I recently was at the four-star Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va., to speak to Anthem's top-performing Virginia agencies on reinventing their firms for post-reform success. For me, there are three essential amenities for an elite hotel. At the Jefferson, I found the three amenities I expect at such a hotel: glassware, a fluffy robe and plush five-foot (or bigger) bath sheets. But what are the essential, baseline offerings of an elite, reform-proof 21st Century Agency?

As I help our agency clients reinvent their firms to survive and prosper in the post-reform world, the first order of business is strategically diversifying the portfolio to bring massive business value to the client. There are three portfolio items that every successful benefits firm should offer if they want to stay profitable and remain relevant by driving the client's benefits strategy:

1. Benefits strategic planning. Expanding your relationships and influence beyond HR and into the c-suite is essential for the 21st Century Agency. Benefits strategic planning puts you on the same side of the table with the CEO or CFO. This process makes you a more strategic partner for the client, moving you closer to the role of trusted adviser. (See my November 2011 EBA column.) Benefits strategic planning is a powerful service that you provide your client, helping craft a three- or five-year plan for the benefits spend that integrates with the company's enterprise strategic plan. You eliminate the stress around renewals; when the renewal comes in too high, the plan of action has been determined and approved months before.

In the benefits strategic plan, you can lay the groundwork for the introduction of voluntary benefits and other products into the benefits plan. Additionally, you bake yourself into the client's benefit plan. Positioned the right way, you also can get paid handsomely for a service that cements you into a group and helps you cross-sell.

2. Results-based wellness. PPACA has pushed wellness into the spotlight and results-based wellness programs can deliver on their promise to change employee behavior and bend the medical cost curve. Yesterday's basic wellness plan has evolved into a sophisticated "health trend management" program that employs sophisticated tools such as predictive modeling, predictive analytics, risk stratification and premium differential. If you don't know this, learn it. Your relevance - if not survival - depend on it. (See my October 2011 EBA column.) To help reduce the medical spend, the 21st Century Agency will be a master of results-based wellness.

3. Worksite voluntary benefits. Voluntary benefits give your firm a toolbox of solutions to some vexing HR problems, allowing you to begin to sell consultatively to solve problems for the client. Best of all, most of these solutions are available at no hard-dollar cost to the client. (See my June 2011 EBA column.) If you can't leverage this to get and keep more groups, you should consider another career. Plus, nothing can replace lost medical commission better than voluntary benefits - when properly sold and enrolled. (See my March 2011 EBA column.) With the move from commission to fee-based compensation, the 21st Century Agency will rely on voluntary benefits to both replace medical commission and enhance its value.

There are a myriad of portfolio options from which you can choose to round out your toolbox of solutions. Offering the three I've listed above, however, will mark your firm as an elite, 21st Century Agency.

Griswold is an authority on voluntary benefits and consultative selling. His agency, Growth Mastermind Network, helps agency leaders reinvent their firm in 12 months. He can be reached at (615) 656-5974 or nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com.

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