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State of the Union II: Reflecting on COVID-19’s impact on the voluntary marketplace

Matt 00:05

Hello, and welcome to Assurity's Focus on Voluntary Benefits. I'm your host, Matt. Today, we're concluding our second year by speaking to Eastbridge Consulting Group about the state of the voluntary benefits industry, by welcoming back their president, Nick Rockwell. Nick joined Eastbridge in 2016 and has led consulting projects for insurance and non-insurance clients alike. He's also a frequent contributor to industry events and BenefitsPRO. We were lucky enough to have him on the show for the first time last year to discuss enrollment strategies. And now he's back to shed new light on positioning for the upcoming season. It's been an unprecedented 18 months, and a lot has changed since we last spoke, so we're excited to hear the latest from Nick and Eastbridge. Nick, great to have you return to the show. And thanks for joining us today.

Nick 00:50

Absolutely. Thank you guys so much for having us on and putting these conversations out into the market because we all need to be talking and communicating with all the change that's going on in our industry.

Matt 01:01

Absolutely. And it's truly our pleasure to host you and the rest of the Eastbridge crew. So let's get into the conversation for today. And let's talk about benefits in 2021. Do you think that employers are approaching benefits differently this year? And what are your thoughts as to how this year's enrollment season might be different from how it's been in the past?

Nick 01:22

Yeah, you know, the whole, the whole market was changing rapidly before and COVID has obviously changed every industry out there. And this one is, is no different. And I'm sure we'll hit on some of the unique things in particular to benefits. But you know, getting into that question, the first thing that comes to mind, it actually looks at the broker level first, and it's just the first quick peek at last year, right in terms of outcomes. So we did a broker survey, as we always do in the spring, we found that about 1/3 of enrollment, 1/3 of brokers rather, saw enrollment activity decreased, while another third saw an increase. So I think the reality is that some were better prepared than others for the changes that everybody faced, right. And just as some carriers were better prepared to pivot than others, that's very similar to the metrics you would see looking at carrier sales from last year, overall, the industry was down. But when you peel the onion, and you look at it, you realize, well, the reality is a lot of the carriers at the top end of the market that produce some of the most MVAP did have an off year, but many others had banner years. So there's, there's a lot of stories that need to be looked at, at sort of the micro level. And I think that was one of the big tales coming out of kind of last year. So as we look forward to this year, and obviously we're kind of in the throes of decision making and getting into enrollment season. I think, for many brokers, you know, the first win is going to be just getting back to addressing what new programs might make sense for a given group. We know that last year, one of the big challenges was quote activity. So you could look at broker interest in any involuntary employer employee. And I think broker interest remained the same, but as an employer ability to weed through the myriad of HR challenges that COVID and just the whole world was facing last year, in order to install new programs, there's that cooling level that that really had a challenge implementations and enrollments, I think we're a mixed bag some very good better than others and, and others not so good. But we know the quote, activity really did seem to, to suffer. And then you know, this year once we're actually passed now, right, that's the case, kind of more the case, selection of product, if you will, and we're into the enrollment implementation phase. And hopefully, the first thing that will happen this year is things will just be less chaotic. You know, for years, we've been talking about getting more strategic at the implementation level, you know, for so many brokers that are that make up the sales and voluntary benefits, it's not their bread and butter, employer paid products were their bread and butter. So getting that structure right in and built out the right way is something that has been a definite learning curve for many. And then you throw something like we all experienced into it last year that, you know, I think a lot of the structure and strategic nature that we might wish for or aim for was lost. So hopefully we can get back to, to just seeing some of that get back on board as a as an overall new, new direction. In level setting. I think in general, we're going to see that the industry bounce back or we can see sales numbers bounce back just simply from that case level. You know, coding level picking back up. Now we really have to think about you know, how do we get the right implementation strategies adopted and then ultimately execute on those for implementation participation.

Matt 04:53

So yeah, big issues are gonna be facing some people going this year but I think we all share hope that it'll be a little bit less chaotic.

Nick 05:01


Matt 05:02

So with that change that theme of change. And you mentioned some of the HR challenges that employers are facing or have been facing. How have you seen employers change their employee benefit strategies over the past year in response to some of these challenges?

