There was a time not too long ago when brokers offered voluntary products “defensively” — as a way to stave off competition from other brokers or because an employer asked them to.

No more.

“There’s been a fundamental change. They went from selling [voluntary products] reactively to now selling [them] aggressively,” said Gil Lowerre, president of Eastbridge Consulting Group, speaking last week at Employee Benefit Adviser’s Workplace Benefits Mania in Phoenix. “This is no longer an ancillary side business; this is at the heart of what brokers do.”

Now, according to Eastbridge research, the vast majority of brokers sell some voluntary products. And it’s no wonder why. Employees crave the products, which have become a vital part of the benefit package offered by employers.

“An employee can go into their benefit program and select what they want, what they need and what they value — and there are enough items for them to get it,” Lowerre said. “This was once debated as ‘this can never happen.’ Now it’s happening.”

Simply put, the voluntary market has experienced “astounding growth” that’s still continuing, Lowerre said. Of employers who say they offer voluntary products — including standbys such as critical illness, disability, vision, life and dental — the most common number of products they offer, regardless of the company’s size, is three to five, according to Eastbridge research. The second most common is six or more.

The data show that “people who buy voluntary will be apt to buy more,” said Nick Rockwell, vice president of Eastbridge Consulting Group.

See also: 15 employee benefits on the rise

“People that are buying are buying things they see as valuable to them,” Lowerre said. “That they can tailor their benefits packages to what they need is a positive.”

Still, there’s more work to be done in the voluntary market to keep brokers competitive, Rockwell said.

Brokers need to make time to discuss the products with employers and employees and set goals for these sales, he said. “If we aren’t talking about these products, someone else will.”

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