No end in sight for voluntary sales growth

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The percentage of employee benefit brokers selling voluntary grew nearly 12% in 2016 compared to the previous year with the segment now owning 62% of the market, according to Eastbridge Consulting Group. Last year, voluntary sales reached $7.63 billion with $4.75 billion being generated by benefit brokers, the voluntary benefit consulting firm’s U.S. Voluntary/Worksite Sales Report found. Gil Lowerre, president of Eastbridge, does not expect the voluntary sales market to cool down soon.

Benefit brokers generated $4.75 billion in new sales in 2016. For the second year in a row, career agents scored the second highest sales at $1.17 billion. Voluntary brokers — what the study’s authors call “classic worksite brokers” and “worksite specialists” — accounted for $879 million and $658 million in sales, respectively.

For the study, the Avon, Conn., consultancy profiled 65 individual and group insurance carriers.

These numbers are a continuation of a trend that has been underway for years, according to Lowerre. “There is a slight difference from prior years, [in that] most of the growth in the employee benefit broker segment has been caused by new brokers selling voluntary for the first time. That ended a couple of years ago, because nearly all benefit brokers are selling voluntary these days,” he says.

Ninety-five percent of all employee benefit brokers sell voluntary, according to Eastbridge. “There aren’t new ones coming in. Instead, we are seeing an increase in the average productivity of employee benefit brokers,” he says.

This signals a major change for employee benefit brokers, says Lowerre. “In the past, brokers tended to use voluntary more defensively, like when another carrier would [enter their client base] or when the employer would ask for voluntary benefits. Now, they are using it more as outreach and new client development prospecting.”

While technology has helped brokers enroll and connect with new clients, it isn’t the cause of this stellar broker sales boom. “Technology is an integral part of the process, but that is different from saying that tech is responsible for the growth. It is certainly an important part of the landscape today and is one that the broker cannot ignore,” says Lowerre.

Lowerre isn’t worried that the industry has reached peak sales or that this could be a bubble waiting to burst. “We will continue to see growth like this. The growth has been pretty continuous and … accelerating,” he says.

He adds, “I am not sure what the numbers will be next year, but to bet on it being positive, I would take that bet all day long.”

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