Braden Monaco, managing partner,Blue Horizon Benefits.

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Braden Monaco is a managing partner at Blue Horizon Benefits, aconcierge-style consulting firm based near Boston.

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Paul Wilson: How did you get started in theindustry?

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About 10 years ago, I was working as a claims adjuster for alarger national insurance company.

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I told a buddy I was looking for change. He was a personaltrainer and one of his clients owned an benefits agency and waslooking for someone he could train in business development. Iquickly fell in love with helping companies find solutions,educating and engaging employees and working asa consultant for clients. I was there for about eight years, andjust over two years ago, we opened Blue Horizon.

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PW: You started right when the ACA was entering thescene; how did that impact you and your career?

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Massachusetts had health care reform before that, so we'd alreadyseen a lot of those changes. I took the stance, “OK, the ACA iscoming into play, a major recession is happening. Whatopportunities are available? There's light at the end of everytunnel. So how do you get there?”

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Illustration of locksRelated: When it comes
to brokerages, one size
does not fit all

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Many were intimidated by the ACA's complications, but I was new,so everything was complicated. It was no different to me; work yourass off and get rewarded. I benefited because I justdidn't know any different. I didn't know what the good old dayswere.

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PW: How did you evolve and move to BlueHorizon?

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You look in the mirror one day and ask yourself, what will myfuture look like? Not just mine, but the future of my clients, whatI'm delivering and my ability to be nimble, proactive andcreative.

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I think the service side of our industry is not rewarded in thesame ways as the sales side. So a big thing for me was looking atthe old model and saying, these people are overworked and they'reunderpaid. Where's that money going? Well, we all know where it wasgoing. There was a point where we said, “There has to be somethingbetter.”

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One of my partners, Chris, has been in benefits tech for 20-plusyears. He's polar opposite of me, very detail-oriented. My otherpartner, Andrea, was an account manager for close to 15 years. Wehave a skill set between the three of us where we all do somethingdifferent, we all work well together and I think we can buildsomething that's different than what most brokers areproviding.

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PW: What are some things you and the firm have strivedto do differently?

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We look at is a concierge-style partnership. Obviously HRAs andother creative solutions helped me gain business, but I think mybook for the most part has grown based on my sincerity and myapproach of being real with people.

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And our partnership, the three of us, I think that's the piecethat has made us so incredibly successful in our two years ofgrowth.

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PW: Sincerity would resonate anywhere, but do you thinkespecially so in Boston and with some of your blue-collarclients?

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A lot of brokers ask “How did you grow your business?” and Isay, “Frankly, I just care.”

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You might be right, here in the Boston area where it's sometimeshard-nosed and competitive and vindictive, it might resonate more.I'm not saying brokers here don't care or aren't trustworthy, but Ithink there's sometimes a complacent approach.

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PW: What challenges do you face with so many demandsfacing you?

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Trying to catch up with some of the folks around the country whoare doing reference-based pricing and self-funding is a challenge.But in our area, a lot of it is conversational right now and moreabout strategic planning versus current-day execution. We havelarge employers where we're working on self-funding and solutionsin that realm, but there's a lot of employers with 100 to 150employees who have never even had the self-funding conversation. Sothere's a roadmap to follow to get them where they'd ideally liketo be.

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PW: Are there any unique challenges you face in yourpart of the country or with your clientele?

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Some clients will say, “I don't know if our employees willenroll with technology.” In those cases, we've invested in smalldesktops and put them in warehouses. It only goes to one website,where they enroll. We'll also sit one-on-one with employees, orhave a line where they can call and we'll help them enroll. But Ithink the days of anyone saying they don't have a computer orinternet access are ending. Manufacturing is still a little behind,but construction has come so far in the last 10 years. People areso in tune with technology now.

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One of our keys is empowering employees. We have to find ways tochange people. Change their utilization and habits and help themsee things differently. Five years ago, I'd get pushback onvoluntary: “I don't think my employees want that.” Now I tellemployers, “No need to make that decision anymore. You need tooffer a robust benefits package; you don't know what's going on intheir lives. Let them choose—give them opportunity, give them thebenefits that are available.In some cases, it's such a relief foremployers.

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These types of conversations, combined with technology, haveworked tremendously for us, even in construction and manufacturing.Participation rates have skyrocketed.

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PW: You mentioned Romneycare, and we still hear buzzabout reform and single-payer. How much attention do youpay?

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These big stories are in our faces all the time, whether it'sAmazon, single-payer or what Trump wants to do. Everything in ourindustry, on the surface, seems like a great idea or solution: whywouldn't I do that? But let's think through the complexities andthe impact it will have on our business, on our people, on oursociety.

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If we worried about every possibility, none of us would everleave our houses.

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I love that Amazon is trying to make some changes. Do I thinkthey're going to uproot the entire industry overnight? Absolutelynot. Is what they're doing any different than what a number ofbrokers around the country are already doing for small employers?No. But they have volume.

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I look at it and say, what's in front of us today? Next week?Next year? What can we do today to put us in the best position fortomorrow? If I sit back and worry about single-payer or what Amazonis doing, then I'm not focusing on my clients' needs and wantstoday.

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PW: What are your favorite things about yourjob?

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When I can provide personal care to someone, when you canprovide solutions in a way that's genuine, that's what drives me.It sounds so simple on the surface, but I think our industry hasbeen complacent and jaded for so long because of how the revenue isdriven and how the increases have come. It's become, in many cases,so transactional. I look at every client and say this is someone'slivelihood; this is someone's business that provides for them,their families and their employees' families. Every decision wemake or extra hour we spend reading or researching make adifference in someone's life.

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PW: What are your sources of inspiration andinnovation?

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Just over three years ago, I opened a CrossFit gym with my dadand brother. It's a labor of love, a place where anyone can feelaccepted and welcomed. I love the community, the determination andgrit, the hard work, the camaraderie. Whether you're a CEO or aconstruction worker, middle-aged and weighing 350 pounds or 15 andin really good shape, you're all working for the same goals andsupporting each other. I get inspiration from how hard they work,their dedication; from watching people's lives change and having animpact on others.

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

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Perseverance. Put your head down and focus on the task athand.

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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.