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Tapping The Full Potential Of Association Benefit Plans

Benefits play a valuable role in attracting and retaining top talent. And while some companies have introduced perks and benefits aimed at creating more modern and flexible work environments, a LinkedIn survey showed employees care most about core benefits, and that’s where employers need to focus.

In the meantime, what options do workers have when their employer doesn’t offer those benefits? What about independent or part-time workers without access to corporate plans? Associations and affinity groups may have the solution.

Medical and dental insurance, health reimbursement accounts, 401(k) plans, and some level of either voluntary or company-provided life, accidental death and dismemberment, and disability coverage are the minimum many employers will offer.

And with the cost of health benefits alone estimated at $15,000 per employee in 2019, even the most profitable companies may wish to consider carefully whether offering daily catered lunches and dinners, unlimited vacation days and pet-friendly office policies serve their employees’ most pressing needs. Considering the changing nature of our workforce, many individuals are looking elsewhere for supplemental coverage — an area of untapped opportunity for both associations and brokers.

The Value Of Associations

Associations face unique challenges; some have stagnant or declining membership and increased pressure to communicate value. One way they can offer more value to members is by offering a comprehensive suite of benefits, particularly financial wellness benefits. And this is where brokers can also add value — helping them identify and offer those benefits.

The purchasing power of midsize to large employers can be most closely replicated by associations and affinity groups. This gives members access to a variety of benefits — both traditional and niche — that, if purchased on the retail market, would either create a huge financial burden or be out of reach altogether for many workers.

By partnering with an experienced provider, associations can evaluate a wide range of traditional products including life, disability, health, accident, critical illness, dental, professional liability, auto and home insurance.

Brokers can help associations evaluate which product suite best serves their member base. They can also help association leaders pinpoint nontraditional products such as student loan repayment assistance, annuities or pet insurance, based on their current and desired member base. For members, the ability to purchase these benefits at group rates is a key enabler of financial wellness. For association leaders, it enhances member experience and increases the perceived value of the organization.

The Role Of Benefits Brokers

In addition to seamless delivery of service and modern technology platforms, the relevance of benefits throughout members’ life stages and to their unique circumstances must be carefully considered.

However, offering these benefits is not always easy for associations. Many have limited time and resources and require a partner that understands their challenges and can help communicate value to members. Brokers and third-party administrators play key roles in this relationship, providing services that may include enrollment, record keeping and customer service support — seamlessly across multiple product providers.

Here are four key ways brokers can establish and strengthen relationships with associations and affinity groups for mutually beneficial rewards.

1. Position Yourself As A Research Partner

To maximize the return on investment of an association’s benefits package, products must be tailored to the unmet needs of its membership. A great example of this is a recent collaboration among the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Aon and Prudential Group Insurance. AICPA sensed a need to better serve its members over age 50 and asked Prudential and Aon to explore product solutions specifically for this population.

Through market research initiated by Aon, a demand for longevity risk solutions that provide guaranteed income for life and that protect against market fluctuations was identified.

2. Prioritize And Provide Education

Once you’ve collected member insights and pinpointed a clear benefit need, consider how to deliver all products and services through a financial wellness lens. This is essential to ensure members understand how available benefits fit into their current and future life stages and to encourage adoption. Articles, budgeting tools and benefit calculators can help attract and retain them.

Aon and Prudential took their research a step further to develop an enrollment process that leverages personalized financial education and guidance through LINK by Prudential. Information on the platform helps AICPA members understand the effect of adding annuities to their personal retirement and longevity risk strategy, and also gives them the option of consulting further with a professional financial advisor.

In addition, brokers, consultants and carriers have a unique opportunity to help underserved groups and design unique products by partnering with associations and affinity groups. Financial education is a vital resource for underserved populations and worker groups, including low- to moderate-income employees and gig workers, many of whom rely on associations for networking and career advancement.

For example, a union member group of more than 2 million workers with a significant Hispanic membership recently implemented a financial wellness platform in both Spanish and English to help its members manage debt, learn about investing, balance day-to-day finances and plan for retirement — all areas the organization recognized as relevant to its member base.

3. Be Tech-Forward

To set up any benefits program for success, TPAs and providers should leverage data analytics and customer relationship management technology for easy adoption. For example, in certain instances, depending on demographic and risk elements, carriers can provide association members with coverage in real time using this type of technology.

The AICPA and one of the largest state bar associations are two organizations that leverage Express Life approval, a simplified-issue process, making use of pharmaceutical data and digital enrollment tools to make the experience of obtaining coverage more streamlined and cost-efficient for their members. By working with providers and TPAs that offer these capabilities, shorter overall enrollment processes, and continuous investment in digital capabilities that simplify the underwriting process, brokers can help association clients make available to members the benefits most attractive to them.

4. Build Relationships

Though this market is ripe with opportunity, it’s still complicated and far less transactional than others in the group benefits space. Many of the associations that offer member benefits today have a long-standing relationship with a broker, and that comes with a tremendous amount of loyalty. To break through to this audience, you’ll need to develop the startup mindset. Don’t be afraid to prospect and find organizations that might be in your backyard, and work to build that loyalty from the ground up.

In short, associations and affinity groups offer great potential for brokers. These organizations are hungry to innovate and communicate value to attract and retain membership. By thinking differently about your approach to selecting providers and product offerings — leading with research, providing necessary education and implementing easy-to-use technology — you’ll more effectively communicate overall return on investment and create long-lasting partnerships.

Kevin Morgan is vice president, association and cross-business initiatives, Prudential Group Insurance. Kevin may be emailed at [email protected] [email protected].

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