Amanda Osburn is a broker associate at SullivanCurtisMonroe, a privately-owned full-service insurance brokerage offering customized solutions for commercial risk, employee benefits, and personal lines for over 80 years. SCM has over 150 employees and three regional offices in southern California and has been named one of Orange County’s Best Places to Work.
Paul Wilson: How did you get your start in the benefits industry?
For about 15 years, I was an HR consultant and advisor, so I consulted with clients and employers on various HR needs. As ACA was approaching, we got more questions from employers who weren’t happy with their broker and wanted to make a change but didn’t know how to start. I started to understand the amount of pain and need, and it seemed like a great opportunity for me to jumpstart the next phase of my career.
PW: Do you see a future for smaller independent brokers, or will we end up with a landscape made up entirely of larger players?
At some point, employers will have had enough with the consolidation. You don’t want to get to a point where there’s not enough competition and employers are left with no options. There comes a tipping point where it no longer works in anyone’s favor, and I think we’re getting closer to it.
I think independent brokers and strong regional brokers still have a shot by being innovative and bringing solutions that are important to their clients. I came to a regional firm because I have more agility to provide resources and solutions that make sense for my clients. We can be more creative and fast moving with the resources and solutions that we provide.
PW: What’s keeping your clients up at night?
How to provide creative solutions without increasing costs to employees. We look at creative plan design and discuss self-funding and level funding to determine whether it’s a good fit. I’m always surprised when they say, “We’d love to have that conversation, but our broker has never brought it up.” I think it’s better to be proactive in bringing new strategies and trends to clients. You always want to bring the best solutions and you risk losing business if you don’t.
PW: What about you as a broker? What’s keeping you up at night?
Being a broker is almost like being someone’s best friend. To get someone to give you a chance, you have to convince them to break up with one of their best friends. So you have to sell your worth before you get in the door. Doing that over an initial conversation on a cold call or at an event is difficult.
It’s also hard to balance my time—social media, on the phones, sending emails, there’s just never enough time in the day. But I’m very lucky because I get to focus my time on growing the brand.
PW: What does the word “disruption” mean to you?
I think disruption is another word for evolution. We’ve heard more about it recently from a lot of the startups, but a lot of those startups in our industry are now gone. Being patient is definitely a virtue; don’t jump at the first thing that comes up. You know, shiny object syndrome. Sometimes, it’s best to sit back and see what happens.
Our industry has everyone’s attention right now and I think a lot of smart companies are using that to bring in their latest gadget or portal, but benefits advising is never going to go away. That’s where you’ve got to focus. Take a moment, really study the opportunity, see if it’s something that’s right for your client and then analyze and advise.
PW: What do you love about your job?
Every day is different. Some mornings I may start at 6 a.m., setting up an exhibitor booth at a conference in Universal City. Another night, I might be at a happy hour in Redondo Beach with a young professionals group giving career advice to budding HR professionals. I really like that.
And I find the HR world fascinating. Just like benefits, it’s constantly evolving. I like to dive right in and be a part of that community. I see some of the biggest brokers at events just sitting at their booth behind all the little tchotchkes on their table, waiting for someone to come talk to them. Meanwhile, I’m out there giving hugs because I just saw someone at the breakfast event the day before and I’m asking, “Hey, how did soccer practice go?” I am my client. I’m a 40-year-old working mom. I think that’s something that’s a differentiator for me. I am my audience and I think it helps me relate to the multiple priorities they have going on.
PW: This industry has historically been male dominated. Do you see that changing? How can it do a better job of attracting women?
The industry is definitely changing, and it’s going to have to. The average broker is what, a 59-year-old male? We’re all going to be out of a job if something doesn’t change. It’s getting more difficult and there are fewer of us.
We need to get the word out. I was at a career event last week speaking as a working mom and telling them that one of the things I love about my job is the flexibility. There’s a great work/life balance and there’s unlimited compensation potential and growth opportunities.
My firm does a great job training and developing their internal talent. Some of our best consultants started 15, 20 years ago as account assistants.
Related: Women brokers celebrate success
PW: What advice would you give a young broker or someone who is interested in joining the profession?
Be brave. It can be intimidating at first. I had been in HR consulting a long time and I thought, “I’m a working mom, approaching 40. Do I have what it takes?” And then I said, “These guys aren’t smarter than me, they’ve just been doing it longer. So I’ll just pick up my pace and I can be where they are.” It’s there if you want it, but you have to ask for the opportunity.
PW: Who are your favorite innovators or sources of inspiration?
My source of inspiration is my clients. Why do I get up in the morning? Because I don’t want to get that phone call saying, “I need help with this,”and then not be able to help them. They are the reason we do this.
And my kids inspire me, too. As a single working mom, I want to show them, don’t be afraid to take on a challenge. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Ask for help, ask for opportunities.
I’m also inspired by people who bring compassion into the business world. People who remember every employee, every client is a person with a family and a background and a story. When you have a claim, it’s a person. Put yourself in their shoes. These are all humans and you can’t forget that.
PW: Finish this sentence: The key to success in this industry going forward is…
Approaching challenges head on. You can’t be afraid. Learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, from every resource you can. Being humble and growing the next generation of consultants. Giving back, providing internships and finding those who need a mentor. Thinking beyond ourselves and giving back to the industry that’s given so much to us.