Health insurance brokers are increasingly turning to the employee benefits market as a way of remaining relevant as the Affordable Care Act turns the health insurance world inside out.
But it’s not enough to sell those benefits – the successful broker is the one who understands what workers are looking for in a benefit package and provides that package.
That’s the word from Jimbo Story, vice president of small group sales and specialty markets at MetLife, after his company issued its first white paper on the key benefits trends and solutions around the globe.
In the U.S., companies have increased their use of voluntary benefits over the past 10 years due to factors like shifting health care expenses, evolving consumer demands and access to technology. In fact, new annual sales for voluntary benefits in the U.S. have grown over 60 percent since 2004 to nearly $7 billion for 2014, according to Eastbridge Consulting Group.
Due to a growing middle class, rising financial concerns and greater global awareness of saving for retirement, employees are turning to workplace benefits and financial education programs as solutions for various financial needs.
According to the MetLife paper, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of employees said they’re looking to their employer for more help in achieving financial security through employee benefits, compared with 49 percent in 2011. And employees are so committed to receiving financial guidance that more and more are willing to pay for it.
The MetLife study took a look at the direction employee benefits is expected to take in the next few years. Not surprisingly, most of the benefits will center on health care, Story said.
“We’re seeing the trend that 80 to 85 percent of dollars spent on employee benefits are going to health care,” he said. “And we do not see that changing. At small employers – where the average health insurance broker is dealing with employee groups of less than 100 lives – workers are demanding those employers provide a more diverse selection of benefits.
“Agents can’t just rely on medical coverage and allow the other benefits to fall where they are. If they are going to succeed, then they need to understand what employees are looking for and provide it.”
Agents who understand how to help an employer create the right offering mix with what dollars they are willing to contribute, along with the right benefits that people are looking for, are the agents who will succeed, Story said.
Top 5 Benefits
What Story described as the Top 5 employee benefits – medical insurance, 401(k) accounts, dental, pharmacy and vision – will remain the workers’ top choice for benefits in the future. But other products are gaining momentum.
They include critical illness, cancer and accident coverage, which Story said is “a byproduct of the way medical plans are now being constructed.” In addition, group auto and homeowners insurance, and group legal insurance, also are expected to increase in popularity.
But employers are not expected to pony up for these coverages, Story said. The MetLife study showed that although workers want to have these benefits available to them, they don’t necessarily think their employer should pay for them.
That brings us to the question of what role the insurance broker will have in helping workers to obtain the benefits they say they want. Story said there will continue to be a role for a knowledgeable professional to provide that consultation with workers.
“Despite technology, the desire for one-on-one consultation is very strong and is consistent across all of the generations,” he said. “Benefits still are complex – they’re not easy – and the employees have responded in these surveys by saying 61 percent are interested in one-on-one consultations, 49 percent want to be able to use a mobile app.”
Story likened the broker’s role to buying a product on Amazon.
“I’ll go the store and look at the gadget that I want but I will probably buy it on Amazon,” he said. "Likewise, workers want to have that one-on-one consultation to explain the benefits to them, so that they can make the right buying decision the way they want to."
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at Susan.Rupe@innfeedback.com.
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