are to reach that goal,and ways to fill those gaps to stay on track.

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Washington will also remain a focus in 2012. The industry willcontinue to keep a close eye on the regulatory environment in 2012.Research we conducted this year showed the top concern amongprofessional service firms was keeping their plan in compliance,yet only one in four of these firms could correctly define ERISA.Providers and advisers will need to provide the regulatory guidanceand support necessary if they want to retain these plans movingforward.

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Nationwide took steps this year to assist advisers in this areaby launching a new online resource that allows them to askregulatory questions and get answers from Nationwide’s ERISAspecialists. They also introduced a 3(38) co-fiduciaryservice, which enables the plan sponsor to transfer theresponsibility and legal liabilities associated with the selectionand monitoring of plan investment options to IRON Financial, whichoffers fully independent fiduciary services as a component of itsretirement plan platform.

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