2020 Rising Stars in Advising

Rising stars 2020 composite

This year’s group of standout advisers ages range from 25 to 44, and they are taking charge of and innovating the employee benefit supply chain as the workplace faces tremendous challenges from an increasingly segmented, multi-generational workforce.

The 2020 Rising Stars in Advising — chosen by the Employee Benefit Adviser editorial team after a month-long process — represent a new generation of leaders from around the country who are tackling issues of wellness, healthcare and benefit offerings with new perspectives. Listed in alphabetical order, these 20 leaders are active community and industry mentors who are taking the field of advising to new heights.

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Brandon Burroughs, 31
Title: Vice president
Company: Bolton & Company

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
My first job in high school was working at a hotel as a bellman and valet, and I loved the customer service aspect of the work. Trying to anticipate client needs, go the extra mile, and make their experience as smooth as possible fit really well with my personality and I think there are a lot of parallels in our role as consultants and advisers. After working for a number of years as a client manager at a small firm, transitioning into a lead consultant role at Bolton & Company has been an amazing opportunity to better serve clients with modern tools and resources and expand our growing client base throughout California.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
Our industry is unique in the interconnectedness we share with our federal and state governments. I am always intrigued to hear what news comes out of Sacramento and Washington, D.C. My prediction is that there will continue to be a lot of change for employers in this area, which will challenge us as consultants to stay current in federal and state changes. We know that technology will continue to expand in how we communicate with clients and serve their employees. This makes me more excited than anything else to see that our industry can catch up with mainstream culture in 2020. My bold prediction would be that we just might be able to use less paper by 2030.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
When I started this role of lead consultant for clients at Bolton & Company, I definitely had reservations about my age and earning the confidence of my clients while looking younger than a lot of professionals in our industry. I was fortunate to receive coaching early on in this role from an outside consultant who encouraged me that my concern and perception on this issue was only going to be an obstacle if I allowed it to be. I now view this very differently and actually have found this former concern to be an important asset of how I can support my clients by constantly learning and staying up to date with industry trends.
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Dillon Castro, 29
Title: Benefits consultant
Company: Advanced Estate and Insurance Services

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
What inspired me was unwavering confidence from AEIS's president (and my mentor), Ron Bland, that I had the skills to make a career for myself in a field that was wholly different from what I had ever done previously. In all honesty, I was a bit scared but also inspired by the prospect of being able to have more control over my professional destiny than I had experienced in previous lines of work.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
Healthcare costs are increasing at arguably an unsustainable rate due to a myriad of factors. The Affordable Care Act made changes to health insurance, the financing system that heavily drives the healthcare industry, but little was done to augment the delivery and consumption of healthcare, which I believe has resulted in incongruities between the financiers and providers of healthcare. My bold prediction is that there will be more legislative overhauls of the industry, on par with the ACA, focused more on standardizing healthcare delivery that will prioritize transparency, efficiency and improved outcomes.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenge has been persevering through early failure and rejection. This can be a difficult profession for newcomers because the learning curve is steep. Big deals fell through. I heard "no" a lot. Prospects "ghosted" me. It can be enough to break one's resolve. Rejection and failure never really go away, but continued success eventually minimizes the impact they have on confidence and self worth. The ways I have been able to overcome this are through support of family and friends, who believed in me at times when I didn't, and learning stories of the humble beginnings and struggles of other successful people, either by reading their books or speaking with them personally.
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Alex Dampf, 31
Title: President
Company: Oakmont Benefits Group

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I think, like most, I backed into it, but once I got my footing I could see the impact it was making and you just want to keep going. I get a lot of joy in helping find an answer for an employee that previously couldn't afford medication or hadn't seen a doctor in years because they couldn't afford the office visit.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I think we are going to see a massive shift in the industry from a reliance on the carrier-based network model to a more direct provider/facility and employer based model with the use of AI to help employees navigate the system in their time of need.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
Finding the balance between becoming stagnant and innovation. I have a tendency to always chase the shiny new object, but have learned that sometimes simpler is better, especially when first introducing new concepts to employees. When you turn a process that has been ingrained for decades on its head, the why becomes just as important as the how.
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Jessica Du Bois, 26
Title: Employee benefits consultant
Company: Business Benefits Group

