VOLUNTARY BENEFITS SPECIAL REPORT
TIME TO PREP FOR VOLUNTARY SUCCESS
Increase your revenue by developing proficiency in voluntary benefits
By Dave Willis, CPIA
Year-end is done. You’ve pretty much closed the books on 2015. And you’re moving forward in 2016. Now is a great time to find ways to build capacity to increase revenue. Developing proficiency in voluntary and worksite benefits may be an area worthy of focus.
“In the benefits arena, the year is pretty much divided in two halves, which start on July 1 and January 1,” explains Joel Ray, CEO of New Benefits. “Brokers, particularly those working in the benefits space, typically will divide their year in half, as well.
“Coming off an enrollment cycle at the end of the year,” he adds, “we actually have a number of organizations we work with that have a dedicated time early in the year to do training and to develop greater understanding of the various benefits and products available and their features.”
Steve Vermette, vice president, growth market solutions, at Colonial Life, agrees there’s value in learning about products and the needs they meet. “It’s important for brokers to see how voluntary benefits can help them and their clients,” he explains. “Voluntary benefits can help build stronger relationships with and provide better service for their customers through more complete benefits offerings and broader product portfolios.”
In addition, he notes, “Voluntary benefits also can be a meaningful additional revenue stream that can complement more traditional sources of income for an agent or broker.”
Producers also need to learn about the various enrollment or communication methods available. “Talk to enrollment firms and learn about their capabilities,” explains Mike Feeney, regional sales manager for Trustmark Voluntary Benefit Solutions. “Become familiar with decision-making tools and other technology-driven solutions, and find out what value-added products and services carriers have to offer.”
He adds, “The idea is that when you are speaking to a prospect or an existing client, you have a communication or enrollment ‘solution’ available-or at least in mind-for whatever particular scenario presents itself.” Feeney points out that solution-based sales will be more rewarding for producers and clients than what he calls “the typical product push.”
Ray concurs, and encourages producers to mine their database for prospects. “Too often, agents and brokers find themselves delivering bad news to customers, especially at renewal time,” he explains. “Deductibles have gone up, premiums have gone up. If an agent can deliver a solution that addresses a customer or prospect need, that puts him or her in a much better position.”
Vermette stresses the importance of building on that review of current customers. “Start with setting a voluntary goal based on an assessment of your current book,” he explains.
New Benefits Chief Operating Officer Marti Powles says agents and brokers would be smart to look for voluntary products outside of the health industry. “Explore things like identity theft and some of the other non-health-related products that are really important to employees these days,” she explains. “The environment is changing and agents should be ready to respond.”
“Teaming up with the right carrier can deliver voluntary expertise and, in many cases, a turnkey solution,” explains Vermette. “A top voluntary carrier can offer other solutions besides products, such as enrollment and communications support. Partnering with carriers that offer additional value-adds and enrollment support can help strengthen your competitive offering.”
He says establishing a strong relationship with local representation from carrier partners carries with it other benefits, as well. “Working with that individual can help brokers better understand the products and services available,” he says. “This, in turn, makes it easier to identify situations where adding a voluntary benefits product makes sense for the client.”
To bolster knowledge, Feeney offers a number of recommendations. “A lot of quality information about various available solutions can be gathered by reading industry literature, attending industry conferences, and setting up appointments with the various carriers, enrollment firms and technology firms,” he explains.
“Explore things like identity theft and some of the other non-health-related products that are really important to employees these days. The environment is changing and agents should be ready to respond.”
Chief Operating Officer
Another easy way to stay up to date is through social media,” Feeney adds. “Voluntary carriers and industry experts will push out insights and solutions frequently, including information on any new regulations producers should be aware of or any services that may be expanding or evolving.”
Look to providers for information and training. “Our business development team offers training for agents and brokers and their staff,” Ray explains. “They do webinars, they get on the phone and offer training, and they go out in the field, to train trainers or staff on non-insured health benefits.”
When mining customer data for targeting, Ray says to first look at larger employers that are self-funded. “We’ve found that non-insured health benefits make perfect sense for them because if their claims go up, their premium goes up,” he says. “They have every incentive to implement things like telemedicine, health advocacy and wellness programs-anything that can lower their rates.”
He also recommends looking for employers that have eliminated dental and vision insurance. “Instead of paying $50 a month for a decent dental program, an employer could pay $1.25 or $1.50 a month and get the same national provider network and fee schedule and, basically, self-insure,” he explains.
New Benefits Vice President of Marketing Kenda Hoffman says using voluntary benefits as an entrée makes sense-especially right now. “Non-insured products offer a great opportunity to go into an employer group off cycle, because they don’t have to be implemented during open enrollment for other benefits,” she explains. “It’s a great way to build or strengthen relationships and bring in a new product the client may not have considered.”
Ray echoes the sentiment. “This can be a great way to cut through the clutter,” he says. ‘”If you get your foot in the door with non-insured medical or non-medical benefits, when renewal comes up and, perhaps, they’re unhappy with their current broker, who are they going to think of first? You.”
Vermette says starting conversations about benefits can work at any time. “Simply asking employers if they would like to expand the benefits they make available to their employees, at no direct cost, could reveal a surprisingly positive response to the interest in voluntary benefits.”
Providers are ready to help agents and brokers expand their business. “Our job as industry representatives is to keep producers informed with changes and provide new and innovative solutions that can be taken to clients,” Feeney explains. “We should be balanced with the information we have, and strive to be a valuable partner to the producer or client.”
“Insurance carriers can help train brokers on the products and services available to them in the voluntary benefits marketplace,” Vermette adds. “Top voluntary carriers are experts at identifying gaps in existing coverage available to employees that result from high-deductible health plans, limited coverage for critical illnesses or potential out-of-pocket expenses for everyday accidents, for example.”
In addition, he says, “They can help make recommendations on solutions that best meet those needs. For example, our reps can meet with employees to enroll and educate them on all of their benefits options, regardless of carrier, at no direct cost to the broker or client.”
Ray concurs. “It’s incumbent on us as providers to get out and proselytize about how we fit into and help lower an overall healthcare spend,” he explains. “We’re working hard to get the word out and to educate people on how non-insured benefits can help. It’s all about outreach.”
There’s good reason to do so. “Ultimately,” Vermette says, “voluntary benefits can help employers attract and retain stronger talent, provide brokers additional revenue on their book of business, and offer America’s workers more options to protect the vitally important things they work so hard to build.”