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Seeing Around the Corner to 5 Trends in Voluntary Benefits

Life is just plain easier when you can see what’s ahead of you. That’s what Mike Myatt, author and Forbes contributor, says about predicting the future.

Myatt goes on to say that some leaders clearly have poor vision – their most polished skill seems to be running into brick walls. Other leaders possess adequate vision – they avoid the obvious speed bumps, but fail to stand out from the crowd. Then there are those leaders who possess legendary vision – the rare few who can see around corners. What you may not realize, he points out, is that everyone can learn to see around corners, and it’s not as hard as you think.

This year, health insurance producers who have branched out into benefits will be more valuable to their clients and will see their revenue stream increase at the same time. Seeing around the corners in the benefits industry this year involves focusing on the emerging trends in voluntary benefits.

The substantial role that voluntary benefits will play for employers and their employees is second only to health care reform in what’s happening in employee benefits this year. Both traditional and nontraditional voluntary benefits are making their way to the forefront of the benefits package that employers offer.

Voluntary benefits are no longer a “nice to have” added to the employee benefits package by progressive employers. Voluntary benefits are an essential component of the benefits program in order to attract and retain employees. Producers who offer a variety of voluntary benefits in their product portfolio are helping employers provide benefits that create not only more productive, engaged and empowered workers, but also an increased bottom line. In addition to helping their clients meet their human resource objectives, these producers are increasing their earnings potential by expanding their product portfolio.

Here are five emerging trends in voluntary benefits this year that producers should have on their radar.


1. Voluntary Benefits are Indispensable

Voluntary benefits are now a “must have” and are indispensable in the employee benefits program.  Whether employers choose to offer compliant group health insurance or send their employees to the health care exchanges, voluntary benefits will come to the forefront as a solution to round out the employee benefits package under health care reform.

As a result, a wider array of traditional voluntary benefits will be included in the employee benefits package. Among the traditional voluntary benefits employers will add are gap coverage, short-term disability, cancer, critical illness, prescription, dental, life insurance and hospital supplemental policies. Producers should make sure they have these products in their portfolios. 


2. Employees are Asking for Them

Employees like voluntary benefits. Employees ask for voluntary benefits and want to be able to choose from an assortment of these benefits to meet their diverse needs.

Employee benefits are an important driver of employee satisfaction. Well-designed benefits plans, based on employee desires and needs, enable companies to strengthen their ability to attract and retain workers. More than three-quarters of employees responding to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2013 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey said that the benefits package an employer offers prospective employees is extremely or very important in their decision to take the job.

Employees already are speaking out in favor of voluntary benefits to meet their diverse personal needs. A TNS Omnibus survey reported that 86 percent of employees say it is important to be able to customize all of their benefits to fit their individual lifestyle. With voluntary benefits, employees can customize their benefits package and choose what suits their individual needs.  They can build a financial safety net by adding on traditional voluntary insurance products as well as nontraditional voluntary benefits such as employee purchase programs, financial education, pet insurance, legal plans and identity theft policies.


3. Nontraditional is Becoming Mainstream

While many employers are familiar with traditional voluntary benefits, this past year has seen nontraditional voluntary benefits offered more frequently in employee benefits packages. A recent Eastbridge Consulting survey shows 13 percent of employees have selected employee purchase programs as a voluntary benefit offered through their work; 8 percent selected legal plans, 3 percent selected identity protection and 1 percent selected pet insurance.  Eastbridge notes that ownership of these products is low because many of these have only recently begun to be accepted as employee benefits.

Look for ownership of nontraditional benefits to increase this year. Nontraditional voluntary benefits offer workers a way to obtain items and services through convenient payroll deduction. Most of the nontraditional offerings provide immediate tangible benefits that further increase their appeal, as they can be used year-round to obtain something that an employee needs or wants, rather than many core benefits that employees appreciate only when they are sick or injured. Nontraditional voluntary benefits such as group legal plans, financial planning and employee purchase programs will continue to grow in popularity as viable financial-support tools.


4. Financial Wellness Benefits will be Popular

Employees’ financial problems are employers’ problems too. This is because employees not only bring their financial problems to the workplace in the form of stress, but they also deal with their financial issues during business hours. If employers want their workers to be focused on their jobs, then they have to consider how to help their employees with their finances.

A growing number of companies have discovered that they can build employees’ loyalty, increase their productivity and improve job satisfaction by providing programs that help them attain financial wellness. Many employers have discovered no-cost and easy-to-implement options to help employees develop healthier relationships with money. They are offering financial education and financial wellness programs at work to help employees take control of their financial future and increase their financial literacy with on-site money management, financial planning seminars and employee purchase programs. 


5. Nontraditional will Continue to Expand

Over the past few years, the types of nontraditional voluntary benefits available on the market have diversified. Expect to see more expansion in the types of available benefits this year.  

Among the latest nontraditional voluntary benefits are financial planning and online educational services, including college courses, certifications and career development, and even specialized courses for health care professionals. Empowering employees with educational benefits can be a valuable addition to the benefits package. Look for more of these to emerge this year, such as Graduate Management Admission Test prep and Graduate Medical Education courses offered on the educational side. Also coming will be affordable solutions to support work-life balance, such as vacations.

Producers who embrace the emerging trends in voluntary benefits this year will, indeed, be seeing around the corners. By bringing the emerging trends to the table with their clients, these producers are doing more than simply presenting a variety of products to their clients. They are helping employers meet their HR objectives by improving recruitment and retention as well as the bottom line. In the process, producers will add to their own revenue stream.

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