As we end a challenging a year and begin a new one, many of you will take the time to consider expanding your revenue stream and adding voluntary benefits as part of your benefits portfolio.
Many of you may already have a relationship with voluntary carriers. You may have worked with a specific representative in the past or you may have only worked with one carrier. If you are a novice in the voluntary market, it is essential that you take the time to research the different carriers and the differences in each carrier's policies. For example, most voluntary carriers offer short term disability. You want to take the time to find out if that short term disability plan is offered on a guarantee issue basis or, if a certain percentage of the workforce can apply for coverage, will they then receive a guarantee issue option?
Think about it: Why would you offer a disability policy to your client's employees if you can't cover the employee's who need it the most?
If you do not have a strong relationship with a voluntary carrier or are simply not crazy about the rep you have met with, the answer is simple: shop around! Look at each of the carriers and meet with a couple of reps. Work with a carrier and rep who have your company's best interest in mind.
Some traits you want to look for when working with a voluntary carrier are:
- Experience and longevity. Not just the age of the company, but the number of years that the account is reworked each year.
- Competitive and broad portfolio of products. Is guarantee issue available?
- Strong enrollment team. If the carrier outsources the enrollers, make sure you are comfortable with that firm, as well.
- Multiple enrollment options.
- Superior customer service. There is nothing worse than not being able to get a "live" person on the phone who can address your needs and your client's needs without transferring the call. You and your client should not have to wait that long to speak to anyone!
- Value added services. Will the voluntary carrier assist you with core enrollments, dependent auditing, etc.
- Dedicated home office personnel.
- Dedication to renewals and reenrollments. Do not work with anyone who wants to offer their full spectrum of products at once.
- Does the carrier offer a local enrollment team? Someone who knows the area and the challenges that area may be facing.
- An excellent history of service.
- Make sure the carrier understands the needs of you the broker.
The same traits that you look for in a carrier should be sought in the rep you work with, as well. If the rep does not return your e-mail or phone call promptly, then they will not return your clients e-mail or phone call promptly either.
I had the opportunity to speak with Catherine Theroux, Public Relations Specialist for LIMRA and ask her about the health of the voluntary/worksite sales in 2009.
As of the end of the third quarter, voluntary sales were up 7 percent for the year. In the third quarter alone, voluntary sales were up 4 percent.
The most popular voluntary product is life insurance. In the third quarter, these sales jumped 10 percent, and are up 14 percent through September 2009. Voluntary LTD sales were up 11 percent through that same period. The worst performer in voluntary sales continues to be long term care, which dipped 28 percent through the third quarter.
As group and individual sales continued to decline through the year, voluntary sales thrived.
The options for voluntary enrollments are vast. Online, co-browsing, call center and one-on-one counseling. I asked Catherine her opinion in regards to these enrollment methods and she stated that while Generation X and Y employees want the option to view their policies online and access information via the Web, they still want the one-on-one interaction with someone that their company approves of.
The fact that most people want one-on-one interaction should not surprise anyone. Why wouldn't an employee want the opportunity to speak with a knowledgeable and trained counselor who will review all of their benefit options with them and allow the employee to make his or her own decision?
Since the company has agreed to let this person into their place of business, there is an automatic sense of trust. You, the broker, should take the time to thoroughly understand this notion. If you allow just anyone into your clients or allow the carrier to decide who enrolls the account without you first speaking with them or being notified, it can be hazardous to your bottom line. The employees trust the company's decision to allow someone to speak with them. The company has probably trusted you in the decision-making process to allow voluntary benefits. You vouched for the carrier! If the enroller then portrays a negative image, it will undoubtedly be reflected back on you.
Don't be the guy who just conducts a group presentation and hands out brochures. Be the person who provides one-on-one counseling. Take the time educate your clients and their employees.
In the past, I have written many times that if you are not offering voluntary benefits to your clients, then someone else is. That statement is probably more true today than the first time I said it, 18 months ago. In 2009, companies were looking for guidance and understanding as we all navigated some rough seas. Double digit premium increases, higher co-pays, and higher in-network deductibles were passed along to the employees in many cases. Many employees who could count on dual incomes were forced to get by with one. While many people thought that meant they wouldn't buy disability or life insurance, the opposite happened. The breadwinner, now faced with the prospect of losing their income if they became ill or were injured, weighed the options and made a minimal investment in disability insurance.
The best part about the New Year is that we all start with a clean slate. If you didn't offer or were not proactive in marketing voluntary products to your clients in 2009, then take advantage of this opportunity in 2010.
Differentiate yourself from the completion and take a more active role in the complete benefits package your clients can offer. You do not increase your overhead and you are offering more resources and more options to your clients. In the end, you are simply offering your clients a higher level of service.
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