For the independent broker looking to break into the voluntary space, selecting the right partners is crucial.

Carriers must provide reasonable rates, solid underwriting offers, competitive commissions and offer an array of products, says Rob Shestack, senior vice president and voluntary national practice leader at AmWINS Group. Enrollment firms need to offer a multitude of services — face-to-face education, a call center, technology — and fair and equitable commission splits, he says. “Partner with someone that is strategic, that’s creative,” Shestack adds.

Limiting the number of partners to three or four carriers and one or two enrollment firms helps build consistency, Shestack says. Brokerages that have too many partners can’t provide the same implementation model to clients across the country. “They’re not getting that uniform process for all their clients,” he says. “You want that consistency.”

When Sharla St. Rose made the switch to the voluntary space, attending industry conferences was an enormous help. “People are so open to giving advice to newbies,” says St. Rose, the director of voluntary benefits at NFP. The knowledge she gained at conferences was invaluable. “Talk to the people already doing it,” she says. “Pick their brains. Not just about their successes, but also their failures.”

Simplify enrollment

Making enrollment easy — clicking “yes” or “no” for coverage — creates the best opportunity for increased participation, says Warren Benoit, president of Benoit and Associates Inc. “You’ve got to keep it simple,” he says.

Successful brokers integrate voluntary plans with the core benefits already in place, St. Rose says. “Talk about it as one cohesive program,” she says. “It’s key to make it not seem like something completely different.”

There are a growing number of voluntary products on the market. “We’re seeing new products, new ideas coming up every year in our industry,” Benoit says. And choosing products that fit the needs of each client is essential, he says.

Each client is unique, as is their workforce, Shestack says, and products must be tailored to the employees. “That’s really what it comes down to, understanding your audience,” he says. “Every client is different.”

A good way to introduce employers and employees to voluntary products is by offering a few targeted and strategic plans the first year and adding new products over subsequent years one at a time, Shestack says, not just life insurance because it pays the most commissions.

Tailored communication

Because no two clients are alike, a tailored communication strategy about voluntary benefits is needed, Shestack says. For example, a school district, a hospital and a manufacturer all require different approaches. And within those diverse workforces, different employees prefer various methods of communication, he says, citing the generation gap concept.

“It’s not easy to just say, ‘I want to enter the voluntary market,’” Shestack says. “This is not being a general practitioner. This is being a specialist,” and brokers should choose partners who truly understand the voluntary business, he says.

For larger brokerages, Shestack recommends hiring an internal voluntary benefit practice leader — someone who knows the right carrier, enrollment firm and technology partners. 

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