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I committed to the industry during my senior year of college, joining Principal Financial Group's rookie sales training program. It didn't take me long to realize the job wasn't right for me. I met one of BBG’s clients who connected me with the company, and I made the leap to Washington, D.C., within a few months. I think most advisers want to say they joined the industry to help people. Though this was a critical piece for me, it really came down to the culture and mindset of the agency I was going to work for.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I believe over the next decade we will see a clear separation between the types of brokers and agencies within the market. We will see advisers who are experts in analyzing claim data and designing self-funded plans become known as expense reduction consultants while agencies that provide support on benefits without the results continue to take on the broker name. I see employers hiring both, using them to fill a different role within the health plan and employee experience. This is happening already and I see the trend continuing.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
I moved into a new role, within a new company, in a new city, all at the same time in 2018. I was self-aware of the challenges ahead. I knew building a network would be difficult. The first year, I attended three networking events each week, and before I knew it, I was speaking and hosting some of these events. Moving into a new company was the more challenging piece. A benefits adviser is a team leader, and I had to build trust and rapport within a tight-knit agency. This will be a continuous goal, but I really try to help anywhere I can, be humble, and show people I care about them and our mission. As a young female in the role, it’s difficult to drop the obsession with likeability and to keep the balance between being seen as a leader but not “overly aggressive.” I have found solidarity in knowing that I am doing the best I can, and that I am here to help anyone who wants to follow in my path.
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Whitney Ehret, 32
Title: Voluntary benefits consultant
Company: Burnham Benefits Insurance Services

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
My bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration led me to a career as a benefits professional. I knew I wanted to do something with healthcare, and I knew I didn’t want to be a provider. Being a benefits professional has allowed me the opportunity to be on the forefront of benefit change and the see the real time effects for my clients and their employees. I am passionate about finding creative solutions for my clients that will have a positive outcome for the organization and the employees.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
There are quite a few things to consider here: technological advances in healthcare, an aging population on Medicare, anticipated policy change with a new administration, shift in education of healthcare providers, increased homeless populations in key downtown locations, and, of course, prescription costs.

I predict that the next decade of the healthcare industry will not be boring – there will be an increase in “at home” medical initiatives targeted at lowering hospital costs, medical treatment and education occurring more virtually, transparency into pharmacy and hospital pricing and improved legislation regarding mental health. There may also be a significant decrease in healthcare providers. As this world becomes harder to navigate and less profitable for providers, many will abandon their passion for providing healthcare and potentially to turn to the business side of the industry.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My age has been the biggest and most consistent challenge. Life experiences have helped me overcome this challenge. My background in human resources helps me to think like a client, and being the oldest child of nine has taught me to be patient, respectful, responsible and confident. I make sure I know the answers to the questions before they are asked and I don’t have any fear if I don’t know the answer. I always speak the truth and my teams have come to trust and rely on me.
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Jillian Foss, 30
Title: Associate adviser
Company: Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
It wasn’t something I dreamed of as a little girl, but my inspiration to become a benefits professional was a combination of having a really great mentor and being an opportunist and nerd at heart. After moving from Colorado to Florida, I was caddying, looking for a public health research job, when I was first introduced to my boss. At the time, he was looking for an assistant, but he wanted someone who was engaged that he could mentor to learn the business. I got my licenses, listened to his advice, and got an understanding of what it took to be successful in this business. Last year was my first year as an adviser, and I truly love having the ability to make an impact in my community through my profession.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I have two predictions: First, I truly believe the key to cost containment and quality of care lies in the data and the ability to utilize the data to make meaningful changes. Employers and individuals are craving transparency, and I think innovative strategies like reference-based pricing will start improving accountability, thus moving the dial forward. The second prediction lies in improving mental health resources. Mental health issues have reached an epidemic level, with research suggesting issues such as loneliness can shorten a person's life by 15 years. With this undeniable connection between mental and physical health, I think it’s our duty as advisers to have a holistic perspective for our clients.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenge was getting in the door and overcoming doubt and failure. There were many times in my 20s that I didn’t get a job I interviewed for or switched careers because it wasn’t what I expected. It’s hard not to compare yourself to your peers and think critically of yourself, but I think the key is having patience, absolute faith in your path and confidence in yourself. I’ve learned that satisfaction in a job isn’t necessarily dependent on the topic or area of expertise, but in what your job allows you to do. These struggles of failure and not getting opportunities have taught me to be appreciative of the opportunity I have now and make the most of every day.
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Francisco Oller Garcia, 25
Title: Digital operations and marketing specialist
Company: BeniComp Health Solutions

