Voluntary home and auto benefits are an increasingly important part of many brokers' product arrays - and revenue streams.

Interest in selling voluntary home and auto insurance has been on the rise in the last several years, says Mark Parabicoli, Liberty Mutual's EVP and managing director of auto and home voluntary benefit programs. When Parabicoli started in his current role three years ago, "I wasn't receiving many calls from non-traditional voluntary benefit brokers. This year, the calls I'm receiving from brokers looking to get into the market have increased by maybe two or three times," he estimates.

Parabicoli cites the desire to save money as the driving factor. "As the economy was not in the best of shape, benefits managers are looking to try to save their employees money. We offer our product at a discount over retail rates through the exclusive relationships that we have with employer groups - to the point where over 80% of our entire personal lines auto and home business now comes through our affinity relationships," he adds.

It's important to not get carried away, however. Heather Mosher, an adviser with VAST Solutions based in Michigan, feels it's a common misconception to think that selling voluntary home and auto benefits will take off like wildfire. "We've really discovered that this is a process. It's not something that's going to return results as quickly as you would like, but it's one of those things where it's kind of a residual effect. Year after year you see more people trickle in because they have been hearing their neighbors talk about it," she says. "This is water cooler talk, where you might get those initial couple of people who you gain interest from. Then all of a sudden they are talking to the person they sit next to, so it sort of snowballs after the first year."


Now is the time

To brokers looking to start or get back into selling voluntary auto and home coverage to build their portfolios, Parabicoli says there is no time like the present.

"People at some of our biggest broker partners and some of our partnerships keep telling me that this was a no-brainer. It's an additional revenue stream that we will build with our broker partners. And the participation rates are phenomenal when you consider other voluntary benefits," he adds.

For both the broker and the carrier, making the sale is only half the equation, Parabicoli notes: "Once you're in, we have to turn to how are we going to sell this idea to the employees?"

Often it's the old-fashioned, one-on-one communication techniques that work the best.

"We have marketing material that we have developed like a lunch-and-learn, payroll stuffers, table tents we can place in break rooms or other heavily trafficked areas. We bring marketing materials with us, but really we've had our best luck just having very informal discussions. It doesn't always have to be this very large, staged presentation [with a] pitch and a PowerPoint," Mosher says.

And like all communication efforts, it's important to stick with it. Joe Gabriele, assistant vice president of auto and home direct sales with MetLife Customer Service and Support Group, believes it is essential to get the word out to employers to communicate the program as much as possible. "That to me is first and foremost the biggest opportunity for us. Once the program is kicked off, don't let the communication end there."

"Be creative. That's the biggest thing," Mosher adds. "Depending on what market you are speaking to - whether it's blue collar, white collar, health sector or whatever it is - be creative. That's part of the fun. Think of new ways to market; get advice from colleagues in that field. And be different with the social networking side of it - whatever that might look like - because I think that puts you one step ahead of the game."

Peter A. Marcia, CEO of VBenx!/YouDecide, offers these tips on succeeding at selling auto and home benefits:

"Find the right partner or expert if you don't have one within your own firm. Only do business with the highest quality insurance companies that have experience in the employer market, since that is a very different selling channel. Make sure that you are providing a valuable benefit for the employees with favorable underwriting, strong affinity/employer discounts, and payroll deduction features. And make sure that it is a program that will enhance, not detract, from the value proposition of the employer's overall benefits program."

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