Reeling Them In At Enrollment Time

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The initial enrollment period is critical to success in worksite marketing, experts say. And the payoff at enrollment time comes for the producer who has done his homework in terms of identifying the right client, gaining noticeable support from top management, nailing down adequate face-to-face time with employees and selling products for which employees see a compelling need.

Who is the right kind of employer for selling voluntary worksite benefits?

“The right client is a client who looks at worksite benefits as a benefit to them, not just to employees,” says Michael Chille, vice president of the Northeast region for AFLAC Inc. “That means they will partner up with you.”

If the employer is unwilling to let you have an adequate number of minutes alone with each employee, a successful enrollment is unlikely, adds Lawrence Prichard, managing general agent in Dayton, Ohio, for Colonial Supplemental Insurance, Columbia, S.C.

“In group meetings, employees dont want to open up because they dont want to appear ignorant or talk about their personal information,” he says. “The biggest key is the 20-minute one-on-one. Otherwise, you are not going to sell the product because its not going to be understood.”

But the initial groupwide meeting also has a critical role, adds Chille. “The group meeting lets you spend less time with each individual.”

Running a companywide meeting also tells employees you have the all-important backing of top management, he points out.

Schedule that rollout meeting well ahead of enrollment time, advises Jerry A. Fisher, agency disability and long term care insurance specialist and brokerage director in greater Los Angeles for MassMutual.

“You want to go in 6 weeks out, so they are set to make an educated decision,” he says.

Making it convenient for employees to arrange their meetings and to enroll is important, too. Prichard of Colonial Supplemental posts sign-up sheets on employers bulletin boards so employees can readily schedule a 30-minute meeting with a Colonial rep.

“Its important that nobody waits on line or waits around in the lunch room for an enroller,” he says.

Prichards enrollers are equipped with laptops, on which each employees personal information is loaded already from the employers database, making sign-up a highly efficient operation, he says.

“We electronically submit about 90% of enrollments in the first 2 days with that technology,” he adds. “We dont do any paper applications, because you are not going to be able to tell a person much when you only have 20 minutes and youre trying to fill out paper.”

James T. Pettapiece, president of Vision Financial Corporation, Derry, N.H., a third-party administrator, says laptop enrollment lets the enroller skip a lot of information gathering during individual meetings and cut to the chase.

“The laptop also adds a tangible feature to the presentation, so agents who use them are reporting a greater feeling of participation by employees,” Pettapiece says.

Laptop enrollments are also much more accurate. “That means that underwriting is much faster, and people get their policies quicker, so a sale is much more likely,” he says.

But paper-based presentations can be effective, too. The key is to keep it simple, says Milton Jones, principal, Insurance Plus, an agency in Fayetteville, Ark.

When he recently offered an optional universal life policy as part of an employers 401(k) plan, Jones used a one-page illustration with graphics during his one-on-ones with employees. The illustration showed how the employee could invest up to 25% of money set aside for the 401(k) in the UL and how that investment could grow.

“They didnt have a lot of information to wade through. I found I got a lot more interest when I did that. I presented it as part of the safe-money component of a balanced 401(k) approach.”

Jones says he earned more than $10,000 in commissions on that case.

Danny Walters, a producer in Jones agency, likes to keep employee meetings focused on one or two products. “If you try to present a lot of products, you do it so quickly the employee has little understanding of whats being offered and is not going to enroll,” he says.

Technology can be a big boon to enrollment building, a number of producers say.

For instance, call centers where employees can telephone to find out information and sign up for voluntary products are essential when employees are on the road or spread out in many locations, says Pettapiece of Vision Financial. When necessary, he outsources this end of the job to call center specialists, he says.

“Telephone enrollment centers are a big player,” he says. “Theyre not as effective as one-on-one, but they are a practical solution when you have a widely spread workforce.”

WE-enroll Inc., Conshohocken, Pa., has built its voluntary worksite practice around a proprietary software system that enables it to serve around 200 clients based in the Philadelphia area.

The system allows WE-enroll agents to produce a customized information packet for each employee that has their name on it and calculates in advance the cost of each benefit option the employee is interested in.

The approach has built impressive enrollment numbers, says Pepper Krach, principal and executive vice president of WE-enroll.

“Carriers will ask for 20% or 25% participation, but in our experience it is not unusual to get 50% to 60% participation. The packet makes it easy to understand and easy to enroll.”

The packets also make it easy to bring new employees during subsequent reenrollment periods, says Krach.

“Where most voluntary benefit plans fail is in the open enrollment periods” [that follow initial enrollment], says Krach. “We produce these information packets for new hires, so you dont have the initial enrollment deteriorating.”

Because Krachs company manages not only voluntary benefits but also core benefits for each employer client, it regularly gets updated information on new hires and terminations.

MassMutual uses another enrollment-building technique: online needs analysis tools.

For instance, the company directs worksite customers to an online retirement calculator. It also offers a disability insurance Web site, www.halfapaycheck.com, where users find another calculator that enables them to calculate their income needs should they become disabled.

Regarding online enrollment, MassMutuals Fisher advises keeping track of how successful it is, because that helps you keep it tuned in to the needs of users.

“Have the system track how many use online enrollment, who has gone online, for how long and how much of the system they go through,” he says.

AFLACs Michael Chille warns about a big enrollment killer: introducing a new voluntary product at a time when the employer is making other significant changes to its benefits package.

If, for instance, the employer is announcing significant cuts in its medical program just when the agent is scheduled to launch a Jan. 1 sign-up campaign, it may be better to reschedule. By mid-year, employees will have absorbed the changes and probably are looking for ways to improve their benefits, he points out.

Another bit of advice from Chille: Make sure your carriers have a good record in paying claims.

“How easy it is to fill out a claim form and how quickly they pay may not help with your initial enrollment,” Chille says. “But with ongoing enrollments, those people who are happy with the way their claims have been handled are your greatest endorsement.”

MassMutuals Fisher agrees.

“You get the best referrals when you help the person the best, and we work in a business where referrals are key,” he says.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, September 23, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.