If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Those that had a stable job and did not need to worry about the financial wellbeing of their family suddenly were filled with concerns of what might happen next in the wake of office closures and business shutdowns. Others, who believed they were perfectly healthy, now wondered what would happen if they contracted COVID-19 and were hospitalized. As we continue to fight the pandemic, we are likely to see COVID-19’s impact on business and the economy for years, including the impact on benefits and the health insurance space.
In previous years voluntary benefits have grown in popularity, but beginning in 2021 we are likely to see a significant spike in adoption—particularly in the area of health and financial wellbeing benefits. The impossible became possible and now employees are looking at their benefits in a whole new light and making decisions based on “what if” scenarios. For example, hospital indemnity, critical illness, disability, financial counseling, and even student loan voluntary benefits are more top-of-mind than in years past.
Additionally, employees are also looking for more customized packages to meet their specific needs. The workforce includes more Millennials and Generation Z employees who want choice, flexibility and the ability to meet their personal benefit needs. Consumers want to offset the rising cost of health insurance with coverage that will not break the bank and fill in the gaps created by high deductibles and copays. Instead of offering all employees a benefit that they may need, employers can now tailor a combination of products to meet specific needs—which can ultimately capture a larger portion of the workforce. As businesses reopen, and the economy strengthens, employers will look to hire new talent and retain their employees. Offering a variety of voluntary benefits will be attractive to those actively in the job market.
As brokers it will be critical moving forward to work closely with clients during the enrollment process and offer one-on-one support to help employers remain competitive as well as increase workforce participation and improve employee satisfaction. Since voluntary benefits are optional, and usually entirely paid for by the employee, there are no cost limitations to the employer around offering a large variety of options.
Brokers should consider the following tips when integrating voluntary benefits into their portfolio:
- Educate Yourself on The Options: First, fully understand the vast range of products in the voluntary benefit realm. This knowledge can be sought from carrier partners, fellow brokers, broker associations and general agency partners.
- Establish Goals and Priorities: Once you’ve established goals and priorities you can implement a strategy that aligns with your customer’s needs.
- Enrollment Methods: Get educated on all available enrollment vehicles, including online tools, enrollment firms, call centers and more.
- Leverage Technology: The right technology solutions create ease of access and enrollment and can greatly increase participation.
- Timing: Consider the timing around when it’s best to introduce new benefits.
- Start with the Basics: Sometimes clients do not know where to start, so it can be helpful to present a brief overview of all voluntary options to gauge interest. Once the client’s needs are assessed, then go into details.
- Recommend an Inclusive Package: Understanding the demographics of a client is helpful in creating an inclusive voluntary package. Educating customers on the options, and assessing their needs through conversation, allows you to develop a customized package. Remember, benefits shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Communication is Key: A communication plan is key to the success of a voluntary benefits strategy. It should include employee engagement, education, and an awareness campaign that leverages as many channels as possible. Year-round communication is an optimal feature.
While one-on-one conversations may be more difficult in a virtual world, for employers not going back to the office yet, video conferencing can be a great supplemental tool. If brokers had not previously adopted technology for online enrollments and connecting with clients, 2020 was likely the year they were forced to do so!
Now is the time to truly embrace technology in order to “meet” with clients and discuss how new online solutions can help employees choose and manage their benefits packages. For brokers, these technologies can include flexible enrollment and data handling, integrated billing, employee educational platforms, electronically-generated administrative forms, and more.
Employers that use an online benefit administration system can manage benefits and employee profiles, utilize new hire and open enrollment tools, review contribution amounts, analyze in-depth reporting and maintain a central content management system for all paperwork related to benefits and health insurance. If an employer is not using an online tool, brokers can encourage adoption to streamline the enrollment and benefit management processes. Ultimately, the more we involve technology the more appealing insurance becomes to the consumers who actually use it.
Remember, brokers who are not offering voluntary benefits are at risk of losing revenue. The healthcare industry is a competitive space and brokers who stick with strictly medical benefits are probably feeling some pressure. Competition will only continue to grow and those that diversify their product offering are more attractive to potential clients.
As we venture into this year and beyond we are certain to see new, innovative insurance products addressing the changing needs of employers and employees. These innovations include new benefit structures and increased options for the delivery of care. Voluntary benefits can support the employee’s overall wellbeing, and ease their potential fear of the unknown, by hedging risk within areas of their life that are important to them but may not be adequately covered by a major medical plan. Now is the time for brokers and employers to change their perspective on benefits and pivot to caring for employee’s wellbeing through personalization and a genuine solutions-oriented approach.