Group benefits business moving to the age of convenience

By Susan Yellin | July 03 2017 07:00AM

Photo: Freepik

The group benefits arena, like many other aspects of insurance, is moving from the age of products to one of convenience as the industry evolves and tries to keep up with the demands of clients, say insurance providers.

Back in the days when insurance companies had career systems, the emphasis for advisors was on relationship building with clients, Mark Sylvia, president and CEO of Empire Life, told the May meeting of the Canadian Group Insurance Brokers (CGIB).

But that all changed when the industry disbanded career agencies and started competing for clients on product – that is, until the industry was inundated with them, said Sylvia. Now that the industry has entered the computer-dependent age of convenience, the industry, once again, needs to evolve.

“Convenience is a whole different road trip for us as an insurer and for all insurers,” said Sylvia. “And what this means now is that we have to start inventorying all of our practices … and trying to figure out when this impacts the customer because we want to make this information available [straight] to the customer.”

Demanding clients

Demanding clients now expect insurers to get back to them immediately, leading to staffing overload and expectations that aren’t always easy to fulfil, said Brent Collett, senior account manager, employee benefits, at Great-West Life.

“I know my emails have doubled every year for the past few years…from the same number of clients,” said Collett.

The big issue, said Sylvia, is that the advice portion of an advisor’s role is taking up too much time on issues that are really administrative in nature and which should be answered on an insurer’s website. Younger clients in particular want that information to be made available and so do advisors, he said. But some insurers are taking longer than others to make this happen.

“All insurers are going through transition right now where we are trying to deal with this move from the age of product to the age of convenience. That’s where the industry is going.”

While clients can get answers on websites, many is the time when they get a case of information overload and need the help of an advisor to sort out issues, said Rob Crowder, president at Toronto-based The Benefits Trust.

Crowder said advisors need to lead the decision maker by asking them questions both at the beginning and throughout the duration of their business relationship.

“Advisors need to stop being afraid of their clients,” he said. “I know so many brokers who are terrified of calling their clients about an issue. Your job is to read the news. Tell them when something is wrong and when something needs to be changed.” Setting out each other’s roles in the business relationship will help in the future, he said.

Broker of the future

The broker of the future will be one who can provide advice as well as answers to questions, said Allan Sabat, an advisor of executive and employee benefits with The Consulting House.

Sabat said few employees will get long-term disability insurance unless advisors sit down with them and explain what kind of financial position their families will be in when one of the income earners can no longer work. Clients can do the work online themselves and Uberize the process, but they will probably not get the advice they need, he said.

Collett suggested advisors put together a checklist of questions, answers and products that they need to go through before they meet with plan administrators and decision makers.

Pain points

When sitting down with a new client, Sylvia suggested group advisors establish the potential client’s pain points with their current benefits plan and how they would like their plan to change.

Most of all, said Sylvia, advisors should not be “pointers,” indicating that the least expensive plan is the one they should take.

But Sylvia acknowledged that advisors are not the ones at fault for doing this – insurance companies are. “If we [insurance companies] are using low price as our only competitive weapon, we’re a big part of the problem. You’ve got to move away from this because the days of low prices are almost over.”

Drug prices, for example, are expected to rise now that $14 billion worth of patent drugs have become generic. “[But sales] should not be about price. It should be about service based on sound advice and the customer relationship.”