Adviser Aida Swanson brings compassion and cost savings to her advising strategy
When adviser Aida Swanson was 8 months pregnant, she had an epiphany about her career: She wanted to start fresh, and be on her own.
“I woke up one morning and I thought, I just need to do this. If it's going to happen, I need to just do it, there’s no other way,” she says. “I had spoken to a few larger firms and they were all very focused on the numbers and the sales. I wanted to have more of a compassionate approach to it and have a true consultant approach.”
Swanson launched her own benefits firm, Swanson Benefits Insurance Solution, based in Davis, Calif., in 2019. Her firm provides group and individual health insurance benefits, with the goal of reducing costs and maximizing plan usage.
“Health insurance has so much to do with, of course health, but family and finances and so many other things,” she says. Focusing on these other factors is something Swanson has been focused on since she began working with a family friend in 2015. “Originally, like a lot of advisers, I got introduced to it by accident,” she says.
“My husband’s friend’s wife was an adviser, and she went off on her own and needed help with her book of business so she brought me on. She started taking me out on appointments, and I started taking on more responsibility,” Swanson says. “But I didn’t like the way things were being done. I didn’t like the way employers were being approached.”
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Many advising firms seemed to operate with sales and their own commissions in mind first, Swanson says. That culture didn’t meld with her own goals and values, professionally and personally.
“I was always encouraged and pushed to sell whatever was most expensive and to pile on products regardless of whether they would serve that company or serve that audience. And I just didn't like that,” she says. “I didn't like having to push a product for the sake of pushing products, knowing that they wouldn't ever use it, knowing that they didn't need it, knowing that they didn't need to spend that much money on a certain carrier when another carrier would be just as good.”
After interviewing at several larger firms, Swanson was also wary of being pushed toward more administrative roles, a trend she saw throughout the industry for other females.
“I looked into agencies and brokers were male and the admin was female. I didn't want to be pushed into an admin role. I wanted to be the broker,” she says. “If I had joined a brokerage firm where it was already male dominated, I would have been pushed to start at the bottom. I didn't want to have to work my way up. I wanted to start at the top.”
Swanson realized her best option for advising the way she wanted was to start her own business, from the ground up.
“I felt that the only way to do that was to go off on my own and build my own team and build a culture that approaches our clients with a true consulting approach, where we're providing information that's going to serve them,” Swanson says.
Aaron Lampman, the general manager of tractor dealership Wilkinson International, says Swanson’s attitude set her apart from other brokers he had worked with in the past.
“She was thinking outside of the box and was willing to listen to what I was saying,” Lampman says. “Someone starting out new, they’re hungry. They’re more willing to listen to what I need because they want your business.”
Swanson’s fresh perspective came with a steep learning curve when it came to running her new firm, she says.
“Of course I know benefits, and I’ve been involved with plan structures and the nitty gritty of health insurance,” she says. “But I didn't know anything about building a business. I didn't know anything about marketing and what it takes to grow your business.”
Swanson reached out to everyone, crowdsourcing information and advice, she says. Rather than feeling discouraged by what she didn’t know, her setbacks and struggles have allowed her to approach challenges with an open mind, she says.
“If someone says no to me, if I'm not invited, if I'm not welcome, my first thought is never, ‘Oh, it's because I'm Hispanic. Oh, it's because I'm a woman,’” she says. “My first thought is, ‘There's something that I need to be doing better. There's something that I need to work on.’”
That tenacity has served her well. Instead of looking out for her own cut of the profits, Swanson says she focuses on the bigger picture of a client’s needs. When working with Lampman, it was her transparency that won her the account and trust of her new client.
Swanson found a better way to provide health insurance for the small company of 15 employees, who were all on a platinum health plan, despite the fact the population was mostly young and without families. She put together a proposal for the company to switch to an HRA with a $2,000 deductible, providing coverage at 100% once the deductible was met.
“What we came up with was that he would fund the employee deductible, and his monthly dues went down significantly. The employees were still receiving the same benefit, without paying out of pocket,” she says. This particular plan also came with a $15 fee per employee that Swanson would collect monthly. Instead, she told the employer about the additional cost, choosing to waive it to keep costs down.
“I was transparent,” she says. When the employer spoke to his original broker, he presented the same plan, but without the waived fee. “The employer went with me, because he saw that I was there to truly save them money, without nickel and diming them. That makes all the difference.”
Lampman says her approach made him feel heard, and estimates the change could be saving him upwards of $30,000 this year.
“I take great pride in not having to charge my employees for health insurance and she was the only one who listened,” he says. “She came up with a plan that met my requirements and the other broker basically threw quotes at me and said, ‘Well, here are your options.’ She was thinking outside of the box.”
Looking ahead, Swanson has plans to expand her business and is eager to extend a hand to other women in the field.
“It takes compassion and an analytical mind and you have to be smart with your time. You have to be able to juggle different priorities and look at things in different ways and be open minded,” Swanson says. “I feel like women do that naturally. I don’t understand why there aren’t more women in the industry.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Swanson has been challenged with rethinking her advising strategy, switching from in-person visits to instructional videos that explain health benefits to her clients. But the end-goal is the same: presenting her clients with options they’ll understand and use — and doing it her way.
“What holds women back is judgment and being afraid of what others think, and I’ve worked really hard at letting go of that,” she says. “If you want something, no one's going to give it to you. You need to go get it yourself.”