With a strong economy and talent-recruitment landscape creating an appetite for worksite-based voluntary insurance products, we knew early on that 2020 would be an important year for the employee benefits industry. The COVID-19 pandemic is quickly making an impact on many businesses’ trajectories and causing long-term uncertainty.
There are ongoing concerns about the unknowns, and we’ve all been in reaction mode, but now’s the time to be proactive. Here are six things brokers can do now to offer products and services that give customers peace of mind and position their business for success later this year.
1. Learn how to be virtual
Let’s face it, the way we do business has changed; with commitments and responsibilities to work and family, we all have a lot on our plates. But you can make the most of our new normal—a fully or partially virtual environment—where you can meet clients at any time, any place and when it is most convenient for them.
A computer with a camera and meeting technology is all it takes to get started. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by technology. Master the new tools, know your stuff and be mindful and patient with customers who are new to virtual meetings. In no time it will be second nature. The experience of a virtual meeting doesn’t have to feel significantly different than meeting in person. You should always be aware of your body language. If you need to take your eyes off the screen, you may need to briefly explain that you’re getting something to show your customer or checking the clock to respect their time.
As you build confidence with your customer, you won’t have to explain yourself as often. Mute your audio when you are not talking; load and test your content before your meeting starts and join your call a few minutes early so your customer isn’t waiting for you.
2. Assess your long-term business continuity
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, did you have a formal business continuity plan? If not, now’s a great time to use your experience to make one. Think about how you can best be of aid to your clients during this crisis and beyond. How will your employees’ work schedules be impacted? What will happen to your revenue in terms of projection and planning for 2020?
Start your plan today by tracking your answers to these questions and more.
The Disaster Recovery Institute International (drii.org) offers many resources. Go to Explore Resources/Professional Practices to get started.1
3. Know your audience and be accessible
In a relationship-based selling environment, you must always consider how you are offering your customer value. One way to offer value is by empathizing with your customer. Proactively source the answers to questions about leaves of absence, layoffs, how reduction of hours at the worksite impact coverage and premiums. Research ongoing legislation like the CARES Act (which allows small businesses access to loans to retain workers or hire them back in the event of a COVID-19 layoff) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)2 and have the answers ready about how things might change as a result.
You can also add value by being knowledgeable on workplace trends that demonstrate your understanding of the workplace. One example is there’s a lot of buzz about flexible work programs, which are work arrangements wherein employees are given greater scheduling freedom in how they fulfill the obligations of their positions, provided they put in the total number of hours required by the employer. Other common flexible working arrangements involve telecommuting, job-sharing, and compressed work weeks.
Proactively offering information positions you as a trusted partner and may impact your business’ retention levels. Sharing thought leadership can be as simple as a video post to your LinkedIn account or hosting an interactive webinar.
4. Have a plan for RFPs
We recognize that in a normal year April is a prime month when brokers are preparing Request for Proposals (RFPs) for current customers and prospects. However, the regular eight-month timetable leading up to 1/1 has been delayed. That means the influx of marketing materials a broker receives will likely take place in a much shorter time period. Combine that with the reality that some customers may seek to market more of their plans on an off-anniversary cycle as opposed to their renewal anniversary.
Take charge now and determine your game plan. If your customers change their enrollment process, how will you fit in enrollment meetings by the first of the year? How will you communicate to your customers, and what should you do when you can’t talk face to face? Virtual meetings, conference calls, webinars will all be on the table. Or will a broker rely on a digitally automated video-rich benefit administration system in lieu of face to face conversations?
5. Mine existing business versus adding new
With so much uncertainty, this is a great time for you to think about strategies for re-examining current clients. Look at your existing book to assess gaps in your customers’ coverage. The pandemic creates an opportunity to talk about the foundational benefits of group life and disability. And, ask if they want to provide another resource such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
You could also ask if they want to expand their offerings to employees on the payroll who intended on opting in the company group plan, but never got around to signing up. If a company has a voluntary program, chances are that 100 percent of the workforce is not enrolled.
6. Consider auto-enrollment
Auto-enrollment is the “set-it-and-forget-it” approach your customers can use to automatically enroll their employees for the group voluntary life and disability insurance coverage they should have, yet might be unaware they need to protect themselves—and their paychecks—from life’s unexpected events.
With auto-enrollment, all employees are automatically opted in at a base level benefit for voluntary life or disability. The only time they’ll need to complete Evidence of Insurability will be if an employee is electing coverage outside of the specified annual enrollment period. Providing disability insurance equally to all employees ensures employers won’t have to worry about making difficult decisions. Please note that employees can opt out within 90 days of enrollment and receive a refund.
7. Benefit Administration could be an aid
Of the 30.7 million small businesses in the U.S., those with fewer than 100 employees account for 98.2 percent.3
Due to the size of the workforce, small business’ enrollment is manually recorded without the benefit of a true computerized benefits administration system which is more efficient for organizations or companies with larger payrolls to manage. Given the need to adapt to our new environment a ben-admin system,4 in lieu of face-to-face conversations, may be useful. They provide efficiency (payroll deductions, etc.) and accessibility (self-service and easy access for a policyholder to elect changes). Employers may want to consider a system—but make that choice quickly, as it can take a while for a Human Resources staff to acclimate. Even if the employer doesn’t opt to use a ben-admin system, they’ll need to provide a secure way to upload an employee’s private information.
In closing, just remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. But what you can do is listen and be responsive. It may seem like a simple thing, but brokers perceived as not having the capacity or resources to handle all the customers’ interactions may find the customer looking to another broker that has time for them.
OneAmerica® is the marketing name for the companies of OneAmerica. Products issued and underwritten by American United Life Insurance Company® (AUL), Indianapolis, IN, a OneAmerica company.
- American United Life (AUL) recommends the execution of the automatic enrollment program for only ERISA governed plans as allowed by the Department of Labor. We also advise employers to provide timely notice to their employees that the employer is deducting a certain amount from an employee’s paycheck in order to pay for voluntary disability or life insurance coverage.