In recent years, employers increasingly have embraced the opportunity to enhance their employee benefit packages by offering access to voluntary benefits such as dental, long-term care, and property and casualty insurance.

This is a smart, cost-effective move, as voluntary benefits give employees the opportunity to strengthen their personal safety nets by purchasing products that meet their needs, often with attractive group savings.

On the employer side, voluntary benefits supplement employee engagement, loyalty and satisfaction efforts. Particularly, as health care reform legislation requires companies to provide medical coverage, employers need to find other ways of differentiating themselves to attract top talent. Providing access to a robust offering of voluntary benefits is one way to do that.

However, this only works if employees fully understand the advantage of the voluntary benefits available to them, and research suggests that opportunities for improvement exist.

For example, according to the recent Insurance Literacy survey conducted by Zogby International on behalf of MetLife Auto & Home that tested consumer knowledge of insurance basics, only 19% of those polled knew they could get a discount by purchasing auto insurance as part of an employee group. In fact, people can save up to 28%, depending on their prior carriers, simply by purchasing insurance as part of an employee group.

That's not the only educational opportunity for employers and benefit advisers. According to the study, many consumers hold misconceptions about basic insurance policies and procedures that could be costly in the long run, including:

* 52% of people believed that if their new vehicles were totaled only a few weeks after purchase, their auto insurance would pay for the full cost. However, most policies factor in depreciation as soon as the car comes off the lot, and most coverage is subject to a deductible.

* 28% of respondents purchase insurance from the rental agency when renting a car - even though most auto insurance policies and credit cards extend rental insurance benefits to their customers.

* 46% of consumers didn't know how much insurance coverage they have for the contents, i.e., furniture, clothing and valuables, of their homes. Further, almost one third (32%) didn't know the amount their houses, condos or townhouses were insured for.

* More than two thirds (71%) of those surveyed incorrectly believed their insurance would pay for the full cost to rebuild their property in the event of a major loss, such as a fire or other natural disaster.

Between the ease of purchasing required insurance coverage through a workplace program and the resulting cost savings, benefit advisers can play an important role in helping to bridge these knowledge gaps by working with companies to provide employees with the information they need to make better, more informed choices.

However, in the current environment, when HR/benefits departments have limited capacity to take on this challenge, they can lean on benefit providers to help do the heavy lifting. Several providers are prepared to accomplish this goal in a number of ways.

Thinking green

The days of inundating employees with promotional material extolling the virtues of a product are long gone. These days, there are a variety of online tools and communications that can educate employees about the savings that can be achieved by purchasing auto and home insurance through a workplace program, and do so in more efficient, environmentally-friendly manner.

Meeting face-to-face

Many voluntary carriers offer employers the opportunity for licensed property and casualty agents to make themselves available to meet with employees onsite, particularly during open enrollment season. This can be an invaluable opportunity for employees to have meaningful conversations about their specific needs.

Finding innovative ways to spread the word

To cut through the clutter, companies must increasingly find creative ways to get their messages heard.

For example, one way that MetLife Auto & Home is looking to educate consumers about the importance of selecting the right level of auto and home insurance is by gauging consumer attitudes about the subject, including commissioning the ongoing Insurance Literacy survey, to help clear up misconceptions.

The findings included here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to opportunities for education on the topic of voluntary benefits like auto and home insurance.

There are many other significant knowledge gaps when it comes to knowing what auto and home insurance actually covers (and doesn't). Benefit managers and consumers alike can test their knowledge by visiting metlife.com/insurancequiz.


Karen Manning is vice president, customer sales and service, at MetLife, with more than 30 years experience in the insurance industry. She can be reached at kmanning@metlife.com.

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