ACA Forcing Changes for Brokers
Brokers are increasingly being asked to act as consultants in addition to negotiating price and insurance policy packages.
The Affordable Care Act has increased that trend.
Kelly Hagan, director of operations, employee benefits at Assured Neace Lukens in Louisville, Ky., said her firm’s clients are increasingly asking for more consultative services, especially after the passage of health care reform.
Before the ACA passed, employers cared more about price negotiations, she said, but now the brokerage hears more requests related to guidance and advice about ACA compliance, as well as compliance with other regulatory acts such as the Employment Retirement Income Security Act.
Hagan said that clients shouldn’t have to ask for certain services; consultation should be a part of a broker’s service package.
To meet that demand, Assured Neace Lukens has two wellness managers on staff to help clients develop customized wellness programs, and has hired a corporate compliance officer to provide guidance to clients.
In addition to one-on-one conversations with clients on priorities, coverages and services, the firm sends out quarterly newsletters and email alerts on compliance issues and presents monthly webinars on topics, such as how to track variable hour employees to determine whether they should be offered health care coverage under the ACA.
The broker “transaction” is becoming less important in terms of the way clients actually see the value provided by their agent or broker. — Tom Fitzgerald, CEO, Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. retail operations
Tom Fitzgerald, CEO of Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. retail operations in Chicago, said that the broker “transaction” is becoming less important in terms of the way clients actually see the value provided by their agent or broker.
As such, brokers need to help clients “understand what is possible” — from benefit plan construction, to engaging communications with employees, to risk financing alternatives such as self-funding or using private exchanges for employee health care.
“We engage our clients through our account executives or account managers, but we have over 500 products and services, so it gets pretty complicated and can be difficult for them to always have a clear understanding of everything we have to offer,” Fitzgerald said.
“It then becomes the responsibility of leadership to educate, inform and train our client-facing colleagues,” he said.
Denise Ashford, vice president at Sweet & Baker Insurance Brokers in San Francisco, said a recent survey of select clients that asked for their top priorities, “really brought to light the disconnect between what I thought they wanted, and what they said they needed, and now with this knowledge I can better service them.”
Sweet & Baker caters mainly to midsized companies, as well as Silicon Valley tech startups, and most have thinly staffed human resource departments that need the broker’s consulting services.
These days, clients routinely ask Ashford and others on her team to interpret the ACA’s regulations, such as changes in the probationary period for employee eligibility for health care insurance.
Many smaller brokerages don’t have enough revenue to provide a lot of the additional services that larger firms can, as the additional services come out of commissions paid by carriers, she said, noting that her firm provides a number of additional services to clients “for little to no cost.”
Laymon Group Benefit Consulting LLC in Wilmington, N.C., a small agency with five employees, is able to compete with some of its larger competitors by outsourcing some services to vendors that specialize in different fields, said CEO Chad Laymon.
“This allows us to bring a multitude of different services to the table under one umbrella,” Laymon said. “At the same time, on the service end, we are steering a much smaller boat. This allows us to be more flexible with our client’s needs.”
Laymon has had to increase its value-added services due to “tremendous changes” within the industry because of health care reform, he said.
“Most small brokerage firms were started years ago, and today, the principal is getting older and doesn’t want to involve themselves with all of the changes going on, and even if they do, the technology curve can be a steep hill to climb,” Laymon said.
“As a result, many brokers are selling their book of business to the larger consulting firms. Times have changed. Smaller brokers must adjust to show their strength or they will be left behind.”
Benefiting the Bottom Line
Employee benefits consultants and property/casualty brokers could see substantial gains as they move to take advantage of private exchanges for health care and other employee benefits.
Jim Blaney, chief executive officer, Willis human capital practice, said that offering clients private exchanges provides consultants and brokers with “a huge opportunity. … However, it’s all about gaining market share and converting new revenues.”
Roughly 30 million workers are expected to enroll in health care plans via private exchanges by 2017, “but costs and inertia could slow the adoption rate,” according Morgan Stanley research analysts.
“We think there are substantial market share opportunities for P&C brokers but large economic benefits will take years to materialize as they have to invest heavily to gain share,” the analysts wrote in a March 13 report, Private Exchanges: Friend or Foe.
For example, Aon Hewitt — which was “one of the first movers and the most vocal in private exchange efforts” — has invested roughly $100 million in its initiatives “which have not yet broken even,” according to the analysts. The firm has enrolled more than 600,000 members on its multicarrier, fully insured active employees exchange.
