2019’s Adviser of the Year winners lead through innovation

EBA 2019 Adviser of the Year

With record-low unemployment and competitive benefit packages, employers are working more closely with their adviser partners to create compelling and attractive benefits in order to keep their best talent. This is where this year’s crop of employee benefit advisers really stand out.

The annual Adviser of the Year awards recognize excellence in the benefit adviser space. These are the men and women who deliver outstanding benefits in the categories of wellness, voluntary, retirement and technology as well as the overall Adviser of the Year.

Here’s a look at EBA’s Adviser of the Year winners for 2019.

Adviser(s) of the Year
Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila
Arrow Benefits Group

Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila do their best work in the car.

The duo are famous for their post-client-meeting debriefs, most of which take place on the drive back to the office. After meetings, they buckle their seatbelts and pull out their recorder — talking over the details of the day, including everything from a client’s body language to the food they had for lunch.

They save the recordings — the pair has collected more than 100 since last November — which they revisit before meeting with that client again.

McNeil and Avila, senior benefits advisers at Arrow Benefits Group, a benefits firm based in Petaluma, California, have worked together for the past three years and collectively manage a $1.3 million book of business.

McNeil, a principal at the firm, and Avila also do nearly everything together and, combined, they boast an impressive resume that includes Avila’s leadership of the company’s Spanish language division, Alianza, which she launched, and their YouTube channel, BenefitsTV.

“They can finish each other’s thoughts; they’re so in sync with one another. But they’re also really different and really complementary,” says Lori Zaret, senior vice president of human resources at Exchange Bank and a friend of both.

Benefit advising is often described as a competitive industry, one where advisers continually work to assert their value to employers. While brokers sometimes meet with clients in groups, it is not as common for two advisers to share as many clients as Avila and McNeil do.

The ability to understand employers on a deep emotional level is what has ultimately helped Avila and McNeil develop such close relationships with their clients.

Read more about Avila and McNeil here.
Jewell Lim Esposito
Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year
Jewell Lim Esposito
Partner, head of ERISA practice and head of cannabis, hemp and CBD practice

Jewell Lim Esposito enjoys the complexity of ERISA tax law. As a partner at FisherBroyles and head of the law firm’s ERISA/tax practice, she is drawn to advising employers who are looking to bring retirement benefits like 401(k) plans to their workforce.

But Esposito’s job as an ERISA tax lawyer led her in a new direction when in 2017 she was approached by several cannabis companies who were looking for guidance when implementing their own retirement benefits. Questions over legality of cannabis on a state and federal level presented what some would consider a difficult task — but Esposito was up for the challenge.

“There were a number of cannabis companies asking me for solutions, how to have the ordinary perks that non cannabis employees have,” she says.

Esposito goes above and beyond for clients by putting herself in the shoes of the entrepreneur or business owner. She also helps them find solutions that are the most tax advantageous for them, which is helpful for newer entrepreneurs, adds Kristen Curry, CEO and founder of third party administrator Leading Retirement Solutions has worked with Esposito in the past and describes her as a solution seeker.

Read more about Esposito here.
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Beverly Beattie, CEO of Selden Beattie
Voluntary Benefits Adviser of the Year
Beverly Beattie
Founder and CEO
Selden Beattie

Beverly Beattie got her first taste of the healthcare industry after college when she worked for a physician recruiting firm. The position not only helped educate her about healthcare consulting but introduced her to hospital systems and large multi-specialty groups. After many years of working in the benefits arena, putting together innovative packages for employers who were interested in improving their core benefits and voluntary options like wellness programs, she decided there was a need for a more “consultative approach.”

Beattie, the CEO of Selden Beattie in Miami found that everyone was “selling insurance, but no one was helping companies think globally about what they should do,” she says.

In the early 1990s, when many people were complaining about high healthcare costs, she decided to found her own company specializing in progressive employee benefits, workforce and healthcare reform programs. “Employers were very much in the dark, Beattie says. “They didn’t understand any of this.”

She thought there was a real opportunity to do something more comprehensive to enable employers to be educated about what they were spending millions of dollars on.

Beattie says that when she formed Selden Beattie she wasn’t interested in selling voluntary benefits, but over time that market has evolved tremendously. “The reason voluntary benefits have become a major strategy for our company is, first and foremost, employees need them,” she says. “They just flat out need them. I’ve seen the impact these benefits have.”

Read more about Beattie here.
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Wellness Adviser of the Year
Naama O. Pozniak
Paz Holding

Not many children spend their time dreaming about the day they’d open up their own insurance agency, but Naama O. Pozniak, CEO of Paz Holding, says even as a child she aspired to become an insurance adviser and consultant.

Growing up in Israel, Pozniak was close to an uncle who owned an insurance agency. After watching him tackle challenges in healthcare, Pozniak, 52, realized she wanted to pursue the insurance industry as a career. She also wanted to use it to help employees get healthier.

“When I stand in front of any group of my clients, either delivering a renewal strategy or sharing the life changing practice of yoga and meditation, and discussing how we can lower our own cost of healthcare, I am the happiest woman on this earth,” Pozniak says.

Read more about Pozniak here.
Jay Koppisety
Technology Adviser of the Year
Jay Koppisety
Chief information officer atAmerican Benefits Consulting and director of technology for Alliant’s voluntary benefits practice

When clients of American Benefits Consulting had concerns about data sharing, privacy and security, Craig Guiffre, the firm’s managing director, had faith in one person who could develop a solution to alleviate their fears.

Jay Koppisety, chief information officer of American Benefits Consulting and director of technology for Alliant’s voluntary benefits practice, was that adviser, and he was able to create a number of collaboration sites for the benefits consulting firm, which they use with clients to share information.

“The biggest challenge to benefits [implementation] is the backend administration,” Koppisety says. “A lot of technology goes along with that.”

That technology comes at a cost, he says, and larger organizations are better equipped financially to take on that burden, while small organizations may not have the same needs. The middle market, Koppisety noticed, seemed to be getting left in the lurch.

With that challenge in mind, Koppisety sought a way to ensure that all markets have equal access to modern and efficient applications. As a result, he developed a new platform for the delivery of voluntary benefits in the middle market.

Read more about Koppisety here.