Group voluntary benefits are changing as new players enter the market. After speaking at EBA’s Workplace Benefits Mania conference in Las Vegas recently, we followed up with Bill Bade, consulting actuary with Milliman, to learn more. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.

EBA: How are group voluntary benefits changing?

Bade: It is a very exciting market. It’s a market that has grown since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. There is more competition that has come with that growth, so as a result we are seeing new distribution partners and carriers that are coming into the group voluntary [benefits] space.

There are several different types of carriers, such as those that have traditionally sold individual policies that are now migrating over to group [benefits]. You have carriers that have sold core benefits and are now getting into the group voluntary space. You also have well-known multinationals, those are all coming in here. There is this convergence of carriers and instead of trying to bring in different things from their own market, these carriers are starting to ?? coverage ?? and become more consistent in the group voluntary space.

Instead of the bland, vanilla products that you may have found in the past, you are seeing much more vibrant and diverse products and benefits being offered with many new features and value-added services that are becoming popular. A great example on the product side is the introduction of mortgage protection riders; there are benefits that pay for pet care while someone is hospitalized. On the value-added service side, you are seeing concierge health services, medical saver services that will negotiate bills when you are out of network, etc.

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The important thing is for carriers to find strategic partners that offer value-added services that can’t be copied.

Because there is so much growth, there is an opportunity for advisers to find strategic partners in the market to help grow their block of business.

EBA: For advisers, what are the opportunities to innovative in this space and how do they do that?

Bade: The biggest opportunity and it’s almost more than an opportunity -- it is going to be a requirement in the future -- is I’m seeing agents start to broaden their services and abilities. With the growth in voluntary [benefits], these products are becoming much more mainstream.

If you can communicate how voluntary benefits tie into core benefits, then you can provide a better value proposition to your perspective consumers.

EBA: Thinking on your role as an actuary and benefits expert, what is the role of an adviser over the next year?

Bade: I think in a growing market today, you find a lot of advisers that are product experts and that’s great. But, as you move forward and it becomes more mainstream, advisers will have to broaden the products that they work on, be able to explain how these voluntary [benefits] tie into core [benefits]. Instead of just being a product expert, be a technology expert and an HR expert. Being a full service one-stop shop to employers and being able to provide full-service communication to their employees is critical.

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