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I’ve seen firsthand how challenging the cost of healthcare has become for families. We are at a crossroads in the healthcare crisis as many people are functionally insured, meaning they pay for insurance but would go bankrupt if they used the insurance. I was so affected by this shocking information while seeing my family and community go through such turmoil with the healthcare system, that I felt the need to do something about it.

My passion is further reinforced by believing that no one should have to choose between their finances and health. I see an opportunity in my role to help change the status quo and bring a larger focus on prevention and early detection instead of treating late-stage problems. It’s not just about claims and deductibles, it’s about the person knowing they can get quality care at an affordable price.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
My bold prediction for the future of the industry is this: healthcare costs will be more directly linked to the key biomarkers that are connected to lifestyle. Moreover, people will be empowered by health tech and data to take control of their own health. Through this, they will be able to alleviate the causes of high medical spending, and their healthcare costs will be more directly linked to their level of health risk.

Currently, there are ways to show immediate savings through cost-containment components such as pharmacy benefits and tracking claim spending. But the future of healthcare includes education, customization and technology in a layered approach that demonstrates the financial impact of our health choices. Prevention is key, as there is an accumulation of health risks before it comes to a claim.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenges have been entering the health insurance industry with little experience and having to advise an entire population on their unique needs. Even with all my experience now, healthcare is ever-evolving with new laws and requirements that necessitate vigilant tracking.

I tackled my knowledge gap in several ways. I was resourceful; absorbed knowledge from my co-workers; interviewed company stakeholders, industry thought leaders; and even watched YouTube videos from credible sources. I used all of this knowledge to create an action plan for my mission.
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Tony Goebel, 33
Title: CEO and insurance adviser
Company: 5G Benefits

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I started in benefits just before the Affordable Care Act kicked in, so there was a lot of misinformation out there, people were confused, and companies wanted help. But many agents also didn't want to reinvent themselves to be an expert to figure out the problem. I became a benefits professional because I saw an opportunity to be the expert in my market, so I could directly help employers lower their costs, stay in compliance, think outside the box, and provide a better overall benefits package to their employees.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I feel Americans will demand price transparency, and regulations will come out even more to allow members to see posted prices prior to surgeries, international prescriptions, and services up front. The health system is the only system in the world where employees have no clue what something costs prior to getting treated. With price transparency, the cost of healthcare will be forced down, which will force carriers and providers to find a solution to keep margins the same.

Most hospital systems will have their own health plans that are administered by regional or national health carriers. I think over time 70% of employers will be on HSA qualified plans (because they want price transparency and want to have employees be actively involved in the price transparency), robust telemedicine will take over as the primary source of initial treatments, and regulation will come in to expand medicare.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
The hardest thing I ever did was starting my benefits agency from scratch. I had no clients, no income, and left a $6 billion insurance carrier that had everything set up for me to succeed. I had to create and build everything from scratch to even make my first dollar. I kept personal expenses as low as I could, sold or rented pretty much everything I owned, so I could put everything I could into my business. The ability to find the right partners to do the right things is what allowed me to build my company to where I am today.
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Jillian Gorres, 35
Title: Benefits consultant
Company: JA Counter, an Alera Group company

