In the blink of an eye, our lives turned upside down
by Brian VestergaardMr. Vestergaard is Vice President of Product & Marketing for LifeSecure Insurance Company, based in Brighton, Mich. Please visit www.YourLifeSecure.com.
A friend of mine had a funny one-liner recently that delivered a much-needed laugh.
“The last three months have been the longest year of my life.”
With the onset of the global pandemic, our work lives and home lives have gone through sudden and dramatic changes. No one can blame you if you happened to lose track of time or suddenly realize that a day you thought was Friday turned out to only be Wednesday.
Our way of life was turned upside down in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Early on, the situation was changing by the day – sometimes by the hour. And while we’ve settled into staying home and following new safety protocols over these last few months, we know that not all of these changes will be permanent.
What Is Our ‘New Normal’
On one hand, many of us will eventually rejoin our colleagues in the office; states and businesses will continue to lift restrictions and reopen; kids will go back to school; and we won’t have to think twice about getting together with a large group of friends and family. But on the other hand, no one is quite sure what our “new normal” will look like or when we’ll get there.
The voluntary industry is facing similar questions. Where do we go from here? We have learned a lot as we’ve navigated these challenging times, and carriers and the rest of the industry will need to rethink our ideas of business as usual.
Here are a few of the lessons we learned.
Digital Tools are the Standard
We have always taken pride in our commitment to a strong technological infrastructure and forward-thinking innovation. From our online sales platform to customer service tools and behind-the-scenes functions, our emphasis on technology allowed us to react quickly to the pandemic and securely move to a nearly 100 percent remote workforce in less than two days. As I’m writing this article, we’re still operating remotely with minimal interruption to the support we provide to agents and policyholders who rely on us every day. And many of these adjustments will make a long-lasting impact on the way we do business moving forward.
The biggest takeaway for voluntary brokers is to embrace working virtually – and carriers must play a role in supporting this change. For example, over the last few months, our sales team redoubled their efforts to coach agents and brokers on improving their virtual meeting skills, using online platforms, and conducting their business remotely.
Other examples of carrier tools that can help you provide a streamlined virtual experience to your clients include:
- Paperless selling – from quoting and applications to policy delivery
- Self-service portals for agents, worksite clients and policyholders
- Digital educational resources and marketing materials that can be easily shared
- Fast and responsive customer service through multiple channels, such as phone, email or live chat
- Efficient online billing and benefit administration systems, which are especially important for small businesses with fewer resources
Working virtually provides a more convenient and safer option for your clients and their employees; it also saves time and can help you discover opportunities with new clients. Client demand will likely make this a permanent fixture going forward, while advancements in digital tools and tech will drive the evolution of the virtual broker.
Adapt & Evolve
When we made our first responses to the pandemic in March, we were in the middle of preparations to release our next-generation Personal Accident Insurance. You always expect a few bumps in the road during a product launch, but never to this degree.
While we spent much of March reacting to the crisis, we benefited from our proactive approach to product development. Thankfully we were able to launch on time in May, which allowed us to provide an enhanced product to our partners and their clients that’s also a better fit for the market today and into the future. If we hadn’t stayed ahead of the curve, our outcomes could have been very different.
A proactive approach to adapting and evolving alongside the industry is critical to ensure you’re offering value to your customers. For carriers, this could be as significant as developing new products or updating existing products to better fit market and health care trends, like we also did last year by enhancing our hospital indemnity product. This is especially important as employers recently ranked cost and benefit features as top factors when choosing a voluntary carrier, indicating they want the best overall value for themselves and their employees. Carriers should also seek innovative improvements to back-end support and internal processes that make life easier for agent partners and policyholders.
Producers will also need to continue growing their business and find new ways to better serve their clients. In addition to working virtually, this can include expanding your product portfolio, mining your existing business for new cross-selling opportunities, or simply keeping up on worksite trends and sharing information with your clients. A proactive approach and being accessible to your clients can position you as a trusted partner and have a positive effect on retention.
Financial Stress Relief
It’s no secret that financial anxiety tends to spike during times of uncertainty. Like many carriers, we responded by finding several ways to support customers who were impacted by the pandemic or experienced financial hardship. A recent study showed that the coronavirus is causing financial stress for nearly 9 in 10 Americans, and the most-cited stressor is having enough savings for an emergency expense. Before the pandemic, employees across all generations were already more stressed than ever about their finances.
While not necessarily a new lesson, it emphasizes the valuable role that mainstream voluntary health products can play in financial wellness programs aimed at helping employees meet short-term financial goals. Many employers have joined this growing trend to help employees relieve financial stress through solutions like student loan assistance, personal financial coaching, and other fiscal planning incentives.
By alleviating financial stress, employers hope to preserve productivity, lower turnover and reduce absenteeism. Voluntary products like accident, critical illness and hospital indemnity insurance, can offer employers a more holistic approach to financial wellness and accomplish many of the same goals for both employers and employees.
Having a plan in place for emergency medical costs and unexpected health events – not to mention the flexibility to pay daily bills and other expenses – can help provide employees additional peace of mind in place of financial stress.
Long term care awareness has been growing for some time, as more messages surrounding the importance of LTC planning are reaching the mainstream. In fact, a 2019 report found that LTC expenses are the second most-common financial concern among American consumers, behind only retirement savings. Tragically, the coronavirus pandemic painfully put long term care conversations back in the national spotlight. It quickly became a top-of-mind issue for families and likely renewed concerns of protecting their finances in retirement and ensuring their LTC needs can be met in a setting they prefer.
Similar to the value of voluntary health products as financial wellness solutions, workplace LTCI also has the potential to emerge as a forward-thinking solution as businesses reevaluate their retirement offerings and focus on reducing financial stress among their workforce. And the demand is there – according to LIMRA, almost half of workers want LTCI, but just one in five employers currently offers LTCI as part of their benefit plan.
In short, employers can use worksite LTCI to help provide employees with answers to the uncertainty surrounding retirement and long-term financial goals. Employees can feel secure knowing they have a plan in place for unexpected LTC needs and unknown risks, which will help ensure their retirement savings will be there when they need it.
You don’t have to have all the answers to start preparing for the new normal, and no one does. Consider this all food for thought. But I encourage you to take this opportunity to consider how reshaping your business and strategies in this new environment will help you better serve your clients.
1- How Can We Help You? Employers Share Their Experiences and Expectations for Voluntary Benefits, LIMRA, 2020
2- COVID-19 Survey, National Endowment for Financial Education, 2020
3- PwC 8th Annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey, PwC, 2019.
4- 2019 Insurance Barometer Report, LIMRA and Life Happens
5- Mind the Gap: Do Employers Understand Employees’ Benefit Priorities?, LIMRA.