You work to build a good
relationship with your clients,
but you can't expect them to
be glad to see you if all you're bringing
them are annual health insurance rate
increases. You're in a tough position
because you can't do anything about
the reality of rising health care costs.
It is particularly difficult as employers
struggle to cut costs wherever they can.
If your client had a bad claims year, he
or she could be facing a double-digit
rate increase. Even if a client has a good
claims year, rate increases can outpace
inflation. How can you avoid becoming
the bearer of bad news?
By adding voluntary benefits to your
agency's portfolio, you can help:Manage your clients' benefits program cost
Increase their employees' satisfaction
Strengthen your agency's income stream
Voluntary benefits are mainstream
If you've rejected the idea of offering
voluntary benefits in the past, you need
to know that voluntary benefits have
now become mainstream. Not offering
them is like not having e-mail. Sure,
you got along without them before, but
in the current business environment,
they've become a necessity.
Chances are someone is already
calling on your accounts and offering
voluntary benefits. If you come in
every year to deliver rate increases,
and your competition calls on your
accounts with good news about ways to
save money through voluntary benefits,
who will your clients turn to?
Your accounts have probably already
learned about the advantages of
voluntary benefits and may be actively
seeking them. If they've assumed you
deal strictly with traditional products,
they could be searching for voluntary
benefits from other sources.
I worked with an agent who believed
one of his biggest accounts was safe. He
told me he had "built a fence around it."
I persuaded him to let me go with him
to visit the account's decision makers
to talk about whether or not they'd be
interested in voluntary benefits. They
looked at us in dismay. "We didn't
know you offered that," they said to
him. "We signed up with someone else
last week. I wish we'd known."
Not all benefits are created equal
Voluntary benefits aren't like the
products you're used to selling, so
you'll need to take a different approach
when evaluating them. Although we've
seen many voluntary benefits carriers
offer similar-looking products and
prices, using a spreadsheet to make
your decision is like deciding whether
or not to buy a car based solely on its
tires. You're not looking at the whole
picture. There are many other services
a voluntary benefits carrier should be
able to bring to your agency.
A voluntary benefits carrier should help
you take a long-term strategic approach
with your accounts. It should be willing
to offer only a few key voluntary
benefits to employees in the first year,
so as not to overwhelm your clients or
their employees. Over time, it should
recommend adding other voluntary
benefits to enhance the account's
benefits program. Make sure your voluntary
benefits carrier is tuned in to the
marketplace and is constantly assessing
and recommending new products to
keep you at the forefront of the growing
worksite marketing industry.
Consider your potential carrier's enrollment
technology. It should use the latest
online enrollment technology to give
clients the greatest flexibility in meeting
enrollment needs. For example:
It should be able to import core and
voluntary benefits data to a secure, online
database and, after enrollment, provide the
account with complete results electronically.
It should have the capability to provide
daily enrollment reporting so you and your
clients can be informed about how the
enrollment is proceeding.
Make certain the carrier's enrollment
software is designed so the only products
offered are those agreed upon in advance
by you and your client.
Flexible Enrollment Options
How flexible is the voluntary benefits
carrier when it comes to meeting an
account's enrollment needs? Maybe an
account has employees who work at
home or who don't report to an office
regularly. Or perhaps an account has
employees spread across different locations
and different shifts. This shouldn't
be a problem. In fact, your voluntary
benefits carrier should have a number
of enrollment capabilities to offer in
addition to the one-to-one session
with a benefits professional. These
capabilities might include co-browsing
online with a benefits professional via
the Internet and a phone, conducting
enrollments through a call center or
offering online self-enrollment.
You also need to consider a voluntary
benefits carrier's service record and the
ways it adds value to you, your clients
and employees. Check references. Talk
to the other brokers the carrier is doing
business with. Go watch an enrollment.
Most of all, you want a voluntary benefits
carrier you can trust - one you're
comfortable letting into your accounts.
Remember, you want a partner, not a
competitor. Look for a voluntary benefits
partner with a stellar reputation and a
track record of success. One who's willing
to work with you in the best interests of
your clients and their employees.
Client and employee
needs come first
There are four ways worksite enrollments
can be done: by you, by the
broker, by an enrollment company or
by a carrier's benefits professionals.
Most agencies don't have the resources
to conduct their own worksite enrollments;
that's why they rely on enrollment
companies and carriers' enrollment
professionals. Which is best? It
depends on your accounts' needs.
Make sure the enrollment team you
choose can deliver personal benefits education
sessions for employees to communicate
the account's core and voluntary
benefits selections and help employees
make educated benefits decisions.
There are many good enrollment
companies out there. And there are
some that aren't quite so good. Enrollment
companies usually pay enrollers
on a per-diem basis. Sometimes they
pay bonuses based on sales of certain
products. Some of these enrollment
teams may only be around for the
initial enrollment, so they may push
certain voluntary benefits products
based on the commissions they can
earn - products that may or may
not be in an employee's best interest.
Enrollers who sell voluntary benefits
to employees from any motivation
other than a needs-based model could
be working against your long-term
relationship with your account.
Additionally, there are postenrollment
tasks that must be done,
such as enrollment reporting, enrolling
new hires and planning for next year's
enrollment. Enrollment companies
may not have local enrollment teams to
handle these services. This is when having
a local team of benefits professionals
- people who will become familiar to
and trusted by your clients' employees
- can really pay off. You want benefits
professionals who'll be there before,
during and after the initial enrollment
to provide local, ongoing service for
the account, for new hires and for
annual re-enrollments. This way, the
enrollment professionals have a vested
interest in helping you strengthen your
makes a difference
Successful enrollments are the result of
excellent strategy and communications.
This is where your voluntary benefits
carrier's corporate culture counts. Your
potential partner should do more than
simply put on a good show on enrollment
day. Ask questions like these:Does it set goals for and measure the quality
of service it provides policy holders and plan
administrators? Does it report its results?
Can it provide benefits statements to show
employees the benefits their employer
provides and the value of them?
Does it have a dedicated Web site just for
brokers? Just for plan administrators?
Is it committed to conducting annual
re-enrollments with the same passion and
enthusiasm it had for the initial enrollment?
Adding voluntary benefits to your
agency's portfolio will allow you to
bring solutions and value to your
clients, not just annual health insurance
rate increases. The overall goal is
to make your agency the single source
for your clients' benefits needs. With a
strong voluntary benefits partner you
can trust to represent your agency. You
can be that single source.