In 2009, John T. Newby founded ETMG in Austin, Texas – where his company functions as distributor between carriers and brokers to design plans that meet specific client needs. Newby has spent much of his time working closely with the insurance departments in several states and senior executives of prominent U.S. carriers in an effort to provide employers and associations with affordable nationwide health insurance plans. His target markets are small- to mid-size employers, mostly made up by middle-income Americans.
In the two years ETMG has been in operations, the company has experienced substantial growth and is working on plans totaling about $40 million in annual premium, Newby says. Newby has a knack for creating specialized plan designs for unique programs, which, he believes, sets apart his line of business from others. True group medical insurance plans for the self-employed, for instance, are available, and Newby has even designed an accident health policy for professional motorcycle racers.
The plans are designed to be effective in both the long term and short term. “The running joke with the carriers is if it’s outside the box, it’s something I work on,” Newby says.
When the spectre of health reform emerged last year, confusion ran rampant among Newby’s clients, and they were skeptical to purchase new health insurance plans, he says. No one knew what health insurance regulations would survive, so ETMG launched a line of supplemental products, including a long-term care division and a 401(k) program.With these additional offerings, ETMG could continue providing related services to its clients while the health care reform fear settled down.
“While people were indecisive about health care, they were not indecisive about other products,” Newby says. “So we diversified into those until things calmed down in the health insurance area, and then we could reinvigorate the health side. Then, once we have these other products out there, we found we were able to cross-sell back into the health insurance.”
Of course, with so much uncertainty surrounding reform, many carriers have left the health insurance market altogether, Newby says, which also has affected business – but in a different way. While there might be fewer carriers to choose from, the strongest companies have risen to the top. “Health insurance is one of those industries where you can’t stick your toe in the water,” Newby says. “You have to either get in or get out.”
While most brokers are typically open to clients of all types, Mark Lacher keeps to a specific client niche. Lacher’s ideal client, he says, is interested in developing a relationship with a regional brokerage firm, rather than a nationwide corporation, and brings in $15 million to $1 billion in revenue per year.
Lacher’s a Certified Insurance Counsel and a partner at Lacher & Associates in Souderton, Pa., where he focuses on the mid-market clientele.Lacher’s brokerage service is different from others in the business because it doesn’t stop at employee benefits. While Lacher & Associates offers property and casualty insurance, like most, he also provides business training services. From improving sales tactics to developing a social media plan, Lacher wants to help clients focus on strategic goals throughout their organization. Though this doesn’t sound like a typical insurance offering, business training is really just another way to mitigate risk and avoid losing revenue, Lacher says.
“If you look at benefits in a strictly insurance sense, you’re transferring risks to an insurance carrier in some way,” Lacher says. “So what we’re doing is helping mitigate risks to your organization in total and think about the organization in a much broader sense.”
Implementation is an especially important issue for Lacher’s account management team, he says, and it must be completed at a high level. The client experience is a key part of Lacher’s service model, and if Lacher promises a client a certain number of implementation objectives, there’s no room for error because each implementation is customized to fit that client’s needs. Health management and wellness systems also remain a large part of Lacher’s business, he says.
In fact, Lacher & Associates just teamed up with Attentive Health, a health management and wellness company, and together they’ve developed a point-based reward system for employees.In this system, employees accrue points for their participation that can be applied to special job perks, such as holidays or lower premium contributions. This system is particularly effective, he says, because it holds employees accountable and encourages engagement. Without some form of engagement, Lacher finds wellness programs typically don’t succeed.
“From a benefits broker standpoint, you have to be in that discussion if you want to be in this business,” Lacher says. “If you’re not, then you’re just selling a product, and that’s just not enough to be in the game right now."
Anjanette Simone, the senior vice president and client advocate within the human capital practice for Willis Insurance Services in Atlanta, provides strategic consulting to local as well as national employer groups.
With more than 14 years of industry experience, Simone has serviced public and private companies, where she’s helped clients in a variety of areas, including compliance, funding, health care cost management, communications and plan design.Picking up new clients is obviously a large part of Simone’s responsibilities as a sales professional, but her focus on account management is what sets her apart, she says. Other brokers might be ready to move on to the next big prospect once the sale is closed and implemented, but Simone and her team continue to ensure all areas of service, ranging from claims issues to account strategies, are up to client standards.
“I may carry a business card from Willis, but they’re buying from me,” Simone says.“They’re buying my intellectual capital that I bring to the table. They’re buying my team, our philosophy and the way we approach business. I take the responsibility seriously, and because of that, I’m always actively engaged in the account.”
In the next year, Simone expects to see a greater emphasis on wellness and disease management programs; however, it’s important to help clients understand these programs are not an overnight solution to cutting health care costs, Simone says.Developing a wellness culture takes time and sometimes encouragement, she points outs, whether that comes from a grassroots movement or tying the program to a medical plan.