Nick 05:14

Yeah, you know, if I'm being perfectly honest, out of the gate, you know, my biggest fear is that I think everybody started the year with this sort of attitude of, okay, well, this year, we're just going to change everything, COVID, over and all that kind of stuff. And look, the reality is, as the year’s gone on, we know that many metrics have picked back up. But we also know that the world isn't necessarily back to where it was. And what that means is a continued array of distractions for people. So you know, my cautiously optimistic view about everything, I think, very much on the optimism side is that employers know, these products are more valuable than ever. I think brokers truly do. And I think employers are coming around to that when they get the opportunity to be appropriately educated about them. But I do have a bit of a fear that this is the year we're going to see the mountains of change. You know, last year was tough on the industry, we suffered from that lack of, quote, volume, I think that re enrollments, and anybody who did get a chance to, to launch new products, maybe did see strong participation, but there are many corners in the industry that, that were really just looking to pick up on those factors. So, you know, my, my take on things is that I think you're gonna find a lot of employers coming back to this and kind of recognizing value in a different way. But you are still gonna have many corners that are facing a whole host of of, you know, really true employer level issues that maybe transcend some of the volunteer things that they'd like to do, and that we'd like to see them doing. So I think a lot of the status, the strategies are going to change, you're going to revolve around education, getting people more understanding, I think there's a lot of technologies that are surfacing in the last year, different approaches to benefit communication, that I think are very promising. But we're still, we're still having to wade through I think a lot of that distraction in the industry and, and just need to be cautiously optimistic and understanding that trying to get everybody into a full strategic view that we were working on years ago, just in our kind of first year back here may take a little bit of time.

Matt 07:23

So sticking on the topics of employers and all the distractions, as you said, that are facing them right now. What do you see as their current priorities in regard to voluntary benefits?

Nick 07:34

Yeah, you know, I think the good news when it comes to the priorities of the HR community, is that, you know, we're seeing more and more that people really recognize that these products are there for lifetime notes, right. And nothing demonstrated that more than last year. And I think the opportunity for people to look at these in a different light, particularly that HR suite that in the past, I think we've many, we're still skeptical, and there's a there's a pretty decent contingent of that committee, they're skeptical that these are just products that maybe people buy, but do they use? Do they remember they have, etc. And, you know, statistics aside and not getting into increases related to COVID, or anything like that, from just a general perspective, we know that everybody experienced a huge unknown last year, and there was a lot of medical impact healthcare impact from that. And I think that's something that is going to translate into this and in effect priorities around education, because that still remains at the employee level, just that most crucial piece of the equation is helping people understand that when they hear accident product, right, or critical illness product, that their gut reaction is, oh, I already have health insurance, I'm good. Right? That they recognize that that's Yeah, separate issues, right. You know, they address different problems and work very well together and should be implemented together and should be, you know, one should have the consideration for the other more features and riders etc. A lot of that to do, but getting that consumer view to look different. So I you know, I, I am hopeful that a year like last year, for the HR suite has really been able to come back and say, you know, these programs, we need to look at all of these programs to round out the gaps in people's life. They recognize that education issue in a different way, and that we just all experience something that shouldn't be a driving, driving reason to focus on this.

Matt 09:43

I think that's a that's a great point. And it really aligns with what we've seen across the board, just much more interest in insurance of all kinds from employers and employees alike. So I think that actually makes for a phenomenal segue into our into our next topic here. Many of us In the worksite benefit market have been saying for years that our products aren't supplemental, as the name suggests, but essential, and really need to be a part of an employer's overall benefit plan. So with COVID, putting that spotlight, as you mentioned, on benefits and the out of pocket costs that are continuing to create real financial issues, for employees, it feels like the message is finally starting to get out there. So do you expect employers and employees to be more enthusiastic about voluntary benefits as a result of the pandemic?

