Declining compensation and increasing regulatory burdens are two of the many challenges facing benefit advisers and brokerages in today’s fluctuating market. In an interview with Employee Benefit Adviser, Stephanie San Antonio, an agent with SSA Insurance Services, discusses the impact of Affordable Care Act reporting requirements and other struggles facing employers and their advisers.
EBA: How big is your firm?
San Antonio: [SSA Insurance Services] has a team of five people, including myself: two in IFP and group sales, two in servicing and one office manager.
Our typical group size is 10 to 50 employees from businesses across all industries in mainly San Diego and Southern California.
EBA: What are your firm’s product offerings?
San Antonio: At SSA Insurance Services we work with business owners and their HR managers to help them build a comprehensive benefits package to offer their employees. We assist our clients with quoting and implementing the following types of benefits: medical, dental, vision, life, chiropractic, accident or disability insurance. Our access to major providers and carriers allows us to provide our clients with many options to choose from.
EBA: How do you interact with the client?
San Antonio: I meet with business owners to develop custom benefit solutions that fit within their company’s philosophy, meet budget guidelines, and relieve their company of the time and liability associated with performing critical and time consuming benefit administration. Every year during open enrollment I visit the company’s offices to present their new benefits package and to help the employees with choosing the most appropriate plan and with getting them enrolled. Additionally, SSA assists in every step of the way of the implementation of our client’s insurance plans, and is always available to help manage their benefits administration with personalized service. Each of our groups are assigned a dedicated account manager who they can call or email at any time with any servicing requests including enrolling new employees onto the group plan, terminating employees, requesting quotes, billing issues, submitting claims, explaining the benefits to employers and their employees, requesting health ID cards, name or address changes and so on.
EBA: What do you see as your top two or three challenges?
San Antonio: When it comes to my top three challenges, first and foremost, the continuous decline in compensation from the carriers makes it difficult to continue offering the highest level of service our clients deserve.
The second biggest challenge is the overwhelming amount of consolidation happening within our industry. Larger agencies buying smaller agencies, but I still think there is a place for the small boutique agency to exist, to serve the small businesses who want the personalized attention and personal relationships.
Quote"I think there will be far less agencies existing over the next five to ten years."
Finally, the overwhelming demand of the role of the agent being expanded to include ACA reporting and all things related to the ACA. An agent in the business can’t just know about the basics of health insurance, they have to know so much more to be able to survive in this new landscape. It’s been great for us, but again, more demand on us to provide more for less.
EBA: How are you trying to overcome those challenges?
San Antonio: I find that in order to continue growing in this new world, we have to find ways to stay up on our education and knowledge by attending conferences and seminars, getting designations on the ACA and staying on top of all of the evolving ACA changes. In addition, we have embraced technology to keep our office more efficient and effective to bring on more clients, and streamline processes.
EBA: What do you see as the biggest changes happening in the benefits market?
San Antonio: The average age of the broker is currently in their sixties. They are leaving the market and selling to larger benefit agencies. Those agencies who can bring technology in addition to personalized service shall continue to play in this space.
EBA: How do you think those changes will play out?
San Antonio: I am looking forward to seeing which agencies can survive this changing landscape. I think there will be far less agencies existing over the next five to ten years. Overall, I believe it will help improve our reputation by increasing the standard of service we can provide as an industry to our client and carrier partners, thus justifying our worth and place in this new world.
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