Adviser of the Year Q&A: David Sokol of Wilshire Benefits Group
Employee Benefit Adviser’s Adviser of the Year is David Sokol, the decorated U.S. Army veteran and president of Wilshire Benefits Group. EBA editors asked Sokol about his thoughts on the coming trends of 2019, if he would ever sell his brokerage, and whether he would want his sons to follow him in his footsteps.
Employee Benefit Adviser: How big is your book of business?
David Sokol: Revenue will exceed $4.2 million in 2018.
EBA: How many clients do you have?
Sokol: 260 clients ranging in size from 2 to 1,000+. The bulk of our business comes from groups 30-1,000.
EBA: How would you describe your client base by industry type?
Sokol: We have a broad mix of professional, medical, manufacturing, technology and service industry clients. Most of our clients are headquartered in Michigan, with employees and other business locations scattered across the country. We collaborate with other benefit specialists that are a part of our Northwestern Mutual network and True Network of Advisors to service companies across the nation.
EBA: What was your biggest professional accomplishment this past year?
Sokol: We expanded our office space in 2017 and are doing so again this year. I’m especially proud that we added five new associates with great skill sets and talent to our team this year who are also new to our industry.
EBA: What was your biggest personal accomplishment this past year?
Sokol: My biggest personal accomplishments, ever, were raising my three incredible sons — Matthew, Mark and Mitchell — and convincing my amazing wife, Shannon, to marry me. This past year, I was proud to be a part of a team that created the Veteran’s Tribute of Oakland Township.
The VTOT is a privately funded, $2.5 million park dedicated to honoring those who have served our nation in uniform. It’s one of only five sites of its kind in the nation that recognize all six branches of the Armed Services including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines.
EBA: What is the best thing about your job?
Sokol: Working with a team of talented people who are constantly trying to improve our company. Despite all of the legislative, technological and free market changes that challenge us in the employee benefit business, we are still ultimately a business based on relationships, trust and goodwill. It’s rewarding to see our clients thrive, and it’s rewarding to see our team at Wilshire achieve great things every day — personally and professionally.
EBA: Are you looking to be acquired?
Sokol: I bought out my partners in 2014 and we completed a small acquisition in 2016. Selling or rolling up to a larger firm isn’t part of our strategy. I realize there is a flurry of M&A activity happening in our industry, but my past work experience in M&A, along with employment at publicly traded companies, has taught me that I like being empowered as a privately-held company to serve my client’s needs without answering to Wall Street or a board.
EBA: Are you looking to acquire or merge with another brokerage?
Sokol: We’re primarily focused on market expansion throughout Michigan and potentially other states. We’ll continue to selectively look for acquisitions that are good for our company and contribute positively to our culture.
EBA: What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Sokol: My ability to deliver exceptional employee benefit programs to my clients while leveraging my experience and our teams capabilities to impact the entire human capital equation — payroll, HRIS systems, benefit admin technology, human resource guidance, wealth management and retirement programs, and more. Our team works really hard to stay on top of all the various platforms and carriers that are available to meet the unique needs and preferences of each client. We realize it can be more efficient to create a turnkey solution and try to put all of our clients into one platform. However, we strive to base our technology and insurance recommendations on what is right for each client rather than what might be easier for us.
EBA: Would you want your children to go into your profession?
Sokol: My sons are bright, energetic and driven college students who will all be successful on their own. One day, they may choose to be a part of this industry, and I think it would be a blast to work with them each day. As a parent, my main hope is that my sons pursue a career that inspires them and makes the most of their unique skills and strengths.
EBA: What advice do you give to new advisers?
Sokol: I encourage people to always be pursuing their next certification, degree or competency to add value to our clients. We have to constantly and passionately be working to gain knowledge and skills to better serve our clients. Professional designations, continuing education and involvement in industry trade groups and associations are critical to your success.
EBA: What is the biggest trend to watch in benefit advising for 2019?
Sokol: I think we will continue to see the convergence of technology and healthcare delivery in fascinating ways to combat the increasing demand for care with the decreasing supply and availability of primary care practitioners. Telemedicine and virtual visits will continue to gain traction. Mobile urgent care, Rx home delivery services, wearable wireless monitoring devices to measure biometric data, are just a few of the ways we will automate and mobilize care delivery.