Nick 10:31

Yeah, we definitely do. Right. I mean, a lot of the reasons that, that I was just talking through there, but you know, the first piece of that evidence, evidence wise that I would point to is, we did a survey of employers to try and get at that very topic. You know, what, what, where does voluntary fit on these videos, you know, sort of during the throes of everything last year, but one of the most interesting data points that came out of it was that many expected higher than a very large percentage expected higher participation from employees. And you can read a lot of different things from data, but that clearly tells you that the respondents are looking at the products and connecting the dots right appropriately and say, Hey, people must be thinking this, that that individual mind frame must be changing that, you know, gosh, I don't know where all my blind spots are in life. And this is everything that we're all experiencing as it is, as a really global community right now tells us that so, you know, I do think that this is, is a really good way to look at it, that it's not just a supplemental type of thing, but it really is essential to protecting yourself, at the end of the day, that's, that's really something that should, should start to take root more and more, if you think about, you know, our industry, that really is a unique thing that every industry is impacted. Right, but this industry, in particular has the ability to reflect on that impact in a way that says, that was really kind of proof positive, right, that we need to be thinking about things that can fill gaps in, in, in play, play to where people's blind spots are. So, you know, we absolutely believe that the industry is going to going to turn around, there's just so many different layers to that, I think this year, we're gonna see a lot of that, quote, volume, a lot of different technologies being implemented, I think there's just a lot of other kind of strategic planning factors into that details basis that, I wonder if it isn't going to take a little bit more time for everybody to get back to focusing on and implementing that really just leads to, you know, the next out years, being really banner year.

Matt 12:50

So as a result of this increased consumer appetite, are more brokers proactively selling voluntary products?

Nick 12:57

Absolutely. You know, we definitely have seen over the years, brokers have been steadily growing their introduction of voluntary benefits, sales, you know, most used to use this as a kind of a cross selling, you know, way to talk to existing clients, people that they already knew, and maybe as an add on, also ran type of type of conversation. And now we're seeing that move much more towards a strategic discussion. One where people are even using this to open doors and introduce to new clients as a part of a of a new case sale. So we've seen that change more and more over the years, and this year, you know, we see a pretty steady stair step in the right direction, with all of that. So we see people making this much more a part of their day to day conversation rather than sort of an afterthought. You see that in terms of word carriers are saying quote, volume, which months of the year, these conversations are having with the selling season begins and ends. And brokers are definitely continuing to look at these products in a different light.

Matt 14:11

With great to see voluntary, just making up a bigger part of the brokers everyday business, that's a very encouraging sign for the industry. So let's move on and talk about enrollment itself. Big question, and I'm sure a lot of our audiences is very eager to hear about it. But the pandemic obviously impacted how plans enroll, and we've talked with Ginger and Bonnie and some of our past episodes here about how it pushed brokers to online and self-service methods of enrollment. Is that a trend that you envision continuing and have employer expectations of brokers changed as a result since the start of the pandemic?

Nick 14:47

Yeah, absolutely. It's a great topic. So, you know, I think employers are definitely waking up to the fact that this is this this concept of voluntary programming is not just about the products The reality is for all the importance of product features and benefits, when a carrier is selected, and the specific programs installed, the billing, the claims, administration, etc., you know, are what the employer is actually going to live with month after month. Right. So this has to be something where an employer now expects more and more, and has confidence that the brokers has confidence in all aspects of programming. And that is going to include vetting carriers, that's also to include your vetting out other technology and support beyond that. Now, the impact moving to self-service and online methods has had on participation, you know, the data we have suggests that self-service has increased over time. This is it has really been something of a pendulum swing with lower participation numbers, compared to other methods in early years of that approach, right. But growth in recent time. So you can probably attribute a number of factors to that, you know, over the years, we've tried to introduce as an industry, more and more educational tools that would replace the fact that in the Self Service, we're not getting access for education to the employee to address things and try and have that either face to face or group meetings or, or other tools that are still definitely used in many circles, but don't have the widespread use that they used to do. We've seen everything from videos used right to, you know, more of a question and answer-based approach in recent time to kind of the people thinking that we can make a recommendation to them decision tooling, and some of those types of things. And at the end of the day, all of those, all of those things have led to self-service increasing. I think that one of the things we have to be mindful, as an industry about though, is some of those may still leave somebody making a decision that is good for them. Ultimately, having the protection that they invested in may very well be a good thing. But do they truly understand it? And that's always been a question at the mine level. But I think it's also now possible that some of these approaches, we have a buyer who's confident in their decision, but do they really understand when they have the benefits going to be applicable? Right? Do they know when the draw on it? Is it something that they remember, when the times is necessary? and needed? Those are all the other sides of this? A true education a true understanding of what I bought and all the instances in which it might be needed? Or is there some sort of trigger to drive me back to that? So I think a lot of those are some of the new factors that we're facing is that we have been able to make self service enrollment, something that participation is coming back up. But there's, you know, all kinds of other factors piling on to what might be generating increased participation over time, we have to continue to look through that lens of what if we could really get everybody to understand truly the application, the gap that they're going to experience, because we see all the time, you know, inside a group, group with very similar demographics, income, all those different factors. But you have certain people buying and not others, you know, you have really every reason that you see similar purchases, but ultimately it boils down to that, that human nature, and there could be reasons inside them, one of which still is just that that true understanding of where their blind spots are.

