Nolan Waterfall is the managingpartner of QandunInsurance Agency, a full-service insurance brokerage thatstrives to take clients from confusion to clarity, empowerconfidence and provide support all the way throughimplementation.

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Paul Wilson: How did you get started in the benefitsindustry?

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Like a lot of people, I fell into it by accident. I was going to school for finance,and I figured out three-quarters of the way in that I didn't reallywant to pursue the path that a lot of my peers were going down. Acustomer who worked in employee benefits came into a retail placewhere I was working and I thought, “that sounds interesting,because it's solving problems for multiple people atonce.”

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They ended up hiring me and I slowly worked my way up. I've onlybeen working in the insurance field for about five and half yearstotal, and only about four years on the benefits side, so it reallyhasn't been that long.

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PW: What has helped shape your mindset as abroker?

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The main factor in the broker I am today is Rudy Garcia, whofounded Qandun Insurance. I was at a brokerage before and we weredoing things the typical way. We positioned and sold ourselves as atechnology broker. I thought, “Wow! This isreally it; technology is a differentiator.”

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Related: Dear benefits broker: Sell stories, notproducts

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I heard brokers saying, “No, that's not it. It's got to be you;it's got to be the strategy and results,” but it fell on deaf earsfor a while.

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At about that time, I started talking with Rudy and seeing howdeep he was going with his clients and the importance of asking theright questions and solving the right problems. If you're notasking the right questions, your insight and guidance won't be asimpactful. That was very motivating to me. I saw him doing this atsuch a high level and it inspired me to go and do the same.

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PW: What are the opportunities and challenges you faceas a smaller brokerage?

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One challenge is that some clients or prospects just want to seea big name. At that point, it's on us to communicate our value,because we know we can do things that the big houses won't do.They're designed to do things a certain way, while we're able toreinvent ourselves and pursue strategies that they're not.

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I feel like our industry's biggest challenge is we need to startbeing more transparent. We need a little more leewayfrom carriers and suppliers so we're able to be more transparent.We're kind of strangled right now. We don't tell people what we'reworth; we just rely on the commissions coming in to cover ourcosts. I feel like that's a big deal. That's a big challengebecause if carriers keep cutting commissions—which they are—then webecome chained to them.

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PW: What have you and your firm done around compensationtransparency and tying fees to performance?

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We always present our prospects and clients with ways to dothat. When we do, it makes some really excited and others, not somuch. I think there's a lot of fear around alternatives. A lot ofemployers we talk to say, “No, let's just renew.” They just want toget on with their business. But I think it's absolutely the future;it's only a matter of time.

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PW: What are the biggest challenges and successes you'reexperiencing or hearing about from peers?

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It's a bit of struggle for a lot of broker right now, becausewe're introducing new technology to clients and it causes more workfor us. It's very challenging to remain strategic when you're alsorequired to be so operational in nature. But as technologyprogresses and the everyday stuff becomes more automated, I'd liketo think that we'll be able to focus more on strategy.

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The brokers I'm seeing who are really thriving right now arefocused on driving spend down. They're technicians who are honingin on key ways they can drive spending down and they're really goodat communicating how it's done to people who may have never heardof some of these ideas and solutions.

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I'm really passionate about how we motivate people to leadhealthier lives. Things like meditation, holistic wellness,mindfulness and balance are just exploding right now. On my flighttoday, I overheard people talking about visualizing their day andbeing intentional about their commitments. This stuff is reallypowerful and I'm curious about how we can integrate it into healthcare.

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PW: Does that mean you're less of a cynic when it comesto wellness initiatives? There are definitely differing opinions inthe broker space.

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I know some really intelligent brokers who slam wellness, andthey do it with data. I get it. I'm not going to come out againstthat philosophy, because they're focusing on how to get the biggestwins versus time spent. A lot of brokers I talk to from the EastCoast tell me that they're not necessarily as into that as aculture, whereas if you go to Seattle, Portland or Los Angeles andstart talking about meditation and eating organic, people are goingto be into that.

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I just don't think there are enough examples yet to conclusivelysay holistic wellness isn't going to help us drive down costs. Butit's definitely a long-term approach, which can be a problem whenwe're often thinking in terms of quarters and years.

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PW: How important has collaboration with other brokersbeen to your career?

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I owe pretty much everything I know to collaboration; I'm alwayslearning from other brokers. What we do is so complicated, and ourclients are looking to us for so many things that I think it'spretty much impossible for any one broker or company leader to stayon top of it.

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I work with brokers in our area and we discuss what's workingand what's not. I'm not concerned that they're going to take myclients or that our opportunities will be reduced. What we gainfrom collaborating and helping each other get over obstacles so faroutweighs any possible disadvantages.

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I think it's really scary to think about how the general publicperceives health insurance right now. Unless we elevate our spaceand what it means to be a benefits consultant, I think we're goingto have problems. So let's help each other out.

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PW: What are your favorite things about yourjob?

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The main thing that drives me is just the magnitude of theproblem. We are constantly talking about the macro trends: howhealth care costs are skyrocketing and how it's becomingunaffordable for individuals and businesses alike. The trendsaren't in our favor either, in terms of the health of the averageperson in our country.

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My long-term vision is fueling businesses that are doing awesomethings in the world. That's why we focus on social enterprises andcompanies that have a mission beyond just making a profit.

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That's something I tell brokers: be yourself and be authentic.Look deep within and decide who you want to serve. That's anotherreason why I'm not intimidated by competition; I think that if weall become specific about who we want to serve, there's plenty ofroom for everyone. That's a really powerful thing.

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PW: As someone who's relatively new to the industry,what advice would you offer someone who's interested injoining?

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Have a long-term outlook. When I think of were I am today,compared to when I'd only done it for two years, it doesn't evenfeel like the same thing. I talk to brokers who have been doing itfor ten years and they say, “Man, I'm still learning so much. Ihope to have a firm grip on this in another couple years.”

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It takes a long time because there's so much going on. It's sucha vast industry and it means so many things to so many differentpeople. There are so many different types of people in our space.If you want a business where you can essentially tailor it to yourstrengths, our space certainly provides that. If you surroundyourself with the right kind of people, you can basically doanything.

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When we think we've arrived, that's the death of us. We cannever have the mindset that we have it all figured out. We can'tthink that way when our system is so broken.

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PW: Finish this sentence: The key to success in thisindustry going forward is…

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Integrity. If we had a family member working at one of ourclient companies, how would we serve them? Every person at eachcompany we serve is part of someone's family.

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Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is the editor-in-chief of BenefitsPRO Magazine and BenefitsPRO.com. He has covered the insurance industry for more than a decade, including stints at Retirement Advisor Magazine and ProducersWeb.