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I graduated and started working on the property and causality side of the business. Our managing partner, Linda Skoglund, inspired me to work in the business to business arena with health and welfare plans, supporting employers and employees. The impact we make inspired me. At JA Counter we strive to make a difference and that inspires me every day.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
Technology has continuously made a big impact on all size employers every year I have worked in this industry. I believe through technology, in 10 years, employees will have access to accurate cost and quality information, improved enrollment support and education and streamlined compliance and administration will continue to be improved by technology. Employers will continue to provide competitive total reward packages to attract and retain the best talent, for the work that is not able to be completed by technology advancements.


What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
When I was starting out in the business I struggled internally having strategic conversations with more experienced business owners. I created my own barriers to making a difference with larger employers that I was uncomfortable approaching. My mentor coached me through this process by encouraging me to continuously gain confidence, training me and allowing me to break down my personal barriers. I believe I overcome any and all business challenges by investing time to connect with a great mentor and collaborative support.
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Nick Hansen, 34
Title: Senior benefit consultant
Company: PSG Washington

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
My dad is the president and founder of PSG, so what initially drew me to the business was the ability to work with him on a daily basis, but until a few years ago, I really just looked at it as a job. It was late 2016 when our opinions of the industry completely changed and we basically reset how we do business. Having the tools to go into a business and allow them to take back control of their health plans is what gets me the most excited.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
The days of the status-quo broker — who does nothing more than take their clients out to auction annually, then delivers the "least bad" renewal — are numbered. Only the advisers who learn to educate employers and employees on how to engage the healthcare system, saving on costs while allowing employees to access better quality care, will be left.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
Once we got past being a status-quo broker ourselves, the toughest part has been convincing employers that the way they have purchased their healthcare the last 50 years is the wrong way. I don't think many people realize that the industry is rigged in favor of everyone but the end consumer. We're constantly improving, but it's taken us a couple years to master how to articulately communicate this to decision makers without overwhelming them.
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Zain Hasan, 32
Title: Managing director
Company: Risk Strategies Company

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I graduated from college in pre-med at UGA cum laude. I intended to be a doctor, but I volunteered at a hospital and I had people come in who we couldn’t do anything for. That really put me in emotional distress, and I realized that I needed to be in a role where I could always make an impact on the people I serve, where I could be absolutely confident that, assuming I outwork and educate myself to a point that none of my competitors could provide a better solution, I would be able to have a positive impact on everyone I met. It came time to figure out what to do, and my brother was a commercial insurance broker at an MGA. He told me to go into health insurance, and I saw Cigna was coming to the career fair. That was the only company I spoke to, and I was fortunate to get hired.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I believe that the country will be operating on a technology-enabled, consumer-centric healthcare model where technology will transform every facet of what we do and our role will be to either evolve into supply-chain consultants for healthcare delivery or to find ourselves irrelevant. I think that health insurance brokers won’t exist; instead, it will be consultants and advisers, and very few, if any, employers will be fully insured. I would be surprised if in 10 years we don’t have several routes for any size employer to leverage the solutions that were previously available only to a Walmart or Amazon. I also think we will have a Dodd Frank-style legislative change and be held accountable to operate in frameworks similar to Health Rosetta.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
Starting my own firm with no capital and no prior experience being a “broker,” it took me quite some time to be able to get employers to realize that a 27-year-old can and will bring more value than their broker of 20 years. In fact, my first 82 meetings were rejections. My 83rd was my first client. I overcame it with grit and perseverance. I wasn’t afraid of rejection because I knew that I could bring more value; and the more meetings I had, the closer I was getting to winning my first client. After winning my first client, my book grew incredibly fast over the next four years.
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Caitlin Hodge, 29
Title: Employee benefit adviser
Company: HJ Spier