Matt 18:36

It's really illustrative of the continued need for educational tools, especially for these virtual or self service enrollments. That's something that I know we assured you've been very focused on over this last year, just providing those to our brokers.

Nick 18:49


Matt 18:51

So you mentioned participation there. And that's something I want to briefly talk about. I think you alluded to the fact that it's gone up, but what impact has moving to self service and online methods had on enrollment participation?

Nick 19:04

The original impact was not great. You know, years ago, when you first started hearing about people just kind of checking the box on things. Their own is voluntary was becoming a more widespread part of the benefits offering, you were really in a lot of instances left to App ticker type situations, right situations where the I mean, I remember 15-16 years ago, we'd have to see some of our my then company's voluntary amendments that they were rolling out. It was literally sort of like a radio button, right? It was online because we were big enough company, but it was a radio button and I'm looking around going, where's What is the problem? It's like, I don't even know what this is, you know, you're giving me an option to choose from some pricing and it's got a name here, but I just chose the medical and our nine, aren't I good? And since then, leap forward, now you've got huge advances in how All the products can be presented. But you also have dozens and scores of companies in this space, in that benefit administration enrollment, election taking environment, whether it be through a broker with a homegrown system and really focuses on that, or you know, HR is system who's added to this to more of their employers suite or payroll system, or a true, you know, kind of a true more employee centric system that was born out of the idea of let's make self service enrolling better, and then now you even have overlays. products that aren't the true management system, you can't call them that they are a different tool that is not trying to compete with the installation of those services, but they're meant to enhance them, right, something that can be plugged in and applied at that product level to create better education. And many of those are our two new to point for me to point to and say, you know, yeah, they're wildly reshaping participation, I think all of them just intuitively, are aimed at better decision support, better understanding, whether it be video tools and those types of things. You know, at the end of the day, I think some of the things that are, are still so important, that get missed with all of these different tools, and it's particularly important in a self service enrollment is just the working conditions, in general, the overall structure of a benefit, roll out that an employer and the broker deciding on and oftentimes there is, it's very easy to see the the case gets sold, and it was a very feature was very product centric, sale. And then later, as we're getting implementation, maybe some of those conditions are being tackled. I'll give you an example. Something like an active election, you know, getting an employer to agree to a situation where the benefits being offered have some sort of active election declination to them. Well, anybody who's gone through an enrollment like that, in a moment like that is probably enjoy projecting wildly different results from it. Because when you ask somebody to make an election, and he kind of forced that decision, or really want them to go on the record saying yes or no, it changes the mindset, right, it changes the thinking. But the reality with that, is it needs to be talked about earlier in the year. You know, I think that's one that for my money, I would say, have that conversation before you choose products, let's talk about the structure of how we're going to engage open enrollment is your Mr. or Mrs. employer, and then we'll get in to the products because regardless of which products we choose, we should be looking at the value of how we educate about them. But what seems to happen more often than not, is those conversations get had, right as we're getting into implementation, and there might be more people that need to weigh in on that happen. Systems becoming You know, there's other there's other conversations there that that we could have been having sooner. So you know, when it comes to self service for me, if you want to have success with that, having some of those dialogues before products, such as earlier in the year, when we're framing it more strategically, is is an important thing. And we've seen that play out a lot with you know, some of the rise in self service increasing.

