Brokers are quickly moving into the voluntary benefits segment and driving much of the growth in key products such as critical illness, accident and hospital indemnity. In addition, more carriers are adding voluntary benefits to their product portfolios.

While it may seem that new products in the voluntary space are late to the game, trailing in speed could mean surpassing the market in function. Many of these products have been strategically designed with a post-Affordable Care Act lens in mind. When determining their 2016 short list of voluntary product recommendations, I advise brokers to investigate the following areas:

1) Product philosophy. A few carriers have developed new voluntary products with an overarching principle in mind: simplicity. That doesn’t just mean that products and benefits are easy to explain to clients; carriers have also applied this belief to the entire experience for brokers and employers — including administration, enrollment and billing — to help make your day-to-day client interactions more seamless. 

2) Product mix. In my experience, HR decision-makers prefer fewer carriers with broader product portfolios. Insurance companies with a wide suite of products allow you and your clients to build a well-rounded benefit portfolio and at the same time minimize the number of carriers represented within an employer. This obviously favors carriers who can offer group and voluntary products within a single menu of insurance solutions.

3) Your support system. Some carriers are putting brokers and their clients at the center of their service model. Part of that model includes surrounding brokers with the same sales and support staff for traditional group products and for new voluntary products. This allows brokers to continue to work with sales reps and service employees they know and trust, as well as provides one point of contact for consistent support. 

4) Enrollment. Many carriers behind new voluntary products also have spent a lot of time thinking about enrollment solutions and communications to help increase participation and create a predictable and reliable customer experience. Enrollment is the first step toward simplified administration and a superior customer experience.

5) Administration. Another point to consider when building your short list of voluntary carriers is how products are billed to your client. Some new products come with integrated billing statements for multiple products. Combined billing can be a valuable convenience for you and your clients.    

6) Technology. Products developed recently also may leverage the latest technology and operating system platforms. Updated technology can be simpler and more functional than older platforms and software, making administration easier for you and your clients.

I tell brokers that the key to success in voluntary is the customer experience. The combination of strong products, well trained and responsive sales and service teams, flexible and user-friendly enrollment solutions, and sound administration will lead to a superior customer experience that satisfies brokers, employers and employees. 

Hammonds is vice president of specialty markets sales at Standard Insurance Company (The Standard). In his role, Hammonds leads the company’s voluntary benefits sales efforts, including private exchange partnerships and revenue. Hammonds has spent 27 years in the employee benefits industry, most recently as the regional vice president of sales for The Standard. Reach him at greg.hammonds@standard.com.

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