As employers are forced to confront the growing complexities around benefits, those that haven’t been working with an adviser now say they’re in need of one.

Indeed, a new study from MassMutual finds that the four out of 10 employers not currently using an adviser are now seeking their services -- creating substantial growth opportunities for professionals with the right mix of skills and experience.

“More employers are recognizing that they do need a benefits advocate,” says Tom Foster, practice management leader for MassMutual’s retirement plan services and one of the authors of the study.

Based on a survey of 565 U.S. companies ranging in size from fewer than 25 employees to more than 1,000, the study found that more employers are seeking expert help with retirement plans, life and disability insurance and other voluntary benefits.

Further, the perceived value of such guidance appears to grow with the size of the employer. More than half (55%) of the very largest firms surveyed characterized adviser input as “extremely” or “very” valuable, while only a third (33%) of the very smallest employers shared that assessment.

The study also found that employers that already rely on advisers for help with voluntary benefits are generally pleased with their guidance. More than half (53%) rate the advice they receive as “excellent” or “very good,” while 77% rate it as “good” or better.

Overall, the quality of guidance employers received from their advisers was rated as “excellent” or “very good” by half of the organizations with fewer than 25 employees and by two-thirds of those with 1,000 or more employees.

MassMutual’s research also shows that employers that rely on help from an adviser are more likely to promote employee wellness and benefits utilization. Nearly two-thirds of employers that rely on an adviser encourage employees to take advantage of both retirement savings and other voluntary benefits, compared with fewer than half of employers that do not use an adviser. Among adviser-supported firms, 48% promote financial well-being among their employees, compared to 33% of firms operating without adviser input.

“Our research shows that advisers with the appropriate knowledge and expertise may have a clear and compelling opportunity to expand their financial practices to offer at least some guidance about voluntary benefits,” says the retirement services executive.

Helping employees retire

Underlying these sentiments is an aging employee population that is driving up the cost of benefits, especially for larger companies. In order to bring those costs down, Foster says, employers need advisers to help them structure their benefit offerings in a way that can help their employees afford to retire.

“There is a direct correlation between an aging population and higher benefit costs,” Foster explains. “Salaries rise, healthcare costs become astronomical and, in many instances, productivity goes down as an employee ages.” This, he notes, is particularly true when the employee wants to retire but can’t afford to. The role of the adviser, he says, is to help the employer provide the appropriate mix of benefits that will enable their employees to retire on their own terms.

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“Our research shows that advisers with the appropriate knowledge and expertise may have a clear and compelling opportunity to expand their financial practices to offer at least some guidance about voluntary benefits."

However, advisers need to be willing to expand to meet the growing employer need. Foster notes that most advisers still specialize a single category of benefits -- such retirement plans -- and are reluctant to break out of their separate silos. Going forward, he says, “Advisers will have to be much more holistic with the advice they offer. They don’t necessarily have to sell all these different benefit categories, but they do need to understand them and their dependencies and linkages.”

That strikes home with Eric Silverman, whose brokerage, the Silverman Benefits Group, has been selling voluntary benefits for the past 16 years. Most financial advisers in particular, he says, “are traditional, old school advisers who don’t see the value in the voluntary space.”

Yet, Silverman is quick to point out, it is these same financial advisers who have the ear of the C-level executives at the largest employers. “They are very well situated to make effective introductions for advisers who do specialize in voluntary,” he notes, adding that the preponderance of his own clients come from other advisers referrals.

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