Matt 23:27

So, so very much rides on communication and a lot of these situations. And it almost goes without saying that a with a decent portion of the workforce now working remotely, there's an almost stronger need for communication in these circumstances. So do you think that Ben admin technology is going to be more of a priority for employers, particularly smaller employers, and upcoming enrollments compared to how it has been in the past?

Nick 23:53

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that trend in this direction is, I think four groups now of all sizes. Right. So I mean, the Ben admin conversation for years has, has been that started with the very, really the largest groups getting access, and it's gone down market over time. And I think you can find options at any end of the market now. Depending on really how you want to you want to tackle it, and what pieces of technology you're looking for from it. Is it just the enrollment portion? Are there other pieces, there's, there's vendors for all of that it can all enter the market. But I think, you know, the other factor in all this that I think is going to be new, because employers have been making these investments, right, they've been making these decisions. I think one of the things that will hopefully see continued increases, leveraging kind of the totality of their systems. So I think there's still a lot of trends and I imagine a lot of the our friends in the management community would say, you know, they can do more than maybe their clients offer more and have more technology than oftentimes our clients have. Utilizing maybe there's communication tools inside the admin system, but we're still doing communication outside of it. And it's not as effective things like that. So I think that's going to be more one of the trends not so much that there's more adoption, because I think the adoption has its own trajectory and has had for a while, it's common question of how deep do we leverage something, right, it's still not uncommon to find somebody who has disparate systems, maybe they've got a payroll system, and there's that admin capability, and then they get into a separate admin system, and there's maybe a patchwork going on. Maybe make early as we go through this, I think, I think I like to think that you'll see a little bit more cohesive approach with some of those things that being we, we leverage the tools better and communicate the benefits better.

Matt 25:50

So with all these different options, the patchwork as you as you just mentioned, are employers looking for brokers or the carrier to bring these Ben admins technology solutions to the table? Or are they more so looking to work within the systems they already have?

Nick 26:06

Yeah, that's such a such a good question. Because I, you know, I remember four or five years ago, at some of the industry that's having discussions with different groups of brokers, and in talking about the technology that's coming into the industry, and having, you know, at least a number of people say, Well, you know, I focus on the products come focus on it, because you're used to kind of have that attitude. And what started to happen, that's obviously not a through and through, but it was enough that you kind of had this Teddy and on this for a while, since that, the brokers were still really focused on the programs that would be deployed from the technologies being looked at. And in many instances, the employers are making those decisions on the phone, for a lot of their own rationale. And now, you know, what's happened is most of those systems, they have a carrier led to facto kind of carrier list right, of companies that they work with. And, you know, so our attitude with brokers has been, well, if we're not a part of that technology conversation, you may be left with technology that doesn't have immediate access to the carriers that you do business with. And that puts you in a spot where you need to try to add them, which obviously can be done. But you know, more and more, there's this question of well, we already have access to 1015 vendors can choose a vendor from that. So I think carrier certainly if adopted, I know we work with people on is adopting a strategy to, to make sure you're playing with the right technology entities out there for your block of distribution. But you know, that really doesn't get assume that brokers are having that kind of strategic view themselves and looking at either as an agency or regional part of the agency, what, what tools make the most sense for my clients? And do I have the appropriate relationships with them? And I do think, I think employers are absolutely looking for the broker role to expand relative to voluntary, you know, we have, I've held the contention for a while that employers are the gatekeepers to volunteer, but I think their understanding of the products themselves, their understanding of where everything stops, and starts, I think a lot of times that education isn't where it deserves to be for them. Right. And some could say, even even in the broker community, if I'm an agency that focuses mostly on player paid products, so we're having those relationships, whether it be brokers, with people with other specialist types of brokers, that can be partners, or, you know, finding those sources of information where I can fill in those gaps, to make sure that my advice and counsel to my clients goes beyond just product selection, kind of going back to what I was saying before that, you know, from our perspective, having that true vault, you know, the benefits of voluntary benefits discussion up front, right to get people on board with you, before we choose critical illness or identity protection or student loan reimbursement, like getting them on board with the idea of we need to communicate these, we need to make sure people understand where they're going to be protected. And we need to set some goals together. I've been getting into it. products, I think it's just a more consultative approach, you know, leading with products and in leading into carrier selection, right out of the gate, a lot of times I think, sets everybody up for a more tactical approach, then, then a strategic one. And I think employers may not quite look at it from that lens. But I think ultimately now they're in a place where they're saying, gosh, this is a big part of the decisions that I'm making decisions for my employees, and I need all I need all the advice I can get on all facets of implementation.

