For years, the term “voluntary” has given employees the idea that these benefits such as dental, vision and supplementary healthcare are, in some form, optional. Now brokers who specialize in the voluntary space are rethinking the way they present these benefits to clients by rebranding them as “enhanced” benefits.

Eric Silverman, founder of voluntary benefits brokerage Voluntary Disruption in Towson, Md., has gone so far as to go through a personal rebrand of his company to change the term to “enhanced” by means of meetings, seminars and social media.

“I do not use the term “voluntary” when I speak to brokers or clients,” Silverman says. “I may use it for the first minute to explain what I do, but I am single-handedly trying to rebrand an entire industry and slowly but surely there are many brokers and carriers adopting the term.”

Because Silverman’s company was formerly named Silverman Benefits Group, many brokers who focus primarily in the healthcare market, took his business as a competitor. Instead, Silverman says he seeks to partner with these brokers and act as the enhanced benefit consultant for their clients.

“At the end of the day, I don’t care if they use the term “enhanced” or not, I just want them to understand that I am completely different than any voluntary carrier reps, sales managers or voluntary enrollment firms,” he says.

See also: Empowering employees through wide-ranging benefits

Shawn Ferguson, senior vice president of voluntary benefits at Acrisure in Sarasota, Fla., says the partnerships such as the ones Silverman is attempting to foster with healthcare brokers is essential to the rebranding of voluntary.

“One on one engagement between employers and voluntary benefit specialists is becoming popular once again,” Ferguson says. “Benefits, in general, are becoming more complicated, so it is vital to have an expert that can explain these benefits all the way down to the employee level.”

David Contorno, president of Lake Norman Benefits, says it is imperative today to have a strong working relationship between healthcare and voluntary brokers. “There will inevitably be gaps in coverage or duplicative coverage being paid for by the employer unnecessarily,” Contorno says. “I don’t know how brokers are doing business any other way.”

This has not stopped voluntary carrier reps from going direct to the employers to cut the enhanced benefit brokers, as well as healthcare brokers, out of the picture. By posing as a voluntary partner, Silverman says carrier reps are attempting to mirror his business model by partnering with healthcare brokers only to go directly to the employer several months later to inevitably cut out the healthcare adviser.

“By that carrier having a direct channel to the employer as well as having a direct relationship with the broker is a ridiculous conflict of interest,” Silverman says. “Why on Earth would a broker ever want to partner with a direct sales force that could potentially be their competitor?”

Ferguson says brokers are beginning to catch on to the carriers’ plans and the control of benefit plans are coming back to the adviser. “These benefits are enhancing, but they also complement the existing benefits an employer already has,” Ferguson says. “Going direct to the employer and pushing product could land the carrier the account, but it will not last long term.”

Brokers have become the go to contact for employers on all aspects of benefits from product, to regulatory compliance, to implementation and engagement.

“Employers are hiring their broker to consult not to just sell a product,” Ferguson says. “For that reason, most of these accounts that have a broker, employers want them taking care of everything.”

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