The mid-size market is a bright spot for voluntary sales in an otherwise stagnant economy, according to LIMRA research.

While the number of overall voluntary benefit offerings remained steady during the recession, products were more readily available to employers with 100 to 199 employees compared to 2002 numbers, says Ron Neyer, assistant research director, LIMRA product research.

"Marketing to larger firms is challenging due to saturation and small firms often are less focused on benefits and offer a smaller pool of warm prospects," he says. "Mid-size firms, looking to be more competitive, are interested in finding ways to expand their benefit package without adding cost to their business."

Additionally, brokers looking to take advantage of this market would be advised to focus on younger workers because research shows they are more engaged in learning about various benefits.

Although LIMRA found some signs that the recession may have damaged the short-term outlook for voluntary benefits, a few reasons to be optimistic include:

• since 2007, voluntary participation rates products have held relatively steady

• more than 40% of businesses surveyed may add a new voluntary benefit by 2013

• employers report high satisfaction with existing voluntary benefits

A separate Aflac report found two out of three workers would purchase additional health insurance benefits to make sure they are protected. Nearly 60% of respondents said they would acquire voluntary insurance.

"About half of the workers we surveyed said they're already struggling with financial stress," says Audrey Tillman, EVP of corporate services at Aflac. "It shows how close to the edge many people are and how an unexpected accident or illness could make things even more challenging, financially."

If employees encountered a high out-of-pocket expense due to an unexpected illness, 44% say they would have to borrow money from friends or family, use their retirement savings or borrow via a credit card. The Aflac report stems from an online survey of more than 2,000 benefits decision makers and more than 4,000 U.S. workers conducted by Harris Interactive.

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