A survey released Wednesday by Aflac shows brokers may be timid about their future. The reasons include concerns about remaining relevant to clients, and rising health care costs contributing to benefit selection. The poll, Aflac Workforces Report for Brokers, says 45% of brokers are “considering exiting the health insurance business altogether.”

“From my own experience in talking to a lot of brokers through all my programs … I’d say 30%-40% of agents are a little worried about their future. It doesn’t mean they’re going to get out of the business, but they’re worried about how they’re going to survive and compete in the new marketplace,” says Mel Schlesinger, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based group benefit broker coach, who was previously a broker himself.

Schlesinger says the more important findings of the Aflac survey are the reasons behind brokers’ uncertainty about their future. Twenty-nine percent of broker respondents said they’re worried about remaining useful and relevant to their clients, and 62% said “rising health care costs impacting client decisions on benefits” is the most top-of-mind issue right now.

Schlesinger says that brokers too often lead with price, which will make them irrelevant when the exchanges, both public and private, become more prevalent in the next few years. “The smart agent is going to realize their value in the future is not in presenting the spreadsheet method —disability against disability, health against health — it’s, ‘Let me put together an entire package,’” he says.

The Aflac poll, conducted in January, sought feedback from more than 300 brokers. “The size of the sample is a little screwy and small, but I think if you were to randomly call agents the number isn’t that far off,” says Schlesinger. He thinks the move toward a more consultative role will cause a shrinkage in the number of brokers in five years, “not because of ACA, but because they don’t know how to adapt.”

“The smartest agents and brokers will seize upon health care reform as an opportunity to even further demonstrate their value and encourage employers to satisfy workers’ expectations and needs when it comes to benefits education,” Michael Zuna, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Aflac, said Wednesday in a statement.

The poll also found that while 82% of brokers are recommending “tailored” benefits, only 38% of employers have signed on to provide these types of plans.

Aflac also polled 1,884 employers for the benefit decision-makers portion of the survey. Aflac did not return a request for comment on this study.

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