Laura Frances is a benefitsconsultant with InsureNW.

|

Laura Frances is a benefits consultant with InsureNW, a benefitsagency that utilizes an innovative benefit solutions strategy toput employer clients at a competitive advantage in attracting andretaining top-level employee talent.

|

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

|

My mother has been a broker for more than 30 years, so I grew uparound benefits and health insurance. When I was seven, I wasstuffing envelopes as she grew her business. I went to theUniversity of Montana and also worked in insurance at that timedoing data entry and worked at New York Life for a short time aswell. But I moved back to Washington with my infant son and startedworking as a producer at my mom's company, where I've beenproducing for about eight years.

|

PW: How has your career so far shaped you as aconsultant?

|

I've learned to listen. Are we living in the moment and hearingwhat the other person is saying, or just talking to ourselves andmaking assumptions? No one knows a business better thanthe owner, so I'm there to learn about them and who they are andsee if I have solutions and can help them reach their goals. I wantto make that path easier.

|

PW: What are the main objections you're hearing andwhere are they coming from?

|

I tend to find that employees are good with change and usuallyjust want to know where they can turn for help, so being supportiveand offering service is important. I would say we get more pushbackfrom spouses than employees, but we try to manage that withservice. Change is always hard, whether you're changing carriers ormoving to reference-based pricing and the idea of not having acarrier. People can feel uncomfortable but in time, they come tounderstand it.

|

PW: Are there any specific challenges you face in yourpart of the country?

|

We deal with a lot of people coming from other countries, sothey have different expectations. Understanding what they'reexpecting and figuring out what we can do to help meet thoseexpectations is something we think about. They're often coming froma culture or environment where if you go to the doctor, thegovernment pays for it. It's very different here.

|

HR is another challenge here in the Seattle area. There's a highturnover rate, so there are a lot of HR professionals who aren'teducated about benefits. That's a big obstacle. We've seen seven HRheads pass through a large company in less than two years.

|

PW: How do you remain innovative without becomingdistracted or neglecting daily tasks?

|

It's definitely hard, because there are so many cool things outthere. I block out time. I'll give myself an hour for reading orresearching, and then set aside a certain amount of time for aproject. But you never know when you'll have an idea, read aboutsomething new or have an interesting conversation. I haven't hadmuch problem with that balance, because I'm always learning andfiguring out ways we can go forward.

|

PW: What are the challenges and opportunities that comewith being a smaller brokerage?

|

I think that you're more agile, you can move quicker and you cancreate solutions that are best for the client. I don't have to gothrough a bunch of red tape, I can just create what Ineed. And everyone in the company has an impact. If oneperson isn't doing something, we all feel it. I guess that's also apotential negative. Everyone has to give their best effort to getresults.

|

PW: How much do you collaborate with your peers acrossthe country?

|

We're part of TRUE Network of Advisors and we talk to them on adaily basis; it's an amazing group. And I'm a networker, so I talkto people around Washington and other parts of the country on aweekly basis.

|

I'm happy to tell anyone about how we do things, because we allwant to be good as an industry. We want to support our communitiesand have a healthy environment, and that means all of us workingtogether.

|

PW: What are some of the biggest trends and issuesyou're watching?

|

Lack of transparency is a big problem in the health care system.I'm also watching what's happening in the realm of prescriptiondrugs. The ACA isn't controlling costs or trying to lower costs; ifanything, it's potentially making some things more expensive. Ithink that's what innovative brokers are looking at right now: Howdo we go in group by group and effectively manage their costs?

|

PW: You're close to Canada. What are your thoughts onsingle-payer and that movement here in theU.S.? 

|

I don't view single-payer as a threat; I honestly believe thatwith every door that closes, 10 more open—just as we saw with theACA. It's just a matter of coming up with new strategies and newways to help people.

|

If single-payer does come about, there will be new and differentchallenges to deal with, but also new advantages. It's a matter offiguring out how to help the people you want to work with. Thingsare always evolving and that's a good thing. Our industry,what we do and the knowledge we have, will only become moreimportant.

|

PW: Your mom has been in the industry for decades; whatwas her reaction to the ACA? How did your companytransition?

|

It takes a long time and a lot of recognition to move fromreactive to proactive. My mom was more reactive for a long time,and I think that's true of a lot of small business owners.Sometimes, you're living day by day. But she is a proactive personand always has a positive outlook. We try not to operate out offear. We always try to move forward. It's nice to have apartnership where we can bounce things off of one another. That'sbeen really helpful. When it's one person, I think it's a lotharder to make those decisions and move the team forward.

|

PW: What are your favorite things about yourjob?

|

I love to connect and learn about people. It's interesting tohear other perspectives and stories—learning what it took to getwhere they are and where they want to go. It's so cool because weall get to create whatever we want; we have a blank canvas andwe're creating our dreams.

|

PW: How can the industry do a better job of attractingwomen and young consultants?

|

I've been on various industry boards over the years and we'veoften discussed this. A few times, I've just said, “Well, you'renot very welcoming. You haven't tried to get to know me, and when Iask questions, the answer are often really short.” I think ourindustry has some problems in that regard.

|

Brokers tend to get into a comfort zone where we're not pushingone another enough. We need to stop viewing each other ascompetition and figure out how to build a better community andsociety. I think things will get better.

|

PW: Do you feel being a female in this industry hascreated extra challenges or that you're perceived in a certainway?

|

About half the time, people think I'm someone's assistant untilI start talking to them. And then they're like, “Oh, maybe I shouldpay attention.” But if people choose to take that route, it's theirloss. You never know where you're going to learn something new orwho you're going to connect with. We're not in the era ofbrawn anymore, we're in the era of brains. So you'll really startto see women taking over in different areas.

|

PW: What are your sources of inspiration?

|

Certainly my mom; she's an amazing person. We've been through alot as a family and I really look up to her. I've alsolearned a lot for myself, as well. Having kids changes who you are;I learn everyday, I work on my patience all the time and my sonteaches me a lot.

|

I try to learn from everyone. Every conversation you have,everything you observe, if you're living in the moment, you reallyhave an opportunity to learn. Inspiration can come fromanywhere.

|

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

|

Having the right attitude. It'll make or break you.

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

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.