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Listen to Part 2 of our 3-part series exploring how COVID-19 has impacted voluntary products from the key perspective of employers, brokers, and carriers.
Listen to Part 1 of our 3-part series exploring how COVID-19 has impacted voluntary products from the key perspective of employers, brokers, and carriers.
AS COVID-19 CONTINUES to change the benefits landscape, employers anticipate continuing to make changes to their benefits packages. Eastbridge research found that, as a result of COVID-19 changes, almost a third of employers—a percentage similar to that reported in 2018—are planning to add new voluntary benefits and/or move employer-paid products to voluntary this year.
PARTICIPATION RATES FOR voluntary Most important factors limiting participation products have been stable in 2020, according to a survey of voluntary carriers. And although this survey preceded the results of the fourth quarter of 2020, the findings are still useful.
Carriers and product manufacturers in the voluntary benefits industry should understand their strategy boils down to a series of answers. To arrive at the right answers they must know the right questions to ask - within the right framework.
In the most recent Voluntary Participation Rates Spotlight™ Report, 59% of the carriers surveyed indicate that improving participation rates for their voluntary products is extremely important (24%) or very important (35%).
Not long ago, employers settled for less than ideal administrative services – often because they didn’t know better alternatives existed. Today, employers are expecting more.
VOLUNTARY BENEFITS have become a very important part of an employer’s overall benefits program. New products and the latest features and innovations usually garner a lot of discussion, but it’s often best to come back to basics in planning for our end goals. Carriers and brokers certainly have beliefs for what the outcomes of a successful case should look like—and so do employers.
WHEN SELECTING A voluntary carrier, employers are now considering an expanded set of factors beyond price and product value. Recent Eastbridge research found that employers’ top two reasons for selecting a voluntary carrier are decision support (availability of tools, calculators and advice) to make decisions and support to enroll employees.
ALL RESEARCH LEADS us to believe that this voluntary benefits enrollment season will be significantly different from any other in memory. The impact of COVID-19 on our industry is still being measured, but as we move into the traditional enrollment season, we’re starting to see how the changes will shape out.
THIS IS THE last in our series of columns on the voluntary industry sales results for 2019. The ﬁrst article looked at overall voluntary sales for the year, while the second reviewed sales by product line and platform. This column spotlights sales by distribution segment.
IN LAST MONTH’S column, we reported that voluntary new business annualized premium (sales) for 2019 was $8.832 billion, up 4.5% over 2018 sales. This article highlights sales by product line and platform.
ACCORDING TO OUR annual U.S. Voluntary/Worksite Sales Report, new business annualized premium (voluntary sales) increased again last year. Total sales for 2019 were $8.832 billion, up 4.5% over 2018 sales. The top graph below shows the industry’s sales since 1997.
AS COVID-19 CONTINUES to have far-reaching impacts on the workforce and in turn, the employee beneﬁts landscape, brokers are concerned about the effects it will have on voluntary beneﬁts. Eastbridge’s recent survey of brokers found that the top concern for voluntary was a potential for reduced enrollment volume, with 71% of brokers agreeing this was of concern. Around half of brokers expressed concern that employer and/or employee interest in voluntary may be reduced, while one-third felt that COVID-19 may divert their time towards answering coverage questions on existing business.
EMPLOYERS CONTINUE TO promote wellness programs and beneﬁts as an integral part of their overall beneﬁts strategies to encourage employees to adopt healthy behaviors and to reduce long-term health care costs. In addition to employee wellness programs (e.g., weight loss, tobacco-cessation), wellness beneﬁts are commonly offered with today’s voluntary supplemental health products to encourage employees to receive preventative health screenings.
GENERATIONAL demographics are shifting quickly, and your employer clients expect you to know how these changes will impact vol-untary beneﬁt strategies. They want to know which products they should offer in order to meet the needs of their increasingly diverse workforce, and they want to offer their employees personalized enrollment communications based on age, gender or life stage. These desires require a solid awareness of generational demographics so that you can appropriately guide employers to make the most informed decisions for their unique employee populations.
IN THE 2019 BenefitsPRO/Eastbridge survey, brokers said that, increasingly, their “goto” voluntary products are accident, critical illness and hospital indemnity, rather than just life and disability. But despite this finding, 72 percent of all employers do not offer a hospital indemnity/supplemental medical plan. Maybe more important, just 27 percent of employees currently own a hospital indemnity plan. That means 73 percent do not own it, but when asked about products they might like to purchase on a voluntary basis, 43 percent of those employees are interested in buying one.
How can carriers move from having transactional relationships with their customers to developing deeper loyalty at both the employee and employer/account level?
THE VOLUNTARY BENEFITS market has, at times, seen certain trends that overshadow market realities. It was just a few years ago that there was still an expectation of growth in private exchanges. For a time, it was frequently forecast that such platforms would be the most common destination for benefit enrollment. While this concept may see more adoption in the future, the original forecast for growth has not yet come about. It’s important that we recognize that sometimes getting ahead of the market might have us living in “future possibility,” rather than “present reality.”
