A study finds 42% of voluntary employee benefit marketers say their voluntary sales so far this year have been higher than expected.

Last year at this time, 34% of companies said they were ahead of what they planned, while 31% ended 2007 ahead of plan, according to the study by Eastbridge Consulting Group Inc., Avon, Conn.

According to the survey, 6% of voluntary benefit companies said their results to date so far in 2008 are “much higher” than expected, and another 36% said their sales were “a little higher.”

Eastbridge found the most frequently cited reasons for the higher-than-expected results were:

– More new cases than expected.

– A higher number of producing brokers and reps.

– New product introductions.

Eastbridge found 33% of respondents said their company’s sales were lower than expected so far, including 6% that said the results were “much lower” than expected. The most common reasons for the disappointing results:

– Fewer new cases than expected.

– Smaller average case size.

– Lower levels of participation.

The semiannual study polls carriers, brokers and vendors in the voluntary market.