What do brokers want from a voluntary benefits carrier? Pt. 4
By Brian Summers
So here it is, the final part of this four part series and the question is finally answered: What do brokers want from a voluntary benefits carrier?
Throughout the past couple months, we've found out what the carriers themselves think in regards to the needs and wants of brokers. And, in the last article, we got to hear what the brokers think.
I asked four brokers seven questions. In part three, I focused on questions 1-3 and now we will find out the answers to questions 4-7. Here, once more, are the questions:
1.) Do you feel that voluntary benefits are a value to your clients?
2.) Do you feel that the voluntary benefit carriers are properly communicating the products and services they offer?
3.) Do you offer voluntary benefits to your clients because:
a. You client asked for the product?
b. Your voluntary benefit representative suggested this product?
c. You are actively marketing voluntary benefits?
4.) If you have stopped working with a voluntary carrier in the past, what was the reason? Examples: Your rep left, invoicing issues, service from the carrier, service from the rep. Please do not list the name of the carrier in your response.
5.) Do you have any complaints with the services offered by voluntary carriers?
6.) What is more important to you: Your relationship with your voluntary rep or your relationship with the carrier?
7.) What do you want from a voluntary carrier? The responses that follow are from David Lyons, President of the Clayton York Group, Doug Hickey, Managing Director of Hagedorn and Company, Joe Cavallaro, President, Century Enrollment & Benefit Services and Todd Rashkin, Vice President of BenefitsSupermarket.com.
So let's get right to question four and find out what the brokers want.
"Take your pick," was the response from Hickey, who also stated that "issues with our representative" would usually fall to the head of the lists. As he stated in part three, "A good working relationship with the rep can make things go extremely well, however, the reverse is also true."
"Poor customer service, we need to have the ability to contact a broker relations area with a knowledgeable and responsive staff," states Rashkin.
"Lack of service from the carrier rep," was the main reason that Cavallaro stopped working with a voluntary carrier in the past.
Now what about the service from voluntary carriers? I asked them all, "Do you have any complaints with the services offered by voluntary carriers?"
"Billing services need upgrading," answered Lyons. "Reach out to the client through e-mail and snail mail to let the client know of HR and admin services that are available to them," replied Cavallaro.
"Once an account is established, we, as the broker, sometimes have a difficult time in obtaining information on behalf of our client. The communication and reporting channels are sometimes not clearly defined for brokers," is the only complaint from Hickey.
Rashkin added, "When additions/terminations need to be followed up on and faxed or e-mailed in more than one at a time. Some of the voluntary carriers were not processing these types of requesting and it caused problems and wasted time."
As more insurance companies begin to offer voluntary benefits, it's important that you, the broker, take the time to research the company with whom you are going to work. "What is the billing process?" they may ask, or "Can I have a contact person if there is a problem with the invoice (necessary for any large account)?" Most voluntary carriers are addressing any past invoice issues. Online billing and online reconciling all contribute to smoother billing.
I have written a lot in the past about the importance of viewing your voluntary carrier and voluntary representative as a partner. Many brokers are distinguishing themselves through the services and policies that are offered by the voluntary carrier. Dependent audits, enrollment services and benefit statements all bring value to your client and in many cases a savings.
In the past, many brokers viewed voluntary benefits as the last option. If the company doesn't want to pay for short term disability, long term disability, AD&D and life, then and only then would they consider offering voluntary benefits. This perception was changing before the economy slowed down and in part, this was due to the added services that voluntary carriers could offer at no cost.
So what is more important to the broker, their relationship with the voluntary rep or the relationship with the carrier?
A difficult question to which Hickey gave a detailed answer: "In many instances, the representative is the carrier. As good or bad as the rep will sometimes be the lasting impression that we have of the carrier. However, I would say that, in the end, the relationship with the carrier is most important. In today's economy, we find reps will generally move around from carrier to carrier. So, for us, it's important to have a good relationship with the carrier. Incidentally, that's where most of the voluntary carriers miss the boat. As reps leave, they'll generally just keep running new reps out to the broker community without making a good faith effort to put management out into the field to make the connection. We have had good reps move to a new company and just by the fact that we had little to no direct communication with the company till a new rep was named, we found ourselves, in essence, following our old rep to their new firm."
Both are equally important, according to Rashkin, "The rep is your advocate within the carrier -- and that can help greatly."
"My relationship with the rep is far more important, as they are the direct link with the carrier," is the response from Cavallaro. And Lyons feels that "... reps come and go. It's more important to have a good enrollment team that represents the broker in a professional matter. That has a direct reflection on you and your services."
I am a big advocate that only qualified voluntary reps should be allowed to contact brokers. I have worked with many brokers who had past relationships and may have a negative impression of voluntary benefits, yet after building the relationship, they have given me or my agents business.
So what do brokers want from a voluntary carrier? That was the last question I posed to each of these brokers.
"Innovative products, good pricing and brand awareness," is what Lyons wants. While Rashkin noted, "Quality, intuitive products at an affordable price! Good customer service and a knowledgeable, responsive broker rep."
Meanwhile Cavallaro calls for "Better communication on underwriting issues and to be notified of account changes and requests that are made to the home office."
Hickey wants the following from voluntary carriers: "The same thing we want from any of our vendors; that we have good lines of communication, that we are not informed of pending changes after the client (this never makes us look good), that decisions made that impact our customers are logically based and not short-term fixes to a long-term issue. We are looking to create partnerships with our customers as well as our vendors. The only way this can be accomplished is when all parties work to move in the same directions."
Innovative products, better underwriting, better communications, simpler marketing materials, a knowledgeable voluntary rep, a good enrollment team, quality products at an affordable price. In summary, this is what the broker wants.
You, as the broker, should be choosing to partner with a voluntary carrier and rep that satisfies all of your needs. One of the most popular services being offered today is core enrollment service. Let the voluntary carrier accurately explain the benefits to your clients. Many employees are not educated about their companies benefit plan. They don't know the cost of their deductible, they don't know their pharmacy co-pay and are usually unaware of the wellness benefits available to them. I think it's sad that most people can tell you who won the football game on Monday morning or give you the latest update on a celebrity, yet ask most people about their health insurance and they will not know the answer.
As the broker, you have the opportunity to distinguish yourself -- not only with existing clients, but future clients as well.
How many of your current clients only offer the state-mandated disability or no disability at all? How many of your clients only offer a minimal life insurance plan or no plan at all? Do you personally enroll or have an enrollment company enroll every one of your client's employees? Do you feel that all of your participants understand the benefits that their companies pay for? Why wouldn't you want to offer voluntary benefits to these clients?
If you went to meet a prospect and saw these gaps in coverage, why wouldn't you tell the prospect that you can address these needs at no cost to the company?
It's my hope that this series has helped voluntary carriers understand what brokers really want. I know that this is not a LIMRA study or an Eastbridge report, but the four brokers interviewed all offer voluntary benefits, have worked with a variety of carriers over the years, and understand the need for voluntary benefits.
I hope that anyone who has read these articles and isn't offering voluntary benefits will take the time learn more and consider the rewards of offering them.
For those of you who are already offering voluntary benefits to your clients, I hope that you will take the time to review all of the services that are available to you. If the company you are working with doesn't satisfy those needs, then find one that will. If you are working with a voluntary rep who doesn't satisfy your needs, then contact the carrier and request a new rep.
Thank you again to Ike Willingham, George Conmy, Ken Meier, Steve Lynch, David Lyons, Todd Rashkin, Doug Hickey and Joe Cavallaro for taking the time to answer my questions.
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