“I think wellness does have a huge impact on your health care costs overall,” Simone says. “It also boosts employee morale, and productivity improves, but the return on investment is not necessarily as quick as some things you would implement, so employers have to understand that while wellness is certainly good at controlling the costs, it does take a little while to build it and see the rewards.”
Simone insists that now is an especially opportune time to work as a broker because human resource departments need the help more than ever. With today’s down economy, HR administrators are wearing more hats and taking on additional responsibilities. There just isn’t the time for HR to give employee benefits the focus it requires, but this is just a chance for brokers to shine.
“There is so much regulation to sort through and define, and that’s where we can come in and help and guide HR,” Simone says. “We look for programs that bridge any gaps to create a great plan offering that meets the strategic needs of a client. It really makes our value as brokers even more prominent.”
Leslie Wiernik, CEBS, is an insurance consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the individual and group markets, where she has expertise in plan design, funding analysis, managed care alternatives, implementation, benefits communication, and policy and procedure guidance, but it doesn’t stop there. She also helps clients understand legislative and regulatory compliance and provides plan management and administration. With health care reform looming, many brokers have feared their livelihood could cease once the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act takes full effect in 2014.
But this interpretation, like other facets of health care reform, is changing, and many think there is still a place for the broker, Wiernik says. In fact, Wiernik believes the broker role is more valuable than ever. Health insurance is a complicated issue to average Americans, Wiernik says, because they do not deal with on a daily basis; however, brokers are constantly staying on top of the issues that affect employers and employees alike.As health care reform regulations grow more complex, the broker is there to guide benefit administrators through the many options and changes.
“We’re the ones out there on the front lines,” Wiernik says. “We’re helping them understand what’s going on – the ins and outs, the legalities from state continuation to COBRA to section 89. There’s always a need for a broker to explain all those issues through the years. And we haven’t even touched the insurance policy; we haven’t even discussed an office visit copay and diagnostic x-ray and lab.”
But for Wiernik, being a valuable broker is more than just staying up to date on the newest health care reform regulation; it’s about providing clients with high-quality service, which is especially important in a slow economy, she says.
“I look at their bottom line like it’s my bottom line,” Wiernik says. “That’s what really drives me; that’s the motivator.It’s being focused on the customer and looking out for their best interest. I’m trying to help them lower the cost and present ideas to them that round out what they offer their employees.”
Wiernik tells her clients they can call her at any hour of every day. A problem can arise on a Sunday afternoon, and Wiernik is ready to help.When it comes down to it, working as an insurance consultant is a rewarding career, Wiernik says. Each day Wiernik has the opportunity to help clients find the most economical ways to better their health, and she takes pride in that.
“This business is rewarding to me,” Wiernik says. “I think people who are in it feel the same way. We all have the heart to help people.”
For the past five years, Nicholas Beatty has worked as an insurance broker representative for Talus Brokerage Services in Piketon, Ohio. Beatty focuses on group sales for small- and medium-size businesses and specifically helps employers choose between major medical and ancillary policies.
In Beatty’s time with Talus Brokerage Services, he has helped facilitate roughly $6 million of new business sales in annual premiums as well as renewals in southeastern Ohio, totaling roughly $20 million in annual premiums.When working with clients, Beatty makes a point to encourage open communication on all levels, which sets apart his practice for others, he says. Not only does Beatty give thorough presentations to employers but he also takes the time to address employees. From the top perks to the policy gaps, Beatty addresses all areas of coverage with employees.
“To tell you the truth, sometimes we catch flak from the employers about telling the employees that these are the certain circumstances where it’s not perfect coverage, but I want them to understand,”Beatty says. “In my view, if you go over the entire package, there will be less time spent on the backend if someone calls asking questions that weren’t covered.”
Some brokers, Beatty says, feel the time crunch to make quick business transactions and won’t go to the lengths to ensure their clients truly understand their policies. But Beatty doesn’t like to leave any unanswered questions on the table.
“It’s all about smart consumerism in today’s market,” Beatty says. “You have to understand your policy. You have to understand the holes in your policy, and you have to understand where there are sweet spots because there are sweet spots in every policy.You have to understand how to utilize those.”
In the next year, Beatty expects health care reform to pose a challenge to his benefits business. The interpretation of health care reform is constantly changing, Beatty says, and sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with the evolving regulations. To stay current on the latest health care reform news, Beatty has created a buddy system. Whether you’re another broker or a client, Beatty encourages his contacts to call him if they get word of a new interpretation, so they can find an answer together.
“I always say this, ‘I was a specialist in reform yesterday; that doesn’t mean I have all the answers today,’” Beatty says. “If you hear something I haven’t heard, give me a call, so we can talk about it. I can research it to find out the true answer. The answers aren’t right in front of you.”