California Broker Magazine: The Role of Brokers in the 2023 Employee Benefits Market
3 ways brokers can help clients navigate workplace challenge
BY RICHARD SHAFFER
For brokers in the employee benefits market, 2020 accelerated and exploited trends, like virtual work, that were already slowly and steadily disrupting the market. Visiting worksites, hosting conference room benefits meetings, and conducting in-person enrollments were no longer possible. At the time, brokers generally fell into two primary camps: those who rolled with the punches, and those who clung to old ways. As we approach a new year, the same choice is in front of many brokers today.
Amid the pandemic, the former group of brokers — those who rolled with the punches — used technology to their advantage. Through tools like video conferencing and virtual enrollment platforms, these brokers quickly pivoted to meet their clients’ needs.
Smaller brokerages or independents who didn’t have access to such technologies adapted by leaning on insurance carriers with technology resources, or by merging with larger employee benefits brokerages. Currently, this is the most active merger and acquisition environment I’ve observed in my nearly two decades in the business. Throughout the pandemic challenges, these brokers were able to grow business, gain new clients and drive revenue as employers looked for ways to support and remain engaged with workers during those troubling times.
The brokers who clung to old ways, didn’t adapt to new technologies, didn’t seek solutions to new pain points, likely lost business and struggled to grow. As employers sought brokers who could meet their rapidly changing needs, those who didn’t pivot lost accounts and revenue.
NEW CHALLENGES IN 2023
In the past two years, new pressures have emerged because of macro issues, including the Great Resignation where record numbers of employees up-ended or changed their careers.
Labor shortages and economic uncertainty have also created a volatile world of work that employers are still figuring out and brokers today play an important role in helping employer clients overcome these challenges. Just like when the pandemic hit, brokers who rise to the challenge will mitigate their risk of receiving the dreaded broker of record (BOR) letter ending their engagement.
As 2023 comes into view and employers continue to set the bar high for brokers handling their business, here are three ways brokers can help clients navigate today’s workplace challenges.
1. Brokers should be equipped to service onsite, remote and hybrid employees.
Although much of society has opened back up, businesses in 2022 are still a mixed bag of remote, onsite and hybrid work. According to a Gallup study, “The Future of Hybrid Work,” 53% of remote-capable employees expect a hybrid work arrangement, while 24% expect to work exclusively remotely. This is nearly double the number compared to pre- pandemic numbers. Brokers must be equipped to help employers engage with onsite and remote employees, so an effective engagement plan is key and should include:
Multi-layer communication to get employees engaged and ready for enrollment, including voice broadcasts, videos, text messages and emails.
- Ways to provide a personal experience at scale despite the various places employees work.
- Virtual or onsite personal benefits support sessions that help employees understand their options.
- Online enrollment guided by benefits educators or via self-service.
2. Brokers should offer robust products that go beyond the basics.
During the Great Resignation, millions of America’s workers quit their jobs. One study from the Pew Research Center cites that nearly a quarter of workers who resigned in 2021 say that benefits were a major reason why they left. As companies struggle to find and keep talent, brokers should focus on offering clients a robust suite of products that go beyond the basics, including voluntary benefits. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “nearly three-quarters of employees agree they’re more likely to work for an employer that offers employee-paid voluntary benefits, including critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity, disability income, or accident insurance.”
Voluntary benefits allow employees to fill the gaps in core benefits they receive, which is important in a climate of financial uncertainty. Unlike major medical insurance, voluntary benefits are paid directly to employees, not doctors or hospitals. Employees can use the benefits to help cover the out-of-pocket costs left by major medical insurance, such as deductibles, co-pays, coinsurance, noncovered treatments and everyday living expenses. Voluntary benefits also allow employees to curate a healthcare plan that caters to their unique needs. While younger generations of employees may be drawn to accident insurance or hospital indemnity, older generations may gravitate more toward cancer or heart/stroke coverage. Employees may also consider their unique family medical history when deciding to opt into coverage.
In addition to voluntary benefits, brokers can help employers attract and retain talent by adding non insurance products to their lineup. Identity theft protection, telemedicine and caregiver resources are just a few examples of services that are trending in the employee benefits market today.
3. Brokers should focus on benefits education, advocacy and transparency.
Nearly one-third of America’s workers admit they don’t fully understand any of the employee benefits they selected during their most recent enrollment period, according to an article by SHRM titled, “Employees Want Voluntary Benefits but Don’t Always Understand Them.” It’s only a benefit if employees understand it, which is why it’s crucial to include these strategies for your clients:
- One-on-one conversations with benefits educators can help guide employees through the complexities of healthcare benefits during the open enrollment An individualized approach ensures employees have an enhanced awareness, knowledge and appreciation of their benefits.
- Comprehensive benefits advocacy and education helps inform employees about their benefits AND how to use them when the need arises. Advocacy programs can help employees make the most of their coverage by helping them find providers, resolve claims and more.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IN 2023?
Times are changing for employers and employees. Brokers are called upon to be more sophisticated, educated, and involved in the benefits process. Whether you have the resources to rise to the challenge or lean on a trusted partner to help you deliver, your business will reap the rewards of helping employers overcome their challenges.
Senior Vice President, Optavise
Richard is a seasoned leader in the employee benefits industry, with 25 years’ experience in sales and distribution, enrollment, and voluntary benefits. He is responsible for Optavise’s career agency and independent partner distribution and sales.