BROKER RECRUITMENT IS considered a pivotal factor in a voluntary insurancecompany’s success. Historically, employee benefit brokers preferred to source a client’s voluntary products from one carrier to streamline administration. This is a preference that many insurance carriers have catered to in their recruitment efforts. However, a recent Eastbridge report, Voluntary/Worksite Marketing: An Executive Perspective, found that producers are increasingly likely to seek “best-of-breed” products, resulting in less business going to any one carrier. This statistic almost doubled from 12 percent in our 2017 study to 22 percent this year. These changes suggest that the ease of one-carrier administration is becoming less important than having the right product design.
WITH THE ABUNDANCE of technology service providers vying for your employer clients’ attention, making decisions using bad data or alluring sales propositions can leave employers vulnerable. Payroll vendors, enrollment and benefits-administration platform providers and billing services promise cost-effective, efficient and effective solutions to ease an employer’s pain points. It’s not to say that these technologies will or will not deliver what they promise, but an important element in the decision-making process must be the preferences of employees.
MORE AND MORE we find that employers want to use the same system to enroll voluntary that they use for other benefits. In fact, 63 percent of the 1,000 employers surveyed last year in our Market-Vision: The Employer Viewpoint survey, said they want all benefits enrolled on one platform regardless of whether different carriers are used. More than half said that they want online enrollment to be part of their ben admin system rather than a separate system.
YOU’VE MADE THE sale and the employer has said, “Yes, let’s add the newly proposed voluntary benefit.” But of course, we haven’t sold anything until we get employees to elect. The most successful brokers make sure that when selling a product into a case, they include the enrollment method to be used.
THIS IS THE last in our series of columns on the voluntary industry sales results for 2018. The first article looked at overall voluntary sales for the year, while the second reviewed sales by product line and platform. This column takes a closer look at sales by distribution segment.
LAST MONTH, we reported that voluntary new business annualized premium sales for 2018 was $8.5 billion, but since that time, the results have been updated to $8.513 billion, up 4.5 percent over 2017 sales. This article spotlights sales by product line and platform.
ACCORDING TO OUR annual U.S. Voluntary/Worksite Sales Report, new business annualized premium (voluntary sales) increased at a rate of just over 4 percent in 2018, while total sales for the year were $8.5 billion. The first graph below shows the industry’s sales since 1997.
TECHNOLOGY IS becoming more critical each day to a broker’s success in voluntary benefits. One technology trend that producers must navigate is the prevalence and growth of “platforms.”
THE 2018 BenefitsPRO/East-bridge Broker Survey found that the most frequently sold products were very similar for benefit brokers and voluntary brokers, and that both broker types are selling more supplemental health products today than they have in the past.
RECENT EASTBRIDGE research has found that while just over half of carriers offer a universal life/whole life (UL/WL) product today, almost a quarter of carriers see UL/WL as a growth product for the industry over the next few years. In addition, UL/WL was the top product (tied with hospital indemnity) listed as most likely to be added to carriers’ voluntary portfolios in the next two years.
EVERY BROKER HAS his or her own set of features that top the list in voluntary carrier selection. For some, it’s brand, ratings or perhaps familiarity, while for others it might be the price and benefits found in specific products. For many, they simply expect ease in working through a carrier with an array of products and services under one roof.
THE VOLUNTARY industry continues to exhibit signs of growth around nearly every benchmark. More employers are offering voluntary programs and more employees now own worksite products. There are virtually no producers left in the benefits market who won’t indicate that voluntary is a growing part of their business. Both producers and carrier executives expect that the voluntary industry will continue to grow. Similarly, all but one of Eastbridge’s annual sales reports over the last 20 years have confirmed industry growth. This begs one very specific question about the market: What does the future look like?
EMPLOYERS of all sizes offer brokers the potential for growth. Brokers focusing on the small-case market look to expand up-market, and large national brokerage/consulting houses are looking at opportunities down-market. The voluntary penetration chart shows the percentage of employers offering voluntary products and employees who own them.
IN A RECENT SURVEY jointly conducted by Eastbridge and BenefitsPRO, brokers cited a lack of employer interest as the biggest threat to their voluntary business.
WE HAVE conducted research on employee attitudes about voluntary benefits for years now. Historically, we’ve taken a high-level view; however, we have always believed there were meaningful segments inside this community, and that identifying them may allow more specific strategies to be developed. This led us to take a different look at this critical constituency.
THIS IS THE LAST in our series of columns on the voluntary industry sales results for 2017. The first article looked at overall voluntary sales for the year, while the second reviewed sales by distribution segment. This column takes a closer look at sales by product line and platform.
