“There’s no better feeling in the world than showing up at a door with a check for $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 — could be $100,000 — and you hand them that check. They look at you and they tell you about how much you just saved their house, or you just gave them enough money for their husband who passed away so that their kids can still go to college, or that there was enough money there so they can keep the heat on for the winter,” says Lou Faiola, EBA’s 2013 Voluntary Adviser of the Year. “There is no greater feeling than that.”

Faiola describes the process of hand-delivering claims checks as a “real simple answer” to why he got into the business, and what motivates him each day to stay in it. “At the end of the day, I have the ability to impact thousands of people by making that client sale, because our benefit counselors have the ability to talk to those employees and actually get them to get involved with a product that if they were going to be stricken [with anything] ... we’re going to impact their life. So I wish I had a penny for how many people’s lives I really impacted by making that client sale,” he says.

Throughout the interview this is his style — an old-school mix of heart, charm and humor. He’s been selling voluntary products and sharing this mentality with business associates, from brokers to carriers to mentors, for nearly 22 years. He joined his current employer, Employee Family Protection, Inc. in Glastonbury, Conn., as senior vice president of sales in 2007.

“It’s kind of symptomatic of Lou, he’s not in our business to complete a transaction, he’s in our business to establish relationships,” says Charles Stepnowski, chairman and chief executive officer of Employee Family Protection, of Faiola’s tendency to make stops to deliver checks to beneficiaries. “He doesn’t take relationships lightly and when he makes a commitment to someone he takes that very seriously. I don’t know if he can do [door-to-door] as much today as he used to, but I think it keeps him in touch with what’s really going on in the world.”

Faiola’s career began back when he was in the Marine Corps, where he had a unique role during his six years at a New Jersey base. “They didn’t have an attorney on staff. I, as a legal clerk, was the one who understood the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If Marines got in trouble, and they were going to get charged with things, I was the guy who took them through the proceedings,” he explains.

He had been interested in the position in order to eventually become an attorney, but he says the good thing about it was that he also got to see what attorneys actually do. Finding himself disenfranchised from that line of work, he adjusted his focus to a career in sales. As luck would have it, an insurance man from his hometown of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., who worked for Prudential, was getting ready to retire out of the business. Recognizing in Faiola a necessary attention to deal and friendly sales manner, on top of an already recognizable name from his father’s 50-year-old restaurant in town, Faiola remembers the Prudential professional said: “You’d be great at this.”

So, Faiola got his license while he was still finishing up with the Marines and started by offering financial planning advice to his comrades in the military. The fact that he was already in the trusted role of legal clerk helped him get permission from his commanding officer as well earn the respect of his peers. That start in the Marines helped tremendously because he had a commission account already built up by the time he got out of the service and started working full-time.

“When folks hear I was in the Marine Corps they sometimes get concerned about my level of detail, but now it’s an asset and I bring a level of confidence” to the table with that, he says. “There are so many moving parts,” Faiola explains about why detail is particularly important in the voluntary side of the business, and why people end up viewing his military background as an advantage. “In voluntary, there are really two sales, not one. You have to sell the broker on the concept of being a trusted adviser with their client … [and] then we have to make the client sale. … Every day I tell employers that we’re not going to hard-sell their employees and I have to convince them that I’m not going to sit in front of them and sell things they can’t afford.”

“I tease Lou about one word: process,” says Stepnowski, whom Faiola calls a mentor. “He’s got a process for everything. I don’t want to say he overdoes it, but he’s brought to all of us the sense of — ‘make sure you’re organized and follow through; don’t short circuit.’ It’s contributed to a great deal of his success.”

The road ahead
What Faiola attributes a lot of his success right now to is the pressure the Affordable Care Act is putting on brokers. “I would say we’ve seen broker interest jump two to three times this year than last year,” he says. “It’s more front-of-mind this year than last. From a production standpoint, we’ve increased sales anywhere between 10% and 17%.” And he expects the broker “uptick” to continue, doubling again in 2014 due to the ACA. “In terms of sales, we’re projected at a 20% increase,” he says about next year. In anticipation of this growth, the always-prepared Faiola says EFP has expanded its call center, added two new sales professionals and is also getting ready to “deploy a brand new, fully integrated CRM that tracks clients from acquisition all the way through post-service.”

The company currently has four producers and a staff of operational personnel and benefits counselors that ranges from 50 to 100 employees during high volume time periods, like fall open enrollment. He says that since joining EFP in 2007, revenue has grown about 30% for the company and they don’t plan to stop anytime soon. In fact, one of the new producers’ roles is to expand national accounts.

With the market as it is, Faiola feels for brokers. “Revenue has been drastically declining on the broker side [and] they’re worried about retention, too,” he says. “They’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to be a resource to my client now for ACA compliance,’ so they’re looking for different avenues.”

What to do
Faiola isn’t afraid to offer brokers and even people looking to move into a job like his some choice words of advice. “I believe the broker must make voluntary an integral part of their entire strategic planning — because if they don’t, somebody will,” he says. “They should start to integrate voluntary in stewardship, in renewals … the brokers can choose not to, like the majority are doing, or they can change.”

He continues: “I’m going to be truthful, they’re just plain lazy.” For brokers who have such an attitude toward voluntary benefits, those operating under the career agency model “are going to get their clients” by “going out and offering products without a broker,” he believes.

He says the “path of least resistance” for a broker to add worksite voluntary to their conversations with clients is during a claims utilization review discussion. “I would tell them to say, ‘Listen, client, you have a lot of people going to the ER, so why aren’t we promoting the value of urgent care? They should have gone to a PCP,’” he says. “There’s still all this talk around engaging employees so they’re personally responsible … it could be an additional short-term disability or accident plan that’s added that doesn’t have to be the ER and … it’s just having a discussion. It’s about them understanding the client’s strategic objective for the next three to five years and” making offers that follow suit.

For people who are in his shoes, in the business of being a voluntary provider, Faiola says there are three pieces of advice he’d give: “One, they really need to be thinking enterprise level for a client … meaning thinking from the CEO level down. So to be really successful you have to be able to go in and have a conversation with the client around their benefit technology solution — is it getting them the ROI that they really need? Do they have a communication strategy? What does their onboarding process look like?
“Second, integrating the voluntary benefits — not just selling the voluntary benefits as a standalone.”

The last part of being successful in voluntary is not going in to sell the product that you want to sell, “you need to sell a cancer plan because it makes sense for them.”
Matt Holden, regional vice president in New England for Transamerica Worksite Benefits, has been working with Faiola for five years now. He attests: “The approach Lou takes from a consultative standpoint, and not focusing necessarily on the sale, is what makes him unique and brings a full service to the client and the broker,” he says. “The thing for me personally is he takes a vested interest in all broker and client relationships and the carrier partnerships … he really listens.”

At the core
Faiola’s warm approach to relationships doesn’t stop at work. He says he loves spending time with his wife, Melissa, and children, Isabella (9) and Nicholas (5). He says family time is a priority, especially summers on the beach and board game nights. His aptitude for relationships also circles back to this Voluntary Adviser of the Year award. In his interview he made sure to thank all the people who have helped him over the years, saying that awards happen to be for the individual, but they’re really for everyone who touched that person’s life.

“I’d love to send thanks and appreciation to all of the people who I’ve encountered in my career. [They’ve] helped me win this award,” he says. “I was blessed and fortunate to have a lot of people who came around at the right time and I just emulated a lot of what they said. Getting an award is not about me, it’s about the people who I’ve been touched by and who helped shape how I am.”

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