Rachel Miner, employee benefit strategist at Employee Benefit Advisors of the Carolinas, LLC
Rachel Miner is an employee benefit strategist at Employee Benefit Advisors of the Carolinas, LLC. Their agency partners closely with mid-sized businesses to simplify employee benefits and proactively manage health care spend through creative thought leadership and innovative solutions.
Paul Wilson: How did you get started in the industry?
My first job was with Paychex, cold calling 200 people a day. Talk about getting thrown to the wolves! But I learned a lot about HR and benefits.
I transitioned into technology sales and worked for Zywave. I found there were opportunities for a good broker, because many didn't bring innovative solutions to their clients.
During that time, I called Suzy Johnson from Employee Benefit Advisors of the Carolinas every time I saw her in one of the industry magazines. Finally, she reached out to me and said she was looking to retire in the coming years. I mentioned that my goal is to own an agency, so it has worked out really well and hopefully, I’ll be part of her succession plan.
PW: How has your past shaped your mindset as a broker?
My dad worked for pharmaceutical companies my whole life, so we’ve always had discussions about health care and pharmacy spend. I’ve always wanted to positively impact people, and have been interested in health and fitness. This was a natural progression, because I love love talking about strategy. I went to school to be a lawyer, so problems and solutions are a big part of who I am. It's been a good fit.
PW: What is the biggest challenge brokers face?
The status quo. The biggest challenge is that people just don't want to change. It's really hard to get them to steer away from what they’re used to.
PW: What strategies help clients communicate with their employees and serve the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce?
As a millennial, I tend to gravitate toward technology, but I know not everyone is comfortable with it. I work with one law office that has 50 partners, 30 of whom are over the age of 70. When looking at a very diverse organization, you have to implement multiple strategies. So we might use online enrollment for those who are comfortable, but also need to have paper forms and finish the online enrollment for those who aren't comfortable. Some people will be happy to use concierge apps, but others like to call in. I think technology vendors in our space have done a really good job of making products user-friendly for multiple demographics.
PW: In many ways, it's harder to be a broker consultant now than ever before. How do you stay motivated?
I think it's important to be realistic about your goals and always hold yourself accountable. I’m my own biggest critic.
I also have great relationships with my co-workers and we continuously push each other. We’re an independent agency, and we see a lot of value in that. As more agencies are being acquired or are merging, we see that as fuel for ourselves; even when it gets hard, we return to the common goal of growing the agency.
PW: What appeals to you about owning an independent agency? What are the keys for smaller brokerages moving forward?
I think independent agencies will have a huge competitive advantage in the next few years, because they have the ability to be very nimble. There's no bureaucratic chain of command. If I find something for a client that I believe perfectly addresses their needs, I just go out and I get it.
I attended a webinar run by one of the big brokerages where I heard them say that for all of their groups under 150 lives, they had put together a marketplace of three different plans. I remember thinking, a trucking company is going to have the same plan options as an engineering firm or a law firm, and that just doesn't make sense to me. Insurance is so personal.
PW: How can a smaller firm compete with bigger brokerages?
It's definitely different. We don't have a compliance department or 20 ERISA attorneys on staff, but we do contract with ERISA attorneys and vendors who allow us to provide the same level of service as our bigger competitors.
PW: Speaking of vendors, how do you figure out what you need (and don't need)?
I’ve probably already received 12 emails today from vendors. You have to cut through that noise and prioritize. The vast majority of my time is spent prospecting, but there are three or four of us who evaluate technology. It can be challenging at times, but it gives me the benefit of knowing the solutions more intimately. When a client asks me a question, I can give them a very educated answer. But you have to be smart about it because I could see a vendor every two hours and still not know everything that's out there.
PW: How are you taking advantage of the current changes and opportunities in the industry?
One of the biggest things we’re doing is not discounting anything until we know more about it. We’re open to anything that could help control health care spend and enhance clients’ benefit offerings.
We’re facing fewer competitors, but those we have are getting stronger and larger. We’re becoming more methodical. We’re now only looking at markets and customers we know would be a good fit for our solutions.
PW: Why is it a good time to join the industry?
Chaos breeds opportunity. Many groups are begging for guidance. They don't want to get bad news every year. They are looking for cost containment and a more efficient way of doing things. I think that's why Zenefits saw so much initial success. They saw a need in the marketplace, a pain point for a lot of smaller businesses, they led with value and tied insurance to the back end. I think if brokers, especially younger ones, can lead with value and tie in insurance, they’ll be amazingly successful.
PW: Any specific strategy trends you are seeing?
I think people are getting fed up with carriers, and are figuring out ways to put themselves in the driver's seat. We’re seeing a ton of groups talking about reference based pricing. A lot of them are looking to move toward direct primary care. We’re seeing medical tourism; a lot of global sourcing of pharmacy. We tell our clients, “Any way you can remove the middle man or reduce the amount you’re paying them, you should do it.”
PW: I keep hearing about carriers experimenting with ways to cut out the broker. Does that scare you?
It doesn't. Our health care system has become so hard to navigate, you need someone to help walk you through it. I tore my hamstring three weeks ago, and had to call four different places to find out how much it was going to cost. People were giving me bad information and telling me it was too hard to calculate cost, and I had to push back and say, “No, it isn't.” Even for someone who knows the health care system really well, it's extremely difficult to navigate and find the best care at the lowest price.
PW: As a female broker, do you think the industry is changing?
It's funny, because sometimes people still don't take me seriously. And I’m OK with that; I’m happy to have them underestimate me and then I’ll go talk to their customers!
The ladies who are in benefits, though, are rock star businesswomen and very good at what they do. And so many are focused on helping younger women; they are open to mentor and support each other, which I haven't found in other industries.
PW: Who are your favorite innovators or sources of inspiration?
I like Travis Bradberry, who talks about emotional intelligence, the importance of letting go of negativity and focusing on the things you can control. There's a lot to be said for that.
PW: What are your favorite things about your job?
I love being a challenger; having someone tell me they’re not interested and then proving why they should be willing to change. If you’re not trying to disrupt, you can easily become irrelevant. It excites me that people can change, that they can do things better.
PW: Finish this sentence: The key to success in this industry going forward is…
Being open to change. Our industry is changing so rapidly that you can't hold onto one solution and think it's always going to be the answer. You have to be willing to adapt.