In a major sign of the ascendance of enhanced benefits (formerly known as voluntary benefits) and the mainstreaming of these supplemental products in the employee benefit market, consulting firm Aon Hewitt is acquiring benefits enrollment and communication firm Univers.

For years one of the dominant players in the benefits enrollment space, Univers itself is an example of how the enhanced benefits market is maturing. Benefits enrollment until the past decade was the province of mostly local and regional firms. Many in the industry mark 2008, when enrollment firm Custom Benefit Programs (CBP) sold to national brokerage USI and was rebranded Univers, as the advent of the first truly national enrollment firm.

Since Univers, we’ve seen the rise of several other large benefit communication and enrollment firms with a truly national footprint. Benefits communication and enrollment firms have become highly sophisticated and professional, reflecting the increasing integration of enhanced benefits into the employee benefits industry.

From the margins to the mainstream
As a consultant to Aon on their cross-sell initiative for what they call “elective” benefits, I saw up close the leadership’s commitment to integrating these benefits into their value proposition. Aon’s acquisition of Univers signals the importance Aon places on enhanced benefits.

And this is just the latest indication of the rapid move of enhanced benefits from the margins of the industry into the mainstream. National benefits firms including Mercer, Brown & Brown, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and Aon in recent years have launched major initiatives to cross-sell these supplemental benefits.

So while Aon’s purchase of Univers was a surprise, I wasn’t shocked. The acquisition is a logical next step for Aon as it builds out its capabilities around enhanced benefits. As a high-level executive at Univers pointed out to me, the Univers deal allows Aon to keep enhanced benefit enrollments in house, giving them control of the process while retaining 100% of the revenue.

The deal makes sense for Univers, too. With Aon’s strength in the large-group market, Univers gets a big infusion of large cases into their sales pipeline. And Univers will soon have Aon’s 1,500 or so consultants and advisers talking about their capabilities.

Aon’s acquisition of Univers is a marriage that makes a lot of sense for both parties. Moreover, it’s an exclamation point on the growing role of enhanced benefits in the EB market.

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