From carriers to brokers, enrollers to consultants, the message was the same to the more than 600 attendees gathered Tuesday in Atlantic City, N.J. for the Workplace Benefits Renaissance: Voluntary benefits are a mounting source of opportunity for those who are prepared to take advantage.

With health care reform and the economic downturn creating “the perfect storm,” LIMRA’s Pat Cronin explained how brokers’ “opebportunity is clearly in the voluntary benefit,” as employers cannot afford to continue to take on the cost of more group benefit offerings, said the assistant vice president for the research firm in a session on key trends in voluntary.

Ron Neyer, assistant research director for LIMRA, addressed specifics, pointing out that depending on company size, anywhere from 9% to 30% of employers are considering adding a new voluntary benefit in the next two years. “They’re going to need convincing to bring in some of the voluntary benefits they’ve been considering,” he said, adding that brokers should be encouraged since employers are still considering adding such benefits despite both the recession and uncertainty created by health care reform.

During the keynote presentation at the conference on the future of health care reform and the broker response, Denise Hanna, partner with Washington-based Locke Lord Strategies, called the federal government’s promotion of flexibility in establishing state exchanges “a blessing and a curse,” saying if the government wants the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be successful “we’re going to need significant marketing an education” — an opportunity for brokers to position themselves as indispensable experts.

Speaking on a panel addressing the role of brokers in the exchange environment, Rodger Bayne, vice president of sales and marketing for Group Benefit Services, echoed the sentiment. “The states fail to recognize all of the complexities of the marketplace and what brokers do to communicate these things,” he said.

However, in a session on how to set yourself apart from the competition Dan Robinson, president of White Plains, N.Y.-based Advanced Voluntary Concepts, warned brokers that they are “doomed to fail if you don’t realize you need an entirely different mindset, approach to selling” voluntary benefits, explaining that “voluntary is symbiotic, it’s communication, it’s strategy, it’s a long-term approach.”

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