Aon executives were not available for an interview.
At Morgan Stanley’s Private Exchange Conference earlier this year, Aon said that it can overcome the cost gap and deliver up to 2 percent total savings for self-insured clients converting to Aon exchange.
A report by Moody’s offered a more positive viewpoint, concluding that the creation of private health exchanges “are credit positive for leading benefit consultants and brokers.”
“We believe the most successful exchanges will be those that minimize growth (or generate savings) in overall health care costs, rather than simply shifting costs from employers to employees,” according to a March 3 report.
Keys to success, it said, include building strong insurance carrier networks, guiding employees to select appropriate insurance coverage, promoting employee wellness, streamlining plan administration and ensuring compliance with regulations.
Blaney, at Willis, said that discussing its insurance exchange with clients and prospects is “a way to open doors,” as most employers are interested to learn more about both private and public exchange models.
“This gives us an opportunity to meet with potential new clients, build rapport and provide thought leadership and consulting. We are seeing an increase in new clients independent of whether they choose to use the private exchange,” he said.
Last year, Willis partnered with Liazon to offer clients The Willis Advantage, a private label of that company’s platform. Liazon, which was bought last year by Towers Watson, operates a multicarrier exchange with both self-insured and fully insured products.
“The Willis Advantage,” Blaney said, “is designed to be a consultative approach to help mid-market and upper mid-market clients consider the opportunity of advancing consumerism and possibly, a defined-contribution approach.
“We think our differentiation lies in our integrated health management capability aimed at addressing medical utilization trends,” he said.
The exchange includes built-in features such as incentive-based wellness options, health coaching, and disease-management programs, to help employees and employers drive down health care costs and increase productivity.
Over the past two quarters, interest in the private exchange has “spiked,” with 600 employers — both existing clients and prospects — considering adoption, he said. Two clients are currently on the platform, and another five are “in the queue.”
“The adoption rates for the mid-market seems to be evolving slower than adoption rates for the larger market, but in the next five years, I believe we are going to see a sizable migration toward defined-contribution funding approaches as employers seek to cap benefits costs and push more responsibility and accountability to employees,” Blaney said.
Mercer, the subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos. launched its Mercer Marketplace in 2013. It currently works with 67 employers to provide medical and other benefits to 282,000 employees, retirees and family members.
The company recently expanded its service to offer access to individual medical plans via GetInsured, a California-based company whose technology platform powers state government exchanges.
Liazon, whose platform is used by more than 400 brokers — including Arthur J. Gallagher, Lockton and Brown & Brown — said larger brokers private label its platform, and can build in their own value-added support features, such as back-office capabilities, call centers, and employee assistance programs, said Managing Director Ashok Subramanian.
“This really enables brokers to leverage proven technology to wrap around their strategies, with a speed to market,” Subramanian said.
Smaller brokers use Liazon’s independent channel, Bright Choices, to save on costs, he said. Overall, Liazon has seen “an enormous uptick in usage over the past year, up 300 percent in 2013, from 2012.
“There is tremendous tailwind in the market for solutions like this among employers,” he said. “This happens to coincide with the opening of the public exchanges, but it’s not really related to that.”
Employers can also take advantage of private exchanges for retirees and older workers, such as Towers Watson’s OneExchange for Medicare-eligible individuals, said Bryce Williams, the consultancy’s managing director, Exchange Solutions.
“The Medicare market is so technical and highly regulated, that it’s less costly for them just to refer retirees to our exchange,” Williams said.
Currently, adoption rates are less than 5 percent, but Williams expects that in five to 10 years, adoption rates will rise to 50 percent, for employers who give their employees access to health care.
A Renaissance In U.S. Energy
America’s energy resurgence is one of the biggest economic game-changers in modern global history. Current technologies are extracting more oil and gas from shale, oil sands and beneath the ocean floor.
Domestic manufacturers once clamoring for more affordable fuels now have them. Breaking from its past role as a hungry energy importer, the U.S. is moving toward potentially becoming a major energy exporter.
“As the surge in domestic energy production becomes a game-changer, it’s time to change the game when it comes to both midstream and downstream energy risk management and risk transfer,” said Rob Rokicki, a New York-based senior vice president with Liberty International Underwriters (LIU) with 25 years of experience underwriting energy property risks around the globe.
