The arrival of the Affordable Care Act may have caused some to expect that health insurance brokers serving the industry and small-group employers would become obsolete, but arguably licensed agents are more important than ever.

This is particularly true for the small employer market. In fact, the need for experienced professionals is actually accelerating. One main driver is the critical function brokers play in making emerging marketplaces and platforms such as government-run and private exchanges work in the first place.

Brokers, particularly those serving small businesses, are crucial to many successful public and private exchanges. That’s because they serve on the front line helping educate small business owners on all of their options, providing quotes for coverage, explaining benefits to employees, problem solving for owners or management and, most importantly, servicing the business during the coverage year by providing ongoing support.

Also see:9 rising trends in voluntary benefits.”

To address market demands, successful agents have everything to gain by placing a renewed focus on three key roles defining the broker-small business relationship:

1) Consumerism gurus: More than ever, small businesses need a guide, a specialist, an advocate and a problem solver to navigate the many marketplace options, including exchanges. In essence, employers need a consumerism guru. In the midst of so many options and so much change, brokers who can guide their clients will make the biggest impact.

2) Service providers: The ACA has been a catalyst for automating a variety of traditional broker functions such as plan comparisons, enrollment, physician selection and more. Yet, this trend is actually deepening the value of skilled agents. There are a number of reasons why, but they all track back to one vital factor: service. Brokers listen to the needs of each business, match those needs to the best marketplace options, provide quotes for coverage and place the business with the program that offer the best options.

3) Human interface: Several years ago, an IBM-commissioned poll of 1,000 U.S. consumers found an overwhelming preference for personalized service and human interaction from their insurance providers. While technology has enabled an explosion of online insurance marketplaces, brokers who can deliver service support to their customers will win out in the long term. When it comes to customer service, nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

A relevant future
Without a doubt, healthcare reform and government-sponsored exchanges have saturated the market with more options to choose from in the market, giving consumers the ability to really identify which solutions make sense for their business. This in itself presents an opportunity to all agents willing to take the time to educate their clients or potential customers and explain all of these options and define a program that best fits each individual client’s needs.

In the end, business owners want and need professionals who offer a healthcare coverage expertise and know-how, and in turn deliver service with personal touch. This is where smart, knowledgeable and service-oriented brokers and employee benefits specialists will thrive, today and in the future.

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