"Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning." - Winston Churchill

"If you don't have a plan for yourself, you'll be part of someone else's." - American Proverb

I'm predicting a major shakeout for employee benefit agencies where one or two in each geographic market will emerge stronger and in a position to acquire weaker competitors. The rest will either be acquired or close.

Given the dramatically altered benefits landscape, it's not surprising that 83% of brokers and consultants report they are exploring new strategies and business models, according to MetLife's 2011 Broker and Consultant Study. Those strategies include becoming consultative, selling voluntary products, promoting health and wellness, offering executive benefits, selling retirement products, and moving to fee-based compensation on the medical side.

All excellent strategies, but while agency principals have a broad sense of what they need to do, many will spend a lot of time worrying and fretting over what exactly to do ... and how. Most of the rest will make a haphazard stab at implementing a couple of these strategies. But as my fellow EBA contributor Jack Kwicien recently advised, as an agency "you likely have to change your marketing, sales and client engagement approach, as well as your business model."


Get to work

Such comprehensive change will not be easy; success will require deliberate and intensive effort over the coming year. You won't succeed simply by trying to graft a couple of new strategies onto your agency. To reinvent your agency you must make a full commitment to change and adopt an in-depth plan for agency transformation that you can have in place by 2014, when a host of PPACA provisions take effect. And you are racing the clock: 2014 arrives in less than 16 months. Will you and your agency really be ready on January 2 for whatever 2014 brings?

To position your agency to thrive and capitalize on post-reform opportunities, your agency transformation must be comprehensive and holistic. To meet the challenge of implementing all the necessary changes in time for 2014, you need a well-designed and intentional plan and a logical and realistic timetable.

For example, the principals in our executive peer network are using a complete agency transformation curriculum, a defined and step-by-step series of strategies and reforms that an agency must implement to become a 21st Century Agency. So determine what your agency must look like by 2014 and develop a complete agency transformation curriculum, a defined and step-by-step series of strategies and reforms that your agency needs to implement. Once you know the design of your reinvented agency, work backwards to develop an implementation timeline that will allow you to be ready for 2014. This 12-month syllabus should walk you through the required steps and help you gradually implement the new strategies and business model by the end of 2013.

Whether you join an executive peer group that is focused on agency transformation or do it on your own, this kind of targeted planning and deliberate implementation will have your agency ready to prosper and dominate your market. Otherwise, you're likely to become someone's acquisition ... if you're lucky.

Griswold is an authority on both voluntary benefits and consultative selling. His firm, Bottom Line Solutions, consults with agencies across the country. Reach him at (615) 656-5974 or nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com.

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