NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In front of an early-morning crowd, Benefits Selling announced Mark Lacher, partner at Lacher & Associates in Souderton, Pa., the 2011 Broker of the Year. Lacher’s business focuses on the mid-market clientele and approaches benefits with his clients’ overall strategic goals in mind. Whether reducing the bottom line or increasing employee productivity is the client’s ultimate goal, benefits plays a key role.
After the announcement, Benefits Selling sat down with Lacher to get his thoughts on the benefits industry and where it’s heading.
Benefits Selling: How does it feel to win Broker of the Year?
Lacher: It feels really good. I feel honored to be Broker of the Year. Not only was I honored as a finalist but being the overall winner is great. I want to thank everyone who voted for me: clients, friends and associates.
BS: With health care reform, competition surely must be tough. How do you excel in the industry?
Lacher: We’ve become a niche boutique firm, and we intend on staying that way. So we really work hard at finding the right client fit first, and we make sure we create a business partnership between the client and ourselves. Specifically related to health care reform, some of the things we’ve done are making sure we have diverse solutions we can offer clients, so it’s not just products or basic client services but really a suite of solutions that might be outside of your typical broker relationship. We are very much not a product-driven firm; we’re a solution-driven company, so the basic distinction is we don’t necessarily look at the products we sell as a solution for the client. We look at areas like creating a communications strategy or creating an engagement strategy as a solution for the client. The product is a byproduct.
BS: Do you anticipate handling benefits enrollment differently than in the past because of the newly adopted regulations?
Lacher: One of the key areas of communication is to make sure it’s happening throughout the year. Oftentimes, communications is just this once-a-year event around benefits, so we’ve partnered with some other firms that specialize in communications specifically as well as we’ve developed a communications platform in house that we deliver to our clients.
BS: Your employee benefits division has grown so much in the past few years. How do you plan on keeping that momentum?
Lacher: We really focus on client fit, so the way we go about prospecting and developing the pipeline is very much referral based or center of influence based, so we work with HR consulting firms and attorneys and accounts and so forth to find clients we think would really value the kind of business partnership we seek in our client relationships. We really believe in the power of strong social networks. That has been really successful.
BS: Wellness is such a large part of your business. Why do you think those programs are growing?
Lacher: We’ve been in the wellness space for about three years now, and we have a partnership with another firm. We believe the area of employee engagement and managing the health and productivity of your employees, managing your human capital needs, is more important now than it’s ever been, especially with the downturn in the economy. Instead of talking about vendors and products, we’re talking about how do we get results and manage results effectively. One of the ways we can manage is by focusing on the health care costs and limiting absenteeism and worker comp claims and providing health and productivity, so I think that message is ready because health care costs are incredibly expensive.
BS: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about business that has helped you in the benefits industry?
Lacher: No. 1 is having a constant curiosity to clients and your business. To the business side, that is really critical. No. 2 is be client centric. When we engage with our clients, we have a four-step process that we work through with them, and that process really starts with listening to them and understanding the challenges they face in their business that may be benefits related or may be unrelated. It’s understanding the strategic goals of your clients. That’s very much a business approach to benefits.
BS: What does 2011 hold in store for you?
Lacher: We expect to continue to have north of 30 percent growth in the benefits area, and as a firm overall, we also think we’ll continue to grow, which is exciting. Though we’re certainly still facing some challenges, but there are still some large opportunities for this year and beyond. As an industry, I see continued consolidation, so I think those high-growth firms will be able to maintain market share and be successful in future years