It seems a bit ironic that an insurance product that is one of the most advertised items on television - auto and home insurance - is simultaneously experiencing a lack of awareness in the workplace.

"Historically, it's more difficult than I think it should be to increase the awareness ... that this is an available benefit," says Scott Kuczmarski, vice president, group property and casualty, at MetLife. "So we are spending more and more of our time focused on using unique ways to bring that message to the employers that we have relationships with."

And it's not just employers. Even brokers don't think about offering auto and home to clients as a voluntary benefit.

"It still amazes me that when I go to national shows or industry meetings several people in the audience will still come up to me and say, 'Geez, I didn't realize the auto/home program existed. This is something I'd be very interested in,'" recalls Mark Parabicoli, managing director, auto and home voluntary benefit programs, for Liberty Mutual.


Need for education

And while 52% of employers believe their benefits communications are easy to understand, only 43% of employees agree, according to MetLife's annual study of employee benefits trends. More than one-third of employees, meanwhile, grade their company's benefits communications a "C" or below.

"It's important when we sell an auto/home benefit to a client that we do a lot to educate the employees to make them aware that this benefit does exist," says Peter Crichton, vice president of business development, Travelers Insurance.

Such education efforts include both new- and old-school outreach. Because most people have auto and home insurance anyway, it's reasonable to assume that every month one-twelfth of employees at any given company will experience a "triggering event" that leads them to re-examine their auto/home needs, be it a plan renewal or new purchase, Crichton points out.

This constant need highlights the importance of a year-long education campaign. Online methods of communication such as email blasts and a presence on the employer's website are increasingly important, "but it's still also important that we communicate by sending out home enrollment kits, traditional mailings," he says. "That still seems to be a very effective way of increasing awareness."


Turnkey partner

Liberty Mutual's Parabicoli agrees, adding that the right carrier partner can make all the difference. The vendor should help handle marketing and enrollments, offer multi-channel distribution and include a one-touch account manager who will manage everything while producing robust reporting, he says.

"A turnkey partner is key. ... The last thing [employers] need is a carrier-partner in voluntary products that is going to cause a drain on their resources," Parabicoli adds.

And with public health exchanges on the horizon and private ones already a reality, this rising distribution system could play a big role in the future of auto and home benefits. "They're going to be looking to put a lot of voluntary products on the private exchanges, potentially," says MetLife's Kuczmarski, "and I think auto and home is one that the private exchange people will be interested in putting out. It will give access to new distribution channels and increase consumer choice down the road."

Traveler's Crichton isn't sure what exchanges have in store, but "any time employers are evaluating benefits and potentially making any changes to their benefits, it's a great opportunity for providers of auto/home to possibly introduce the benefit to a company that doesn't currently have one," he says.


Opportunity with exchanges

But don't expect anything immediately, adds Kuczmarski. He predicts it will be late 2014 or 2015 by the time these benefits are on an exchange. "Who knows how it's going to play out, but I do think there's quite a bit of opportunity there," he says.

Employees "already need to buy those products anyway. So it really has staying power with an employer group," Parabicoli says. "Why not offer [auto and home] through payroll where it has an additional savings for that employee who has to buy the products anyway? So it really, really brings value to that employee base."

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