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Selling Voluntary Benefits What You Need To Know

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.

    Strategic Approach

    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.

    Enrollment Technology

    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.

    Service

    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.

    Trust

    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 "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. 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 client relationships.

    Corporate culture 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.

    Jimmy Hinton is territory sales manager for the Mississippi territory of Colonial Life and has 20 years of experience in the voluntary benefits industry. Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing insurance benefits for emp [email protected].


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