Employee benefit options once resembled a fast-food restaurant with only a few basic items on the menu. Today, however, many employers offer an all-you-can-eat buffet of voluntary benefits from which to choose—and that's good news for brokers.

Health insurance is still the main course, but an ever-expanding range of voluntary benefits gives employers more flexibility, employees more options, and brokers more profit potential.

Look for this momentum to continue and accelerate in 2018. Several key trends point to what employees want and how brokers can help their clients deliver.

Identifying a threat

Identity theft cost American consumers $16 billion in 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Moreover, high-profile reports of hacking at major financial institutions are making headlines with increasing frequency.

No wonder identity theft protection is one of the fastest-growing voluntary benefits on the market. More than 70 percent of employers will offer this coverage by the end of 2018, according to research by Willis Towers Watson. This would be twice the percentage of employers who offered coverage as recently as 2015.

Identity theft protection is especially appealing to businesses because employees whose identities are stolen lose countless hours of productivity while trying to recover.

Reaching critical mass

Critical care insurance is not far behind. Forty-four percent of employers now offer it as a voluntary benefit, and an estimated 72 percent of employers will do so by the end of 2018.

Here's how it works: Critical illness insurance provides an unrestricted lump-sum benefit upon diagnosis of a covered condition such as cancer, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure or major organ transplant. Most carriers require applicants to be younger than age 60 when they apply. Policies usually remain in force for the client's lifetime, but policy benefits may be cut in half after age 65 or 70. Payments can be used to pay both out-of-pocket medical costs and nonmedical costs associated with treatment, such as childcare or transportation.

Barking up the right tree

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