Key Insights

Good news for brokers: Clients value guidance more than insurance advisers realize

The third annual Aflac WorkForces Report uncovered key gaps in awareness between insurance brokers and employers, and those gaps reveal that professional advice about health care and benefits is more important to businesses than brokers comprehend.

The report, which focuses on employer, employee and broker attitudes and opinions about health care issues, revealed that today’s brokers are questioning their own value – and even the future of their industry. According to the findings, more than half of brokers (51 percent) are only somewhat or not at all confident about the future of their firms or their industry, and nearly one-third (29 percent) are concerned about remaining relevant to clients.

Driving brokers’ doubts about career viability are changes to the nation’s health care system, combined with related shifts in insurance needs and delivery mechanisms. Seismic change has many brokers questioning their career paths, with 16 percent considering exiting the health insurance business, and 45 percent debating leaving the broker industry altogether.

Brokers suffering pangs of self-doubt, however, should be heartened by the opinions of employers and employees surveyed as part of the Aflac WorkForces Report:

The majority of employers and workers indicated they are more pleased with benefits plans developed with the aid of a broker or benefits adviser.

For example, 63 percent of employees whose companies work with brokers reported being satisfied with their plans, compared to 53 percent at companies that do not. Likewise, 52 percent of employers who work with brokers believe their packages are more competitive than those of their peer organizations, in contrast with 44 percent of employers who don’t rely on broker advice.

Capitalize on health care reform changes

One area in which brokers have the potential to strengthen their value is in the area of employer-employee education about health care coverage in general, and health care reform in particular. While 74 percent of employers who rely on broker advice say they are at least somewhat knowledgeable about the reform (compared to 65 percent who don’t use a broker), fully 55 percent of employers overall admit they’ve done nothing to prepare for upcoming changes to the U.S. health care system.

Why is this information so important to brokers? Because while the majority of employers admit inertia – and, even more alarmingly, just 13 percent believe educating employees about health care reform is important to their organizations – their workers are singing another tune. Three-quarters (75 percent) of employees agree with this statement: “I believe my employer will educate me about changes to my health care coverage as a result of health care reform.”

Clearly, this disconnect between employer action and employee expectation opens the door for savvy brokers to step in.

By letting employers know they are leaving employees adrift when it comes to benefits planning in the wake of health care reform, brokers show current and potential clients they have key insight into the worker mindset.

What’s more, broker input on the key elements of a post-reform benefits plan can be invaluable to employee retention and productivity: 38 percent of workers surveyed as part of the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report said employers signal they care about their employees’ well-being by offering strong benefits packages. What’s more, 44 percent of workers who don’t believe their companies take care of employees say they are at least somewhat likely to leave their jobs in the next year, compared to 8 percent of those who at least somewhat agree their employers take care of employees.

Communication is key

Earlier, we established that while employees are counting on their employers to educate them about their benefits needs in the wake of health care reform, just 13 percent of employers believe educating workers about the reform is important to their organizations.

This gap in expectations represents another key opportunity for brokers, who can serve an integral role by helping potential and existing clients understand the importance of consistent, clear and frequent communication about benefits.

The good news is that employers who work with brokers communicate about employee benefits much more frequently than those that don’t. Aflac learned that 48 percent of companies working with brokers/benefit advisers communicate three or more times per year, compared to 30 percent of companies that don’t rely on advisers’ guidance. What’s more, those companies believe their communications efforts are moving the needle on employee understanding and engagement in benefits decisions.

It’s clear that employers who work with brokers communicate about benefits more often and are more likely to believe their workers understand their health care plans. Still, 44 percent of brokers say their clients follow their communications recommendations sometimes or rarely, and just 35 percent believe the resulting communications are extremely or very effective. This represents an opportunity for brokers to open frank discussions with decision-makers about the importance of benefits communication, as well as to position themselves as expert advisers on content and clarity.

As part of its 2013 study, Aflac tracked a small-but-elite segment of employers (15 percent) that exhibit best-in-class benefits practices and are reaping long-term rewards for doing so. These companies, which Aflac dubbed Talent Attractors, understand the importance of frequent, two-way communication between employers and their workers and are 1.5 times more likely to communicate about benefits 3 to 10 times throughout the year, compared to companies overall.

It’s important to note that most of these Talent Attractor organizations (59 percent) use a broker or benefits consultant to help select their benefits options. What’s more, 4 in 10 of these companies say they will rely more heavily on brokers or insurance providers to help adjust their benefits plans in response to health care legislation.

Smart brokers will seize upon the opportunity to encourage their clients to emulate the actions of Talent Attractor companies by stepping up the quality and consistency of their benefits-related communications. By doing so, they will help ensure that employers better meet the expectations of their workers, who are relying on them to provide the information and guidance needed to make wise benefits decisions.

Broker value in times of change

The 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report revealed that brokers questioning their value and relevance in today’s health care landscape have no cause for concern. Not only do employers and employees continue to rely on broker advice, they are also seeking additional guidance as they navigate health care reform and the shifts in the nation’s insurance-delivery system.

Shrewd brokers will step in to emphasize the importance of a robust health insurance portfolio that fills gaps in employee benefits plans, as well as to demonstrate the value of their expertise.

By serving as liaisons between workers and employers – who often are on very different pages when it comes to benefits knowledge, awareness and communication – brokers will prove their knowledge and advice are integral to businesses and employees alike.

About the study

The 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report is the 3rd annual Aflac employee benefits study examining benefit trends and attitudes. The study, conducted by Research Now between January 4 and January 24, 2013, captured responses from 1,884 benefits decision-makers, 5,299 employees and more than 300 brokers from throughout the United States. “The Good News for Brokers” is one of three key broker-related themes from the 2013 study. To learn more about the Aflac WorkForces Report and to read “Static on the Line: Broker Disconnects” and “The Voluntary Advantage for Brokers,” visit