LAST MONTH, we reported that voluntary new business annualized premium (sales) for 2017 were $8.145 billion, up almost 7 percent over 2016 sales. This month, we spotlight sales by distribution segment.
ACCORDING TO OUR annual U.S. Voluntary/Worksite Sales Report, new business annualized premium (voluntary sales) increased at a rate of almost 7 percent again in 2017, while total sales for the year were $8.145 billion.
NEARLY EVERY benefits broker will tell you that they now sell voluntary. Understandably, many brokers are primarily tuned in to the employer’s voice during the sales process. remains a default mode, born from their roots focusing on medical and other employerpaid group distribution.
AT ONE TIME, carriers defined the voluntary business processes we all lived by, and they designed them however they pleased. For many of the carriers, if the broker wasn’t happy with those services, the carrier could afford to ignore the complaint. After all, there were lots of other brokers.
WHAT ARE THE ATTRIBUTES of a good voluntary benefit? The industry has historically sorted out would-be new entrants before many producers knew they existed. Various elements could be debated, but there are at least two components common to most successful products: benefit strategy relevance and program mechanics.
EASTBRIDGE’S 2017 Voluntary Participation Rates Spotlight™ report found that just over half of participating carriers have seen participation rates increase over the past two to three years, and the majority expect this trend to continue. While individual carrier responses varied, the overall reported average was 28 percent in 2017, up from 21 percent in 2014.
FOR TWO DECADES, industry voluntary sales increased year after year. Growth was largely driven by new brokers entering the business, primarily from the ranks of the traditional medical and group brokers. But these new entrants did not begin growing their sales and increasing productioneach year as one might expect. Instead, they sold a few cases each year, with results changing only slightly from year-to-year.
MORE COMPANIES are turning to the insights data analytics can provide to their business— and voluntary benefit manufacturers are no exception. A recent Eastbridge survey on the topic revealed that 50 percent of carriers are currently using data analytics for at least some piece of their voluntary business. Another 20 percent are planning to implement analytics in the near future. These carriers are looking to use this data to help them better understand customer needs, increase persistency and provide better customer service.
AS A GROUP, voluntary brokers and executives have historically overreacted to industry developments. Some of these developments promised great benefits through chasing a new trend, while others warned of doom based on a new threat.
IN A PREVIOUS COLUMN, we discussed how many employers are expanding their benefits offering to include non-traditional products. This article examines the topic further by uncovering the interest in these products from the broker and employee perspectives.
DESPITE THE growing similarities between employee benefit broker and voluntary broker segments, and some convergence between the two groups, notable differences remain. As for parallels, both segments sell the same go-to products, infrequently use private exchanges, and see a relatively low threat from “eBrokers.” They also both expect the new administration in Washington to have a positive impact on their business.
THIS IS THE LAST in our series of columns on voluntary market sales results for 2016. The first article looked at overall voluntary sales for the year, while the second reviewed sales by product and platform. This article spotlights sales by distribution segment.
LAST MONTH, WE REPORTED voluntary new business annualized premium (sales) for 2016 were $7.630 billion, up almost 7 percent over 2015 sales. This column takes a closer look at these results by product line and platform.
ACCORDING TO OUR annual U.S. Voluntary/Worksite Sales Report, new business annualized premium (voluntary sales) increased again last year. Total sales for 2016 were $7.630 billion, up almost 7 percent over 2015 sales.
THERE HAVE LONG been two general categories of brokers in the benefits industry. Employee benefit brokers have traditionally focused on advising employers on their health care plan and other employer-paid programs, while voluntary brokers have focused on payroll-deducted benefits. The product portfolio for these two broker groups was once so distinct that they might both have advised the same client because of little to no competition between them.
OVER THE YEARS, we have reported on the growth of voluntary and its increasing popularity among employers, employees and brokers. Today, almost all brokers offer voluntary products, but many still only sell voluntary defensively, offering these products when asked, or in order to shift clients’ benefit costs, or when a competitor approaches an existing client. But this picture is changing. Based on our marketing practices surveys, roughly 30 percent of traditional employee benefit brokers (EBBs) now offer voluntary offensively, positioning products based on employee needs, and using them as key tools in their clients’ benefit strategies.
WITH THE DUST of open enrollment season finally beginning to settle, brokers should begin taking stock of 2016. Many will look back on a mix of outcomes—enrollments that they considered successful and others they probably wish could be “do-overs.” Most will use participation results as the basis for measuring their success—and rightfully so. While that’s a great starting point, it?
THE GROWTH OF VOLUNTARY products over the past few years has been consistent. Year over year, the growth rate is in the 3 percent to 5 percent range. This growth has been fueled by more benefit brokers offering voluntary and emplyers adding more products to their benefits.
HOW MANY DIFFERENT insurance companies does your typical client use for their voluntary benefit offerings? Have you brought in one carrier to provide all voluntary products? Have you brought in several companies? And what does the number of carriers say about you?