As brokers shift alliances fromcarriers to clients, the relationship changes. (Photo: ThomasPhillips/ALM)

|

Though we still collectively refer to our BenefitsPRO readers as“brokers,” we recognize that they've become so much more in recentyears. But listing “broker/consultant/advsior/educator/changeagent” just doesn't work for practical purposes. At a panel hostedby Megan Chiarello of Grassetto Creative at the BenefitsPRO Broker Expo, “brokers” shared theirperspectives on a changing industry and how brokers' businessmodels and roles are changing in response.

|

Here's a look at a few of the “hats” today's broker wears:

Advisor

As brokers shift alliances from carriers to clients, therelationship changes from transactional to more consultive. “One ofbiggest challenges is putting ourselves on the same side of thetable,” said Braden Manaco of Blue Horizon Benefits. “We want to bemore than just their broker. Saturday morning, a client called andwe were having a long conversation… he was asking a lot of hardhitting questions about a new HR manager. He used the term 'trustedadvisor' which is something I don't take lightly.”

|

It's more than just the words the client uses to describethem–some in the industry are moving away from the traditionalagreements that govern their relationships. “We prefer a consultingagreement,” said Jessica DuBois of Business Benefits Group, notingthat that allows them to change up the pricing structure. ”Pricetells a story about your quality.”

|

“We always have three ways our clients can engage,” AdamBerkowitz of Simpara HR added. “Broker of Record, consultingagreement or point solutions that work off of performance. Thereare a number of phenomenal vendors that you can engage with. Youcan implement these programs with your clients, most of the timefor free, and you're going to look like a rockstar.”

Change agents

“We are change agents,” Berkowitz said. “That's the hardestthing we do in this business.” Businesses are unhappy with theirincreasing benefits costs, but committing to overhauling the entireprocess is daunting. It's very true that for most of our clients,there's a fear of change.

|

“I talk a lot about change, people run away from me,” De Paolisaid. “CEOs and CFOs do not. You need to be willing to say yourmessage on more than one occasion. Then when they're ready, yousay, 'Okay, let's go. That may be a two or three year process.”

|

One tip Megan Cook of Adept Benefits offered the audience: findan expert. “There are change management organizations andconsultants,” she said. “I connected with one in Seattle. She hasan entire template for how to do change management withinorganizations, educating senior management and how to godownstream.”

Educator

Each of the panelists devotes a significant amount of time toeducating their clients and prospects on the new ideas transformingthe industry. Berkowitz's firm holds quarterly seminars. “We'restarting at a point where the client has never heard of thesethings. By educating the market, we're not selling. We'reeducating, making them familiar.”

|

Even if an employer isn't ready to make the leap, brokers aresketching out the path for them to do it. “By educating along theway, when they get that big renewal, they're in a position toimplement,” Cook said. “We had a client that we'd been doing allthis education. They got a 47 percent increase. While they had beenlistening all along the way, they hadn't been expecting toimplement all of this. We got their cost 40 percent below what theywere at. That wouldn't have happened had we not educated for thesix months beforehand.”

Marketer

Standing out from the competition is a must in today'senvironment. While all the panelists recognized the need for acomprehensive marketing strategy, they let the audience in on a fewtricks.

|

“Templates,” DuBois said, referring the audience to a couple ofuseful websites. “Templates for inforgraphics, social media, slidedecks. You're taking your thoughts and putting them on atemplate.”

|

Another helpful shortcut: email marketing programs, such asMailchimp and Hubspot, which allow for creating and scheduling aseries of emails. “It makes it as easy for you as possible butstill looking professional,” DuBois said.

|

That's a requirement for Allison De Paoli of De PaoliProfessional Services. “I'm a stickler for brand,” she said. ”Ourmarketing automation is consistent, it has a clear voice.Everything is branded the way we want it to look. Get a brand guideand embrace templates.”

Collaborator

With so many additional roles to play, there just aren't enoughhours in the day for brokers to master everything. Thus,collaboration has become an essential part of survival in today'sworld.

|

“We collaborate with a number of other advisors, and we're atalkative bunch,” De Paoli said. “One learns something and somebodyelse learns something, and it's like wildfire.”

|

“There's no question that the prof growth and growth of ouragency is the result of collaboration of many people in theindustry, including our vendor partners,” Berkowitz agreed. “It'snatural. I would encourage going outside of the industry, findinggroups that can hold you accountable, other business owners.”

|

Overwhelmed by all of these new hats? It's a lot to take on, butone key the panelists stressed was to take advantage of theresources and tools available–be smart about where and how youspend your time. “Being a successful organization requiresoutsourcing, automation, having a systematic process and executingtime and again,” Berkowitz said. “We have to automate all thejunk.”

|

Read more of our Expo coverage:

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
Emily Payne

Emily Payne is director, content analytics for ALM's Business & Finance Markets and former managing editor for BenefitsPRO. A Wisconsin native, she has spent the past decade writing and editing for various athletic and fitness publications. She holds an English degree and Business certificate from the University of Wisconsin.