MetLife thinks it has a strong case to make for voluntary benefits. Employers seem to be buying it; employees—not so much.

A recent benefit trends study by the insurer finds that 74% of employers say they understand the need for voluntary benefits to help employees offset out-of-pocket expenses. Only 47% of employees, on the other hand, see the value in applying for those benefits.

Naturally enough, Robert Shestack, SVP and national practice leader for VBs at AmWINS, thinks they can be won over. The bottom line for voluntary benefits is that they offer “major relief to employees who may not have that rainy day fund,” he says.

What sorts of hardships is Shestack referring to? Anything from some type of legal difficulty, to identity theft to having to pay for an unexpected flight due to a family emergency, he says. MetLife offers policies that protect against all of these and many other exigencies, including consumer purchase protection and pet insurance.

Of these, identity theft and legal protection top the list.

“I.D. theft protection is more of a service than insurance,” Shestack says, “although some of these policies do have an insurance component. But it’s so small, that state insurance commissioners consider it a minimalist benefit.”

Legal benefits

As for legal protection, MetLife’s trend study found that 15% of employers already offer some form of legal benefits, while 14% of employees regard legal services as a must-have benefit.

The way these plans work varies, according to Shestack. Some reimburse employees for their legal fees up to a pre-set amount or allow employees to hire an attorney free of charge from a list provided by the insurer. Others offer little more than discounts for certain legal services.

“Think of the discount service like joining a Costco or a B.J’s, where members buy consumer goods at a discount,” Shestack says. “Members have to pay a fee to be a part of the club.”

Other benefits include consumer purchasing programs and pet insurance. The consumer program allows an employee to purchase various products at a discount or to use their paychecks as collateral for a major purchase.

“I.D. theft protection is more of a service than insurance."

“Instead of going to a Best Buy and signing up for their store credit card to purchase a computer,” Shestack says, “an employee can go to one of these purchasing sites and buy the computer using his paycheck as collateral.”

After the employee makes the purchase, an email will be sent instructing his employer to withhold a certain amount from the employee’s paycheck each pay period until the item has been paid off. This, says Shestack, is an attractive alternative for employees who have bad credit but need to purchase something immediately.

As for pet insurance, not everybody’s a fan. The MetLife study finds that only 5% of employers offer it, and only 8% of employees are interested.

Even Shestack is less than wholly enthusiastic. “If a company has 100 employees,” he says, “those without pets won’t sign up for the program.” For those that do, he says, “prices can range from $20 to $80 or $100 a term depending on the coverage they want, and that can get expensive.”

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