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Voluntary Brokers Upbeat

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Confidence in the future of the voluntary employee benefits industry has rebounded in the industry, especially among brokers, according to a new survey.

The latest results of Eastbridge Consulting Group’s Voluntary Industry Confidence Index survey show the overall index increased to 92.9 by midyear, up from 88.8 at the end of 2008.

“In the latest survey findings, we see that brokers are more positive than they were 6 months ago–and more positive than our carrier respondents,” says Bonnie Brazzell, vice president of Eastbridge, Avon, Conn.

In the year-end survey for 2008, 66% of brokers expected an increase, 26% expected a decrease, and 9% expected that sales would stay about the same in the year ahead.

“Today, 81% of brokers believe there will be increases over the next 12 months, with one-third claiming that sales will ‘increase a lot,’” says Brazzell. “On the carrier side just 68% expect sales to increase.”

Only 7% of carriers believed that sales will fall in the next 12 months, vs. 19% of carriers.

Broker confidence could be seen in other measures, too, Eastbridge found:

–93% of broker respondents believed they will be more profitable 12 months from now.

–Brokers were significantly more positive about employee enthusiasm, with 85% expecting employees to be more enthusiastic about voluntary benefits, compared to 60% of carriers who expected the same.

–89% of brokers expect to acquire more new groups in 2009 than in 2008, compared to just 73% of carriers who expected the same.

“If brokers get discouraged, then sales may start slowing,” said Gil Lowerre, president of Eastbridge. “But brokers are quite positive. In fact, 52% said that their sales were higher than expected. This is significantly higher than the 18% of carriers.”

The Voluntary Industry Confidence Index study is conducted semi-annually and includes responses from individuals active in the market–carriers, brokers, and vendors. The index is a single number that compares the current results to a baseline measure. The first Confidence Index survey was completed in December 2005, which provides the index base line of 100.