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I sort of fell into this career. I didn’t grow up saying, “I’m going to do benefits when I grow up.” But when I started, I quickly realized that not many other advisers were having conversations about ways to actually lower healthcare spending for both employers and employees. I was immediately inspired to get that message out to anyone I could.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
Over the next decade, I could see the large PPO networks being eliminated. After all, there is not so much a “preferred provider” with a large national network. With direct contracting and reference based pricing becoming more and more common I can see the industry being dominated by open networks or true “PPO networks” with direct contracting. My other prediction, and favorite one, is that the trend in benefit design will be lowering employees’ out of pockets rather than increasing them. In the past, the only way employers thought they could reduce their health plan spending was to raise deductibles, therefore unintentionally putting the burden on employees. With the NextGen strategies out there, we know that’s not the only option, and I think we will continue to see deductibles decrease by implementing cost containment tools.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
Being a young individual in this industry can be challenging at times, and early on in my career I found my age to be a challenge for me. I felt as though I wasn’t taken seriously. In the end, it all came down to my confidence. No one ever told me I was too young, but I put that in my head anyway. Therefore, when I spoke to people, that is what I portrayed. Once I got past that and gained confidence in myself, that is what I portrayed to people. I now view my youth as an advantage in this industry. It means I can bring new ideas and strategies to the table, which is what our industry so desperately needs, and it means I’m here for the long haul.
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Prabal Lakhanpal, 31
Title: Vice president
Company: Spring Consulting Group

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I began my career in the financial services industry, where the goal was to develop solutions and create mechanisms that create efficiencies for businesses. I soon learned that benefits are one of the greatest opportunities for such efficiency, as they sit at the crossroads of what is a substantial cost for most organizations and employee engagement. Benefits are a strategic initiative, which if leveraged correctly can have multifold impact on an organization. They can drive productivity, enhance employee engagement, provide financial efficiencies driving profitability and growth, while ensuring well-being of the employees.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
As everyone else, I’ll be paying close attention to healthcare reform and the regulatory landscape around topics like paid leave, captive insurance and pharmacy. Legislative action, in my view, will have a massive impact on the industry in the coming few years.

Thinking about the hardening markets, I feel self-insurance is going to become the norm. As an adviser to employers, we’re always trying to find alternate funding solutions for employers to save money while delivering enhanced benefit offerings. For instance, the increasing cost of healthcare or other employee benefits is not directly proportional to the plan experience most clients have.

Finally, the insurance industry has until recently stayed relatively insulated from technology. This is bound to change, as it should — embracing technology will bring with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities.


What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
I’ve found that employers are reluctant to change and are often tempted with the status quo. Initially, I found it challenging to understand why organizations choose the incumbent system rather than make a change to a better way of doing things. As an adviser, I would often provide empirical evidence outlining the advantageousness of the solution yet not be able to convince employers to make the proposed shift.

I have been able to address this by spending more time understanding the challenges clients face on a day-to-day basis and learning more about how I can help them overcome those challenges. While, I am far from mastering the art — I have noticed that being empathetic has improved my ability to help clients by developing actionable solutions.
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Richie Marrero, 34
Title: Specialist, employer sponsored healthcare
Company: 360 Benefits

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
A social worker by education, I have always had a deep desire to help people. In the world of benefits, things can be confusing and folks can at times feel hopeless. So I gain great joy out of helping people better understand their benefits and through education I empower them to effectively leverage their benefits, so they can lead happier and healthier lives.

As a native Spanish speaker, it is always great to meet with people who prefer to speak Spanish and help them make important decisions around their benefits, and you can see the relief in their faces. The appreciation I receive is always heartwarming and empowering.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I think the industry will continue to see data-driven strategies being leveraged. I believe data-driven, value-driven benefits advisers will continue to capture market share and help their clients rethink the traditional approach to benefits planning. Furthermore, I think we will continue to see more and more reference-based pricing strategies. We have experienced great cost savings for our clients by using their data to drive strategic decisions on their employee benefits programs.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenge has been protecting my time and not overhelping, or saying yes to everything. Through coaching I have become a better steward of my time. As you know, time is the only thing in life we cannot get back. This discipline around time management has allowed me to be more productive as a professional, but, more important, as a husband and father.
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Courtney Pino, 30
Title: Employee benefits consultant
Company: AssuredPartners

