The year that is drawing to a closejust might be remembered by benefit professionals as the most challenging one ever. Despite signs of recovery in some sectors of the economy, as 2010 ends the country remains stuck in the worst employment downturn since the Great Depression.

As employers downsized in 2009 and 2010, the impact on brokers was severe: the number of covered lives dropped, and top-line revenues took a hit. At Dallas-based Brinson Benefits, for example, the drop-off began in late 2009. Since then, Brinson's clients have laid off about 10% of their employees, estimates the firm's president, Dawn Brinson - meaning that the agency lost about 10% of their covered lives. "Even if you retain 100% of your clients, which isn't realistic, a 10% reduction takes a big toll on your book of business," she points out.

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