Editor's note: Benefits Selling's Broker of the Year finalists will be revealed Monday-Friday this week. Meet our third finalist.
The difference between a stock car race and a drag race is pretty basic. NASCAR drivers have to endure 500-mile tests of mind and body behind the wheel of an 800-horsepower machine just to have a chance to make it to Victory Lane.
A drag race is over in less than 10 seconds. And while that's the way some sales people manage their client relationships, that isn't the way David Contorno, CEO of Lake Norman Benefits, goes about his business. No, Contorno is running a longer race in an effort to provide great benefits to his clients — many of whom already have taken home a checkered flag in the form of better health care and positive movement in plan costs.
Located in Mooresville, North Carolina — the heart of NASCAR country and a booming suburb of Charlotte — Lake Norman Benefits was launched in 2008 after Contorno relocated from Long Island, New York. The company has grown to serve about 400 group clients and thousands of employees with a staff that stands at 20 professionals. The company offers full benefits packages including health, dental, vision, life, disability, voluntary and 401(k) plans.
“We want to work with employers,” Contorno says. “When their mindset is a one-year, shop-it-out mentality, I ask them if they plan to be in business in five years, and I tell them they need to look at this beyond one year.”
Part of 38-year-old Contorno's approach to employee benefits is to educate his clients about their health care. There's a lot to learn, but Contorno is very serious about helping employers and employees become savvy consumers. With skyrocketing health insurance rates, Contorno says, people can no longer afford to rely on their plans to cover their costs and not feel the pain of rate increases later.
With this hands-on approach, Contorno can be effective in managing his client's health care costs. While he's managed to keep benefits packages affordable for many of his clients, he also has in many cases been able to realize rate reductions for others. That's almost unheard of in today's market.
“I look at our block of business and my No. 1 goal is to be performing better than the national average,” Contorno says. “And our trend is that our increases have come down over the years. There's a spread between the industry and us, and we are outperforming the industry. That's a real indicator of my success. If I can get costs to just be going up with normal inflation or the consumer price index, then I’m so far ahead. Since the 1970s, health care has increased 1,400 percent. That's not sustainable.”
The approach has worked. Contorno's business has a slew of employers on its roster — everything from high-tech firms to NASCAR operations. While there's plenty of room to grow in North Carolina, Lake Norman is active in a couple dozen states.
“You know I’m a sort of serial entrepreneur,” Contorno says. “I’m always looking for growth and to challenge the status quo. We don't have definitive goals for growth yet but we’ve been showing double-digit growth since I moved down here.”