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I started my career in human resources, right out of college, and absolutely loved what I was doing. However, I felt like I was missing something and wanted to see what else was out there. I got the opportunity to move into the insurance world, starting out as a producer. I started on the property and casualty side and quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. I decided to move over and focus solely on employee benefits. I wanted to see the impact I was making for my clients and be able to talk with employees to help them understand what was being offered and value what their employer was providing for them. I absolutely love what I get to do every day.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
One of the big things we are going to see is a shift toward more automation. The last couple of years, we have seen a big push toward virtual medicine. This past year, we saw many of the health carriers embed telemedicine into their health plans with very minimal and $0 copays. They have done this for a couple of reasons. First, to cut costs of urgent care and emergency room visits. Second, because we have become a society that wants things done immediately and with convenience. I think this trend is going to keep moving forward over the coming years and we will start to see even more automation when it comes to healthcare.


What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
So far, my biggest professional challenge has been being a young female starting a career in an industry that is predominantly males. It has been challenging establishing relationships with companies who have had the same benefits broker for 20 to 30 years that was built on a handshake on the golf course. However, I have found success in being able to challenge the status quo and build partnerships with these organizations. We are able to show progressive ways to get a higher return on benefits investment and ensure companies maximize their spending.
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Stephen Porto, 33
Title: Account executive
Company: Cool Insuring Agency

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
My inspiration to become a benefits professional was driven by the prospect of consulting within one of the most challenging, impactful sectors of a business — one that has true value to both an organization and its employees. Additionally, the career, if done successfully, is a lucrative and rewarding one.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
I believe the industry will take on a completely interactive model, where business leaders, employees, brokers, and healthcare professionals will be interconnected. Maybe interaction is not the boldest prediction to make, but I do believe that it is where the most change and innovation will take place over the next decade.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
In today's communication environment, the expectation is to be accessible and responsive to clients and counterparts instantly and at any hour, amid growing networks and books of business. Managing this relatively new communication model proactively and effectively is a major challenge. Besides maintaining a personal hunger and physical and spiritual well-being, I credit the competent, energetic team that surrounds me in the overall package delivered to our clients.
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Ryan Spencer, 35
Title: Adviser
Company: Conner Insurance

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
The benefits industry found me, in a way. I graduated from college as an engineer and worked for a diesel engine company for a number of years. During that time, I began seeking jobs more in the business development area while pursuing my MBA. I was set on moving into business when I married my wife. Her family had an insurance company, and the timing made sense for me to see if it would be a good fit.

It's been a wonderful change. Being a benefits professional has combined the problem-solving aspect I enjoyed in my prior career with being able to truly help people. We've found and enacted solutions that have been life changing for members at many employers, which has inspired me to pursue further growth.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
Employers will aggressively push for innovation to cut costs. The mixture of generational demographics, low unemployment, and year-over-year increases have led to an interesting dynamic and competition for talent. Many companies' total compensation package for employees is being completely stretched. With the millennial generation desiring a different set of benefits than those traditionally offered, coupled with the typical year-over-year cost increases many employers have consistently experienced, businesses are feeling extremely pinched. Employers will respond by being more aggressive in finding ways to drive efficiencies out of their current benefit spending in order to sustain their offering, compete for talent, and cater to an ever-changing workforce.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenge was starting over in a new industry. As an engineer, I was a key piece of the organization and developed relationships with our customers. Changing careers was difficult because I had grown used to providing value and being an expert in my area. The complete industry change had me completely start over the learning curve. While it was a challenge, my background helped me quickly dive into the data and make sense of the industry. I was able to identify a few areas of cost savings for our company to provide value internally while I ramped up and began an outward focus to help employers in our community.
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Lisa Talcott, 44
Title: Sales executive employee benefits
Company: Assured Partners

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I saw the challenges of navigating healthcare needs and insurance firsthand when my adult brothers were involved in a near-death farming accident.