Matt 29:49

And it is so important for brokers to fill that a consultative or advisory role. And there are a lot of ways that they can really help employers So what are some of the ways that brokers can help shape benefits education and communication? For instance, tools or materials that employers are asking for are helpful in this circumstance?

Nick 30:11

I think leveraging everything that we have, you know, that's evidence itself in the market today is is great. You, you know, one category you might have true communication campaign, right. So we've selected a certain number of benefits going up to open enrollment, how can we put that carrier's message and a story around the necessity and value of investing in those programs in order to meet that understanding? compelling, right? That's sort of, you know, one category, and it's, it's always been there. But it's one that's gotten a little bit more fanfare in recent years, as is making a little bit more progress technology helps with that the ability to deploy those messages in different ways and have different cadences and that kind of going in another category, I think you have more than decision support tools, you know, the types of things that can be deployed, actually, with somebody electing. So in the process of elections, not a pre enrollment communication. And in those, you know, you certainly could, again, have things that just describe, value in in in the problem-solving component of the product. We also have seen some other approaches over the years and those tools that look at a series of kind of a question and answer and based approach, right. So, you know, is this meaningful to you? Do you have this or demographics? For that matter? I think there are some, some entities and companies that are doing a better job of taking that to the next level. But they are two different things, because it's some of those decision making. Again, one of the issues might be that I provide some information, I get maybe a recommendation back in some way. And I, and I kind of go with that recommendation based on based on trust, right, based on belief that this is good, do I still understand it? Because the understanding is one of the big keys here to the utilization. Ultimately, you've got the conversation around medical claims integration and other things trying to impact that conversation as well, as you know, can we help connect the dots for people, and a lot of that world's value even have that conversation going? If it was necessary, right? If it wasn't necessary, I guess I should say at the end of the day, and the ultimate answer there is that people need to really understand when they can take advantage of these products. And I just think some of these different approaches do a better job than others, some might impact participation, more positively. But the true understanding factor, still a difference, those are two kind of different, you know, pieces of the equation, you know, there are also a number of carriers that have, in recent years should have done a better job of continuing to educate people understand the relationship they have with them, trying to build that kind of lifetime relationship with the with the consumer, and that feeds on the kind of reinforcement of purchase and that type of thing. But I think it's having a solid plan upfront, that that is holistic, is the first piece and in using those tools is great. But it's incredible with some of these different conditions, sequencing, we really are leveraging one product in one program more ROI one year, because we think it's important its first year being launched, having that upfront, not necessarily putting in new programs at the end of a sequence when people might, you know, not make it all the way to the to observing what's being offered to them. And then that, again, going back to that active declaration or election process is incredible. And there's different ways to do it. And there's different opinions on. You know how to structure it, but ultimately the efficacy in in kind of going down those paths is typically very positive in getting people to try to understand things more to make it a moreover election.

Matt 34:04

I think that's some phenomenal advice that brokers can really use this enrollment season. Is there anything else that you would tell them if they're trying to help their clients employees engaged with the benefits or they're trying to increase employee participation in these enrollments? What would you say to the growth these brokers to help them out there?

Nick 34:23

I think the main thing I would encourage you maybe challenge a little bit is that, you know, feels like we should focus more on participation. participation is so often a carrier metric alone, that carriers are concerned about it for a variety of reasons. And you know, it's put out there a lot of times, right and there's minimum purchase I get like it's some sort of a standard or, or simply a stipulation of the programming. But, you know, for my part, we should be encouraging them to look at it and as a sign of a job well done, right, have a well-executed plan. What benefit program is really worth rolling out? If only 5% of your group needs. And that's what we are saying when we yield that kind of tea cream, and don't try to increase it over time and try to do better with the next launch. And ask the question, what's the industry standard for participation in this program? How can we get better than industry standard? Because that metric is one that speaks to how protected is my population? Right. And I think, you know, the, the opposite view that that would be well, you know, I don't want to focus in on the employer, maybe your broker concern that focusing on participation focuses too much on selling or something like that. I don't think so all these products are not chosen because three, four or 5% of the population needs, their chairs, with the belief that many would benefit from them. So I think having that as a goal upfront, through the right lens onto the right. Or the right focus can help build better guardrails and build better, a better approach together and get everybody on the really on the same side of things. And again, I think it's possible to be part of that community, with a gatekeeper community has only has mostly heard of that concept is the lens of minimums like it's something just to barely meet, or I need to meet it, for fear that the program won't move forward rather than a Hey, let's knock it out of the park and make sure that we have as many people protected as possible.

