Voluntary benefits have been a growing trend for almost 15 years. Recent surveys show employee-paid benefits are on the minds of brokers, employers and the workforce alike. According to a 2011 study by LIMRA, 30% of U.S. employers are considering adding a voluntary benefit to replace employer-paid and contributory benefits within the next two years - affecting between 19 million and 45 million employees. These numbers aren't surprising. Even with slight improvement in the U.S. unemployment rate, employers have responded to the poor economy and rising health care costs by making the tough decision to shift the costs of certain benefits to their employees.

As a producer, this challenging climate provides you with a tremendous opportunity to guide the transition from employer-funded benefits to a more consumer-centric approach. The benefits managers you partner with will see the value in reducing their benefits costs. Their employees will appreciate the ease of worksite enrollment for products that provide fundamental lifestyle protection.

Helping an employer transition from employer-paid to voluntary benefits requires an approach that's consultative and product savvy, which finds ways to ease the administrative burden on the employer and educate the person ultimately making the purchase - the employee.


Consider these questions

Since you'll be meeting the needs of various employer and employee audiences, it goes without saying that a one-size-fits-all voluntary strategy isn't recommended. Instead, it involves a careful assessment of your book of business to determine where you will have the best opportunities.

* How many of your accounts are considering reducing benefits packages?

* Are your clients' benefit plans competitive with the industry? To make their benefits package more robust, are they open to offering voluntary benefits?

* Has your client evaluated their entire benefits package holistically? A well-rounded benefit program should include the basics, such as life, disability and medical gap coverage that complement any employer-funded coverage.

Once you've targeted the right types of employers, the next step is careful planning with their benefits teams to ensure successful implementation and communication strategies. From there, a successful voluntary benefits program is ultimately defined by strong employee participation in the benefits being offered.

At The Hartford, we've seen success in voluntary benefits with employer clients who have an engaged and cooperative HR leadership team that's ready to partner with you and the insurance carrier. This means selecting the right products up front to meet the affordability demands of their employees, and offering you access to the data that will support enrollment.

On an industry level, we tend to measure baseline success when at least 35% of employees in a given enrollment cycle chose to sign up for benefits. Drivers of successful participation include:

* Targeted education campaigns- Your carrier should work with you to determine which segments of the employee population are the best targets for voluntary benefits. This analysis can be backed by a marketing campaign that includes dynamic educational tools accessible via email or intranet and supporting testimonials that affirm the buying decision.

* Communications- Discuss with your employer enrollment communications that give you access to employees via techniques such as group meetings, benefit fairs, and lunch and learns. This is especially important with employers that are geographically diverse or employ a range of shifts in multiple job bands.

* Simple and flexible enrollment- Be sure to explore whether paper or online enrollment best meets the employees' needs. Keep in mind specific groups, such as those who work remotely.

Market trends all point to voluntary benefits as a strong choice for brokers who are interested in growing their book of business.

Fish is VP of product, marketing and voluntary benefits for The Hartford's Group Benefits.

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