Mark Fox broke into the benefits industry at a younger age than most, and in his short time at Collateral Benefits Group, the 30 year-old vice president is on his way to achieving a position of leadership and knowledge that take other brokers years to acquire.
Using a combination of face-to-face, over the phone and online enrollment practices, Fox has created three avenues that the Birmingham, AL-based Collateral now uses to form leads and new clients. This is one reason why Fox was named an EBA 2018 Rising Star in Advising.
“We educate employees on the changes or upgrades that happen to their benefits — not just on the products themselves, but also on the questions to ask when shopping for these products,” Fox says. “We’re teaching them how to buy insurance, not necessarily what to buy.”
Prior to Fox arriving at Collateral, the company only acquired new leads and clients through group client meetings. Only after his ascension to vice president has Collateral begun their efforts into the online and telemarketing departments and is currently on track for a five year projected growth of 500%.
“I’ve enjoyed being a part of a positive change not only within my company, but within the employee benefits industry,” Fox says. “We have many baby boomers retiring out of the benefit industry and few Gen X and Gen Ys to replace them.”
He adds that those within the millennial age group have an opportunity and responsibility to take up the mantle and become leaders. “We will be leading millions of millennials into the industry and must have a clear career path created for them,” Fox says.
At age 26, Fox applied skills developed as marketing director for a law firm and broker servicing representative with Aflac to open his own benefit brokerage.
During his time as the owner of Benefits Negotiator, Fox saw two major issues plaguing the benefits industry: A disconnection between employer and employees regarding the need for employee benefits, and a disconnection between company owner and their broker.
He resolved the first issue by getting owners to agree to anonymous surveys, one tailored toward the owner and another for employees. “The purpose was to show the owner that they really didn’t understand the needs and wants of their employees regarding benefits,” Fox says. “This was a very successful program when an employer would agree to do it.”
As for the second problem, “Most business owners didn’t really see the value of their benefits broker,” Fox says.
To compensate, he created a pricing structure based on services provided, including detailed service agreements so the owner knew exactly what to expect. “We had four programs an employer could choose from ranging from free to $10 per employee per month,” he says. “All commission would be disclosed to the company and those commissions would reduce their PEPM they owned.”
Fox also offered a referral program that gave that company owner a 50% credit off the PEPM that the referred company was paying. “This referral program was implemented in the third year of the brokerage and increased sales by 400%,” Fox says.
Breaking into the good ol’ boy’s club
Because Fox did not have much prior experience before opening his own brokerage, he struggled to acquire new clients for his firm. He says that many prospects would not offer him a chance because either he did not appear to have the number of years of experience they deemed suitable, underestimated him because of his age or because employers did not want to switch from a broker they had used for years prior.
“It came down to a point where I almost threw in the towel being a benefits broker,” Fox says, adding that his business model was not working. “I could not get passed the ‘good ol’ boy syndrome.’ I had gone into a new city where nobody had heard of me, and people automatically assumed because I didn’t have many years in the industry that I didn’t know anything and my age played a deciding factor at the time as well.”
Still, his innovative approach captured the attention of Collateral Benefits Group. “The opportunity was too great to turn down,” Fox says of the acquisition.
In 2016, Fox was named vice president of Collateral Benefits Group and Collateral Educators Services.
Since his time as the owner of Benefits Negotiator and now in his current position at Collateral, Fox has acquired the admiration many experts in the benefits industry.
Michael Embry, president at Comprehensive Benefits, says he has not met many people like Fox in regard to his passion and dedication to the benefits industry. “Having served as a member of the Board of Trustees for NAHU for several years, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Mark Fox,” he says. “His service to his clients, NAHU and the industry epitomize the true definitions a ‘servant’ leader.”
Megan Chiarello, founder and president of Grassetto Creative, as well as the national vanguard chair for NAHU, says she has worked closely with Fox since he became a regional chair for NAHU and he has quickly stepped up as a leader and influencer for the group.
“Mark is on the pulse of the needs of our broker members and the innovation required taking advisers into the next generation of employee benefits,” Chiarello says. “He’s creative, driven and passionate about the future of our industry.”
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