Dana Simms wins voluntary benefits Adviser of the Year for cutting-edge knowledge and experience
From childhood through college, Dana Simms played tennis competitively. Not only did that experience mold her work ethic, it gave her an appetite for a challenging and dynamic career, one that would require expertise, teamwork and an ability to think on one’s feet.
That ambition developed into an 18-year career with benefit powerhouses like Unum and MetLife. Today, Simms, Employee Benefits Adviser's Voluntary Benefits Adviser of the Year, is an experienced and effective benefits consultant at Gallagher, an insurance and risk management company.
Simms handles voluntary benefits for the New York, New Jersey and Long Island region, introducing clients to the value of voluntary benefits and driving growth in that portfolio. She works with small and large businesses, bringing her knowledge on carriers, technology and everything in between to tailor benefit programs to her clients.
Throughout her career, she’s been at the forefront of an evolving industry. When she first got started, voluntary benefits were simply seen as offerings to protect employees from exposure to high-deductible healthcare plans. Now, these benefits can support the diverse needs of the modern workforce.
“Every client we work with has people just entering the workforce, has people looking toward retirement, has people with families, has single people,” says Simms. “Voluntary benefits give employers a great opportunity to offer choice to their employees, without incurring the costs of having to pay for them.”
The challenge of helping clients work through emerging needs has kept Simms on her toes and ahead of the curve in anticipating workplace trends. For example, as data breaches have become more common, Simms sensed the popularity and utility of identity theft protection and the growing realm of cybersecurity products.
She has changed her Gallagher team’s approach to voluntary benefits, says Kathy Passantino, a colleague and area senior vice president at Gallagher. Simms has not only brought new revenue into the office, but an expertise that clients find trustworthy.
“The difference in our whole office, as far as how it looks at voluntary benefits, has totally taken a complete turn,” says Passantino. “Now, we would no sooner think about going out to a client without talking about voluntary benefits, and I honestly don't know what the office would do without Dana.”
Simms has honed her approach to advising over the years. Where early in her career, she was eager to bring solutions to the table, she has learned to ask the right questions and prioritized building relationships with her clients to respond to their specific goals.
“You gain so much with a client and the relationship when they know you genuinely care about helping them solve problems,” Simms says. “It might not be a voluntary benefit. It might be something else that Gallagher can offer a resource, but I know that's going to strengthen my relationship — and it's going to build credibility.”
As a manager and mentor, Simms takes the same tailored approach to help team members achieve their own goals. By examining and understanding people, she adapts her leadership techniques to motivate them in the best way that works for them.
“Every situation I go into, I really go into trying to find out as much as I can about that person's style, so that we can have the best working relationship,” she says.
And as a woman who has succeeded in the business, Simms is intent on passing on what she’s learned. She has mentored recent graduates at Gallagher to navigate the business effectively, especially young women on moving up the chain and working smartly, says Passantino.
Her passion for building others up stems from her own experience as a woman in the workplace. As a mother of three, Simms understands the challenges women experience in getting ahead. She left the industry for 18 months after the birth of her third child, and despite a decade of previous experience, it took years for her to find her footing again.
“It did take me longer than I anticipated to re-establish myself and to have people in the industry take me seriously because I took that time off.” she says. “I feel like I'm where I should be now, but it was really, really challenging.”
Simms is now focused on the present. She says she’s been encouraged by the changes she’s seen over the years in support and empathy for working parents, especially during the pandemic. Employers are evaluating coverage levels and looking for appropriate voluntary programs to help employees thrive.
In this uncertain period, Simms’ experience and commitment to being a student of the business propels her forward.
“That's the world we live in,” she says. “It’s never going to be the same. If you want to stay current and competitive, you need to constantly be adaptable to change, continue to learn and work hard.”