Face-to-face enrollment remains the best means of educating employees on their benefits, especially in the under-100 market. But the online enrollment methodology I will explain does get participation in voluntary equal to worksite enrollments, is ideal for enrollments where benefit counselors are not allowed or desired at the worksite, and doubles the broker’s net commission on voluntary.

Most benefit brokers agree that worksite voluntary benefits must play a major role in post-reform agency strategy. So why haven’t WVB sales exploded beyond single-digit annual growth? In my February column I discussed the three key breakdown points in the sales process that are holding back the growth of worksite voluntary benefits:

1) Payroll deduction of premium

2) Enrollers in the workplace

3) Unfavorable commission splits to enroll the case

Last month, I wrote about the new premium direct deposit method for premium collection that brokers across the country are using to end all payroll deduction for the employer while still drawing on employee paychecks for reliable premium payment. No more list bills, no more reconciliation, no more billing problems. After reading my column, an executive at a leading voluntary carrier called me to exclaim, “This is going to revolutionize the industry!” Yes, it is.

This month, I want to share with you another revolutionary innovation: online enrollment that gets participation in the voluntary as good as or better than one-on-one enrollment meetings at the worksite — while letting brokers keep twice as much of the voluntary commission.

Enroller breakdown point

For many brokers and employers, the need for enrollers in the workplace to educate and enroll employees in voluntary benefits has been the biggest breakdown point in the WVB sale.

Until now, having enrollers meet one-on-one with employees at the worksite has been the only effective way to sell voluntary benefits. Broad employee participation in voluntary happens only when a benefit is presented, explained and its value proposition demonstrated in the context of the employee’s own personal situation.

Effective benefit communication remains the essential ingredient in the sale of WVB to the employee. Before he will buy, the employee has to be educated on the benefits.

Online self-service enrollment initially was seen as the answer to enrollers in the workplace. Yet, while self-service enrollment is extremely efficient, it hasn’t been at all effective in terms of educating the employee or driving participation in the voluntary offering. This is the difference between today’s abysmal 5%-10% participation in online enrollments and the 30%-60% participation or better in one-on-one worksite enrollments. Online self-serve enrollment has failed to communicate — and sell — voluntary benefits effectively. Until now.

Advanced benefit communication capabilities allow an online enrollment system, for the first time, to combine efficient self-service enrollment with effective benefit communication. This superior benefit communication is achieved through the use of high-level decision support that features a latest-generation avatar — a computer-generated, on-screen representation of a human or a character — in this case, a virtual benefit counselor (VBC).

Using a human voice (best practice as opposed to a computer-generated voice), an avatar VBC brings the warmth of humanity to the cold efficiency of online enrollment, literally putting a friendly human face to an otherwise sterile process. This high-touch approach can produce strong sales in a high-tech environment.

While many avatars are ineffective and sometimes even creepy, the best avatars are highly engaging, like the best human benefit counselors.

The best VBCs are compelling, compliant, multilingual, intelligent and always pleasant … in other words, the perfect benefit counselor. Unlike most video-based or older-generation virtual enrollers found on some self-serve enrollment platforms, the best VBCs are smart avatars, driven by an artificial intelligence engine. These VBCs can interact with employees like a human enroller to obtain needed information and to answer employee questions.

Perhaps most important, the best VBCs are not mere stand-alone technology but are available from enrollment firms that provide brokers with a complete and comprehensive enrollment solution. Supported by effective pre-enrollment communication campaigns, the best VBCs use enrollment best practices, proven presentation scripts, and video and slideshows to educate on the products and advise and guide the employee through the benefit election and enrollment process.

When worksite enrollment won’t work

The reality is that one-on-one worksite enrollments remain the most versatile and effective method for educating employees, selling insurance and providing value-added services for the employer. And one-on-one will remain the most viable enrollment method for smaller groups. But when traditional one-on-one enrollment meetings are not acceptable or feasible — for example, with larger and multi-state/multi-location employers — online self-service enrollment guided by the VBC is the ideal method for enrolling WVB.

For employers who currently use the online enrollment platform on their HRIS, ben admin, or payroll system, the best VBCs can easily bolt on to the existing enrollment platform, providing employees with an educational enrollment experience on all benefits, sending the carrier the WVB data feed and generating strong participation in the voluntary.               