Given the domino effect, whereby critical issues impact each other, today’s businesses and insurers can no longer look at challenges in isolation one issue at a time. A holistic, collaborative and integrated approach to minimizing risk and improving outcomes is called for instead.
Aging Infrastructure, Aging Personnel
The irony of the domestic energy surge is that just as the industry is poised to capitalize on the bonanza, its infrastructure is in serious need of improvement. Ten years ago, the domestic refining industry was declining, with much of the industry moving overseas. That decline was exacerbated by the Great Recession, meaning even less investment went into the domestic energy infrastructure, which is now facing a sudden upsurge in the volume of gas and oil it’s being called on to handle and process.
“We are in a renaissance for energy’s midstream and downstream business leading us to a critical point that no one predicted,” Rokicki said. “Plants that were once stranded assets have become diamonds based on their location. Plus, there was not a lot of new talent coming into the industry during that fallow period.”
In fact, according to a 2014 Manpower Inc. study, an aging workforce along with a lack of new talent and skills coming in is one of the largest threats facing the energy sector today. Other estimates show that during the next decade, approximately 50 percent of those working in the energy industry will be retiring. “So risk managers can now add concerns about an aging workforce to concerns about the aging infrastructure,” he said.
Increasing Frequency of Severity
Current financial factors have also contributed to a marked increase in frequency of severity losses in both the midstream and downstream energy sector. The costs associated with upgrades, debottlenecking and replacement of equipment, have increased significantly,” Rokicki said. For example, a small loss 10 years ago in the $1 million to $5 million ranges, is now increasing rapidly and could readily develop into a $20 million to $30 million loss.
Man-made disasters, such as fires and explosions that are linked to aging infrastructure and the decrease in experienced staff due to the aging workforce, play a big part. The location of energy midstream and downstream facilities has added to the underwriting risk.
“When you look at energy plants, they tend to be located around rivers, near ports, or near a harbor. These assets are susceptible to flood and storm surge exposure from a natural catastrophe standpoint. We are seeing greater concentrations of assets located in areas that are highly exposed to natural catastrophe perils,” Rokicki explained.
“A hurricane thirty years ago would affect fewer installations then a storm does today. This increases aggregation and the magnitude for potential loss.”
On its own, the domestic energy bonanza presents complex risk management challenges.
However, gradual changes to insurance coverage for both midstream and downstream energy have complicated the situation further. Broadening coverage over the decades by downstream energy carriers has led to greater uncertainty in adjusting claims.
A combination of the downturn in domestic energy production, the recession and soft insurance market cycles meant greatly increased competition from carriers and resulted in the writing of untested policy language.
In effect, the industry went from an environment of tested policy language and structure to vague and ambiguous policy language.
Keep in mind that no one carrier has the capacity to underwrite a $3 billion oil refinery. Each insurance program has many carriers that subscribe and share the risk, with each carrier potentially participating on differential terms.
“Achieving clarity in the policy language is getting very complicated and potentially detrimental,” Rokicki said.
Back to Basics
Has the time come for a reset?
Rokicki proposes getting back to basics with both midstream and downstream energy risk management and risk transfer.
He recommends that the insured, the broker, and the carrier’s underwriter, engineer and claims executive sit down and make sure they are all on the same page about coverage terms and conditions.
It’s something the industry used to do and got away from, but needs to get back to.
“Having a claims person involved with policy wording before a loss is of the utmost importance,” Rokicki said, “because that claims executive can best explain to the insured what they can expect from policy coverage prior to any loss, eliminating the frustration of interpreting today’s policy wording.”
As well, having an engineer and underwriter working on the team with dual accountability and responsibility can be invaluable, often leading to innovative coverage solutions for clients as a result of close collaboration.
According to Rokicki, the best time to have this collaborative discussion is at the mid-point in a policy year. For a property policy that runs from July 1 through June 30, for example, the meeting should happen in December or January. If underwriters try to discuss policy-wording concerns during the renewal period on their own, the process tends to get overshadowed by the negotiations centered around premiums.
After a loss occurs is not the best time to find out everyone was thinking differently about the coverage,” he said.
Changes in both the energy and insurance markets require a new approach to minimizing risk. A more holistic, less siloed approach is called for in today’s climate. Carriers need to conduct more complex analysis across multiple measures and have in-depth conversations with brokers and insureds to create a better understanding and collectively develop the best solutions. LIU’s integrated business approach utilizing underwriters, engineers and claims executives provides a solid platform for realizing success in this new and ever-changing energy environment.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.