It seems a bit ironic that an insurance product that is one of the most advertised items on television - auto and home insurance - is simultaneously experiencing a lack of awareness in the workplace. "Historically, it's more difficult than I think it should be to increase the awareness within an account that this is an available benefit," says Scott Kuczmarski, VP, group property and casualty, at MetLife. "So we are spending more and more of our time focused on using unique ways to bring that message to the employers that we have relationships with."
And it's not just employers. Even brokers don't think about offering auto and home to clients as a voluntary benefit. "It still amazes me that when I go to national shows or industry meetings several people in the audience will still come up to me and say, 'Geez, I didn't realize the auto/home program existed. This is something I'd be very interested in,'" recalls Mark Parabicoli, managing director, auto and home voluntary benefit programs, for Liberty Mutual.
Adds Peter Crichton, VP of business development, Travelers Insurance, "It's important when we sell an auto/home benefit to a client that we do a lot to educate the employees to make them aware that this benefit does exist."
Such education efforts include both new and old school outreach. Because most people have auto and home insurance anyway, it is reasonable to assume that every month one-twelfth of employees at any given company will experience a "triggering event" that leads them to re-examine their auto/home needs, be it a plan renewal or new purchase, Crichton points out.
This constant need highlights the importance of a year-long education campaign. Online methods of communication such as email blasts and a presence on the employer's website are increasingly important, "but it's still also important that we communicate by sending out home enrollment kits, traditional mailings," he says. "That still seems to be a very effective way of increasing awareness."
Liberty Mutual's Parabicoli agrees, adding that the right carrier partner can make all the difference. The vendor should help handle marketing, enrollments, offer multi-channel distribution and include a one-touch account manager who will manage everything while producing robust reporting, he says.
"A turnkey partner is key. With all the added tasks and pressures that brokers are needing to focus on in guiding their employer groups through health care, the last thing they need is a carrier partner in voluntary products that is going to cause a drain on their resources," Parabicoli adds.
A new distribution model
Speaking of a broker's plate being full, with public health exchanges on the horizon and private ones already a reality, this rising distribution system could play a big role in the future of auto and home benefits.
"They're going to be looking to put a lot of voluntary products on the private exchanges potentially," says MetLife's Kuczmarski, "and I think auto and home is one that I think the private exchange people will be interested in putting out. It will give access to new distribution channels and increase consumer choice down the road."
Traveler's Crichton isn't sure what exchanges have in store, but "any time employers are evaluating benefits and potentially making any changes to their benefits it's a great opportunity for providers of auto/home to possibly introduce an auto/home benefit to a company that doesn't currently have one," he says.
But don't expect anything immediately, adds Kuczmarski. He predicts it will be late 2014 or 2015 by the time these benefits are on an exchange. "Who knows how it's going to play out, but I do think there's quite a bit of opportunity there," he says.
It used to be that the message around voluntary benefits in general for brokers was that these benefits are gaining strength and importance, says Parabicoli. Now that that's understood by the industry, the next move for brokers is developing a sales strategy and "steps so that you can actually start executing on these new strategies."
"There's a lot of change, a lot of anxiety ... but also a huge opportunity for brokers who are going to seize this opportunity," he says, adding that one of those steps is making sure you have the right licenses. For auto and home that means a property and casualty license, of course.
Although some may complain a bit about it - "I don't think they love it, but I think it's a pretty well-known fact [that is requires a P&C license] and they want to get paid, so they do it," says Kuczmarski - it's not too time-consuming. "I've actually done it in the past," explains Parabicoli. "It's maybe a couple of months of reading and then a two-hour exam."
Employees "already need to buy those products anyway. So it really has staying power with an employer group," Parabicoli adds. "Why not offer [auto and home] through payroll where it has an additional savings for that employee that has to buy the products anyway? So it really, really brings value to that employee base."
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