Enrollments conducted by a VBC provide employees consistent and compliant presentations of voluntary and other benefits. The VBC is always punctual and friendly, is available 24/7/365, never strays from the script, never hard sells and never creates a problem for the broker or employer.

By providing consistent and compliant performance and reliability, a VBC eliminates the employer’s fears about putting enrollers in front of her employees — a primary sales breakdown point for many employers, and their brokers, who worry about losing the BOR on the medical from a botched worksite enrollment.

Results that rival worksite enrollments

The most important test of any online benefit enrollment system is results. In this case, participation in the voluntary offering and premium sold. Low participation has been, until now, the fatal flaw in self-serve enrollment systems.

Online self-service enrollments featuring a VBC have produced participation — and premium — rivaling the most successful one-on-one worksite enrollments. Actual case studies demonstrate the effectiveness of self-serve enrollment guided by a VBC. The high-level guidance and decision support can drive participation of 40% or higher. One leading online enrollment firm, HelpMeEnroll, generates a minimum of 40% participation in voluntary benefits, and has exceeded 90%.

For the first time, an online self-service enrollment can efficiently enroll an employee in the benefits while effectively educating and advising the employee, presenting the benefits and producing strong participation and premium.

Too often, a broker’s WVB premium opportunity is squandered by ineffective enrollment at the worksite. Now, using a VBC in an online self-service enrollment, brokers are no longer at the mercy of inconsistent production from worksite enrollers.

Both employers and their brokers have embraced online self-service enrollment as the new benefit enrollment standard. At long last, thanks to the VBC, the voluntary benefit industry can embrace this new enrollment paradigm fully without sacrificing premium production and commissions.

By providing an effective solution to the key breakdown point of enrollers in the workplace, the VBC creates a new paradigm for benefit enrollment, moving the industry closer to engaging heretofore out-of-reach producers and employers and, thus, to explosive growth of the WVB market.

The labor-intensive process of highly-trained enrollers meeting one-on-one with employees in the workplace and managing that complex process has driven the high cost to the broker of getting a WVB case enrolled. Enrollments are expensive projects and, along with a fair profit for the enrollment firm, left the agency netting roughly a third of the WVB commission. In a time when a benefit firm desperately needs to replace lost medical commissions, enrolling with a VBC lets the broker keep far more of the voluntary commissions.

A VBC enrollment eliminates the key breakdown point of unfavorable commission splits to enroll the case. Many brokers over the years have rejected WVB due to the commission split with the enrollment firm — choosing 100% of nothing rather than 25%-30% of the commission. VBC enrollments can more than double the broker’s share of the voluntary commission. The explanation of the enrollment economics that ends this breakdown point is short and sweet.

The cost of enrolling the WVB case at the worksite greatly reduces broker comp. Voluntary cases enrolled by a VBC are far more cost effective than a traditional worksite enrollment, eliminating the costly per diems and travel expenses for human enrollers and case managers. With a VBC enrollment, the broker can net from 50% up to 70% of the WVB commission, often doubling the 25%-35% share commonly earned by the broker.

Enrolling with a virtual benefit counselor, brokers can begin to realize the true potential of a voluntary revenue stream.

Brokers now have the necessary tools to explode their voluntary benefits sales by eliminating the three key breakdown points in the WVB sales process. The VBC and premium direct deposit together can dispose of the two breakdown points that most often cause employers to refuse WVB and that most threaten the broker’s BOR. And a case enrolled by the VBC can double the broker’s net commission on the voluntary.

The VBC and its high-level decision support ensure consistent and successful enrollment of the voluntary with high participation and premium while dramatically boosting net commissions to the broker. Premium direct deposit ends payroll deduction for the employer and improves agency cash flow by producing predictable commission payment timing and increases agency profit by enhancing the conservation of premium.

The bold, progressive agency that moves decisively to adopt these innovations for their voluntary benefit practice will change the rules of the game to dominate their market and dramatically increase market share, sales and profits. EBA

Griswold, an EBA columnist, is an agency growth consultant and author of DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success. His Agency Growth Mastermind Network helps agency leaders reform-proof their firm. Reach him at (615) 656-5974, nelson@insurancebottomline.com or through 21stCenturyAgency.com.

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