Adviser starts his own firm in a quest for better benefits
After graduating from school with a finance and economics degree in 2010, Alex Dampf, today 31, couldn’t find a job in his field, which was still affected by the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Instead, he got a job at a “traditional model” benefits brokerage firm where most of the clients were midsized companies with less than 500 employees. After working there for nine years, Dampf decided to leave and start his own firm — Oakmont Benefits Group.
Dampf, who is based in Nashville, Tenn., is one of Employee Benefit Adviser’s Rising Stars, a recognition that honors up-and-coming benefit advisers.
“For the past couple of years, I had been struggling with trying to find a way to help our clients save money without doing the same things as everyone else,” he says. “I always thought that I wanted to go out on my own and decided that was the time to do it. They supported me in leaving, and we had a good split.”
On his path of trying to find new ways of managing benefits, he became a charter member of Health Rosetta, a broker certification group, which includes members who agree to follow benefits best practices, including eliminating any hidden agreements that raise the cost of employee benefits.
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“I decided that I would take this new approach and try to build an agency around using Health Rosetta models and principles,” he says.
At Oakmont Benefits Group, Dampf focuses on how to bring cost containment and risk management strategies to help self funded employers manage their claim spend.
“We focused almost entirely on what the clients claim, and then how can we impact those, either by reducing the frequency that those claims happen, or the severity of when they do,” he says.
One of the clients Dampf has worked with since starting his own firm is R.E. West Transportation, a trucking company based in Ashland City, Tenn.
“He always answers his phone and he shows up and does what he says he'll do,” says Jenny West, CFO at R.E. West Transportation. “All of those are huge qualities for me. He's very honest, even when it's a hard truth.”
The company, which has 160 employees, had several different benefits providers before it made Dampf its benefits broker in 2017. West says the company has saved a “significant amount” in healthcare costs.
“We were really struggling and our healthcare costs were just continuing to go up,” West says. “So we were already looking for something different. Not only was Alex incredibly smart and able to explain very complex things , but he also had an excitement and passion about what he was talking about.”
Being a small benefits brokerage firm among giants comes with a unique set of challenges. Having a different approach to benefits, while not being as well established as many of its peers, can be met with skepticism from clients, Dampf says.
“We're essentially flipping that traditional model on its head, so we have a completely different approach from 90% of the market,” he says. “That's not always a comfortable situation for employers, when you're so different from everyone else.”
For Dampf, the biggest challenge is trying to get the word out about what the firm does and how it does it, and show employers that there are many other businesses that have gone down the same road with successful results.
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“We need to show them that we’re not just some kind of lone wolf running around with crazy ideas and asking them to be guinea pigs on it,” he says. “We're just bringing proven solutions to them that they may have never heard of before.”
In the future, Dampf says he thinks there is going to be a “massive swing” in the benefits industry, from the traditional carrier model to a more customized model that relies less on insurance companies’ pre-packaged programs.
“With completely different populations, [there’s going to be] completely different needs and completely different risks that we have to deal with,” he says. “I think there’s going to be a focus on how to build the things that we need and how to build a safety umbrella for employees.”