Matt 36:43

I think that's, that's great advice. you've, you've given me a lot to think about here. And I'm sure you'll give our audience a lot to think about as well. And they when they listen to this. So it's been it's been great having you on the show. Nick, do you have any parting words for our audience? If there's anything that you'd like to leave them to take away from this conversation?

Nick 37:01

Yeah, I mean, we touched on it just a little bit, I think that the last thought would be that, you know, I, I know that brokers are faced more and more all the time, with a more dynamic role, right all the time, or me, it has to do more, you have to understand more product categories, right? I mean, it used to be a handful categories of volunteering. Now, there's, there's a dozen plus. And the reality is, that's a lot. And you have the technology and the implementation and all those types of things. And, you know, I, you know, we have the luxury of looking at the industry, from the vantage point, when we see all the different players and get to learn all about the different businesses and approaches and people haven't, there are still a lot of entities in the distribution world, I don't want to paint anybody with too specific lens, but a lot of different entities that are there for partnership that are there to help an individual broker agency at large, do better with voluntary through partnership, and, and not necessarily competition, you know, they might look like another broker. But we see a lot of people having success with that. So that gets the point there is you don't have to be an expert in everything. And then lastly, with that, you know, a lot of our carrier data around participation, specifically suggest that, you know, from a carrier's perspective, the brokers and employers don't necessarily always it doesn't feel that they they're taking advantage of everything the carriers are willing to do from an education standpoint. And there's probably obvious reasons why, again, that's selling and we can't overdo it too much. But I just encouraged him to really leverage because I know we cherish being the majority of our clients. We know how much you're willing to do. Right? How many of the tools you have there, how you're willing to really help structure that and leveraging your partners, right, developing the right partnerships and leveraging and I think there's no better time than that. So you don't have to go along. i guess is the final word there.

Matt 39:00

I think that's about a close to the heart of it as you can and close to the heart of insurance as well, that we're all in this together, and sometimes partnership is the best way to go. Honestly, Nick, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a great conversation. I think you've given our audience a lot to think about and help them going into this upcoming enrollment season. So thank you so much.

Nick 39:22

Absolutely. Thanks for having us. And best of luck to everybody going through the end of the year there. Thank you. And to our listeners. Thanks for tuning in to Assurity's focus on voluntary benefits. If you'd like to learn more about Assurity or voluntary products, you can visit You can also email us at podcasts at a surety comm and we'll be happy to connect you with the sales team in your region. If you'd like to learn more about East bridge consulting and their research, you can visit them at Thanks for listening

A lot has changed since Nick Rockwell – president of Eastbridge Consulting Group and a frequent contributor to BenefitsPRO – last joined us. Now, he’s back to discuss Eastbridge’s recent findings into how employers are approaching voluntary benefits this fall – and how brokers can position themselves for success.

Want to learn more? Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Let’s talk about benefits in 2021. Do you think employers are approaching benefits differently this year?

Nick: COVID has obviously changed every industry out there, and ours is no different. I think the reality is that some brokers were better prepared to pivot than others. But when you peel back the onion and look at it, you realize that a lot of the carriers at the top end of the market did have an off year, while others had banner years. There’s a lot of stories that need to be looked at. I think for many brokers, the first win is just getting back to addressing what new programs might make sense to a given group.

Do you expect employers and employees to be more enthusiastic about voluntary benefits as a result of the pandemic?

Nick: Definitely. We did a survey of employers to try and get at that very topic. One of the most interesting data points that came out of it was that many expected higher participation from employees. That clearly tells us that they’re looking at the products and connecting the dots to decide they need these products.

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