Coincidentally, I was recruited to the industry by very dynamic personalities who are fun to be around, intensely smart, and driven to make a difference. Life is short, so I’m inspired to work with clients and colleagues I admire and enjoy.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
As pressure on CFO’s and HR leaders to tackle multiple strategic challenges in the marketplace increases, the demand to outsource partners who understand and personalize big picture benefits also increases.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My unconventional career path has never fit with traditional ideas or resumes, but I’ve learned how to translate skills as the industry evolves. It’s always about delivering value.
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Chelsea Whalley, 28
Title: COO, partner
Company: J Donovan Financial

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury in 2013 playing softball and, after a couple of months of treatment in the U.S., went home to Canada to begin a brain injury recovery program. It did not take long for the bills to arrive. I was 22 years old and recovering from a brain injury, without the slightest clue how to navigate the American healthcare system. This was my first experience as a consumer of healthcare in the U.S.

Having grown up in Canada working alongside my family in the family roofing business, I remember the first time I learned that employers bear a large part of the financial responsibility of healthcare in the U.S. I recall wondering how in the world do business owners do what they do every single day for their own business and take on healthcare for their employees?

It was the combination of my first consumer experience with healthcare and the thought of my dad making decisions about his employees’ No. 1 asset that made me want to become a benefits professional. As a consumer, I wanted change, and as a fellow entrepreneur, I wanted to help.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
The role of the traditional benefits adviser is becoming obsolete as our industry continues to be disrupted by technology and legislature. The only way for us to avoid becoming collateral damage is to embrace non-insurance solutions and execute them with the same commitment as we do insurance solutions.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
Finding the balance between growing my business and working on my business has been my greatest professional challenge. When I opened my first agency at 24, I learned very quickly that I not only lacked the skills, but also the passion it takes to build the strategic processes necessary to take my agency to the next level. I eventually overcame this challenge by finding a business partner who happened to have strengths and passions in all of the areas I did not. Together, we own J Donovan Financial and we fill the gaps for each other, providing our clients and our own employees a well-rounded experience.
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Megan Zimmerman, 38
Title: Employee benefits consultant
Company: Marsh and McLennan Agency

What inspired you to become a benefits professional?
I was inspired to join the benefits industry as I wholeheartedly believe we can impact and change people’s lives and families by delivering affordable and accessible healthcare. The most rewarding aspect of my job is helping clients see what is possible. Last year, I had a new client that was fully insured moved to a self-insured health plan, this resulted in significant savings for the employer. In turn, the employer reduced premiums significantly for employees. An employee attended the meeting where the new plan and costs were announced. This employee began to cry and shared with me after several years being part of this company she finally felt she could join the health plan as it was now affordable and accessible to her. This type of impact is hands down one of the most rewarding aspects of being in the benefits industry. As I always tell employers, you do not need to wait for Amazon or the government to change healthcare in the employer market, you can be the change.

What is your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
Every employee who has an employer-sponsored health plan will have 24/7 access to personalized healthcare and their own primary care doctor for the price of or less than a Netflix membership. Understanding value-based primary care can make an immediate and long-term impact on improving health outcomes and reducing costs will lead more employers to embrace the direct primary care model for their employees.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenge has been educating employers they can challenge the status quo that has plagued the benefits industry. The days of spreadsheets with expensive quotes, raising deductibles to cost shift onto employees and employers having no idea that their broker/adviser makes more money as their healthcare costs increase has created a less-than-favorable experience for employers. As a result, they view their broker or adviser as a vendor, not a strategic partner. Through accountability, having transparent compensation discussions and providing client’s measurable results, you can demonstrate what the new generation of advising looks like. I believe this new approach lays a foundation built on trust, results, collaboration and creating a true strategic partnership between employers and their benefits advisers.
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