Voluntary Adviser of the Year: A hidden knack for the niche

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When Joe Alfonsi shifted careers and joined the insurance industry, the only position available was in voluntary benefits. Turns out, he had a knack for that niche.

During his 12 years at Unum, Alfonsi helped grow the company’s Philadelphia worksite benefits block from $1 million to more than $30 million. Alfonsi, EBA’s 2016 Voluntary Adviser of the Year, is also thriving on his own.

The firm he formed with two other partners, TriBen Insurance Solutions, Inc., saw more than 100% growth last year and is on track for another year of triple-digit growth.

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Alfonsi and his partners, Tino Russo and Brian Grandieri, formed TriBen in May 2013. Alfonsi’s firm, located in Media, Penn., focuses solely on non-medical insurance — voluntary employee benefits, disability, life, accidental death and dismemberment, absence management and employee engagement. The Affordable Care Act helped create a need for this niche, Alfonsi says.

“We felt with the increased attention to medical insurance and compliance, the attention, time and resources for the non-medical lines of coverage would take even more of a back seat,” he says. “We smelled opportunity. Opportunity in the form of expertise, especially within voluntary employee benefits and employee engagement.”

Prior to entering the insurance industry, Alfonsi served as a law enforcement officer for 10 years — a job that isn’t as different from employee benefits as one might think. “Both fields involve talking with people on a consistent basis with varying incomes, education, dialects, etc.,” Alfonsi says. “As a law enforcement officer, you had to adapt to your environment much like you do at an employee voluntary benefits enrollment.”

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When Alfonsi joined the voluntary market 15 years ago, nearly all employee benefits were employer-funded, and many plans were rich. Today, the picture is quite different.

“Companies are eliminating employer-funded STD and LTD at a steady pace and once generous life insurance benefits have turned into ‘enough to bury someone’ benefits,” Alfonsi says. “The opportunity for voluntary benefits is not just knocking, it is ramming down the door.”

The four A’s
So how can brokers excel in this space? By focusing on the four A’s — appropriate, affordable, ability to qualify and accessibility.
Appropriate: “You need to qualify your prospect with appropriate probing questions in order to avoid overlapping or unnecessary product offerings,” Alfonsi says.

Affordable: “In today’s marketplace, pricing is driving many voluntary benefit sales,” he says. “Most employers are paternalistic and want quality, affordable products for their employees. They do not want their employees overspending.”

Ability to qualify: “You can have the best available product in the marketplace and it could only cost $1, but if the employee cannot qualify for that product through underwriting health questions, it would all appear as window dressing,” Alfonsi says. “If you can secure a guaranteed acceptance underwriting offering and obtain waiver forms to protect all parties, you will have an overall more attractive voluntary benefits offering,” he adds.

Accessibility: “You can argue it is the most important and is the catalyst for a successful voluntary benefits program,” Alfonsi says. “When you secure employee access, everything else will fall in line.”

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Increasing participation is also key. This can be accomplished by simplifying the process, Alfonsi says. “Bring the enrollment to the employees through onsite enrollments, call centers and potentially even through online accessibility,” he says. “There should be multiple touch points whereby an employee can access and participate in voluntary benefits.

“Setting up an enrollment needs to be strategic,” Alfonsi adds. “If employees have to decipher or navigate through several communication channels or if it is a challenge to enroll in a voluntary benefit, they will not even bother. Employees need to be aware of the enrollment process through announcements and marketing pieces prior to the actual enrollment.”

Communication is key. “They need to be informed,” he says.

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