EBA’s 10 Rising Stars in Advising are younger than age 35 and bringing much-needed talent and innovation to an industry that desperately needs it.

 

Kris Tawney, 29
President and CEO
Tawney Insurance Consulting
Morgantown, W.Va.

With just seven years in the business world, Kris Tawney has made such a splash that his business valuation professor at West Virginia University — in the town where he still resides — has invited him back to speak to current students about his experiences. His story is one of a new class of insurance brokers. In fact, he doesn’t even want to call himself that any more. “It’s strictly consultative,” he says of the business he opened himself in September after spending six years at a long-established agency in neighboring Charleston, W.Va. “I’m trying to understand what a company needs, what they’ve lacked. People who sell insurance just worry about insurance, but we had a meeting this morning [with one client] about what employees are complaining about — we didn’t talk about insurance until the end.”

His philosophy is that employee retention and attraction is the whole reason companies spend the money that they do on employee benefits, so the answer is not always to sell more products. “I feel like there would be moments in my old company where I would have a question —and  I’d potentially be hurting myself — if maybe the best solution is [for the client] to not buy insurance,” he explains. Now that he has his own business model to shape and innovate, he’s working on some projects in a fee-based capacity, so he can service the client with the advice they need, whether it involves sales or not. He says he still does some projects that are commission-based, but it’s always “transparent” to the client.

It was the excitement of creating this new feel for a consulting firm, as the name of his company indicates, that propelled him to start out on his own as a young entrepreneur. “It was a hard decision to make, I was making a good income for my age,” he says. “But, I knew I could do it. … I really wasn’t scared that I could make it happen.” As his photo on the cover implies, football was a big influence in Tawney’s life in both high school and college. He says that experience helped prepare him for running his own business: “What I learned was working hard and practicing and training.”

He’s confident that consultative practices are the future and many of the traditional agencies won’t survive another five to 10 years. Kevin Trokey, business consultant and sales coach at Q4intelligence, works with Tawney and nominated him to be one of EBA’s Rising Stars. “He is off to a strong start, on track to write $250,000 of new business in his first year, establishing his personal brand through speaking engagements, building a non-traditional website and writing for the inaugural edition of a regional publication,” Trokey wrote. Tawney says he’s also on the path to potentially add another team member in six months. Right now he works alone.

“Insurance is easy, getting quotes is easy,” Tawney says. “But we need to make sure we’re putting the energy in, with research and expertise, beforehand and then the products will come to light and the funding will make sense.” He adds: “The plan is to grow. I’d like to grow to a full-service-type agency in attitude.”

 

Erin Devine, 33
Benefits Specialist
CBG Benefits
Woburn, Mass.

What got you started in the business?
“I have an uncle in insurance, so I was aware of the industry and the growth potential. [He] alerted me to a job opening at AIG when I was a year or so out of college. I looked into the position, applied and got my start,” Devine says.

What do you think advisers need to do to survive?
“They must diversify their book of business,” she says. “The ones left standing will be more complex than what we see today. They will be the ones that truly incorporated technology into their solutions and they will play a significant role in helping clients understand and meet their compliance requirements. Gone will be the advisers and brokers that only talk to their clients once a year.”

How do you explain your job to your non-industry friends?
“I started explaining my job to non-industry friends when I would help them review their open enrollment packets from their employers,” she says.

What do you think young advisers do differently to network?
“The talk-track at networking events is shifting. Instead of leading with insurance in conversations, many are having success discussing the technology their company uses to help clients achieve goals,” she says. “People want to work with people they trust. Just because a strategy or tactic has been in place for many years does not mean that it’s outdated or should be abandoned.”

 

Matt Kistler, 30
Vice President, Business Development
United Benefit Advisors
Oakbrook Terrance, Ill.

What got you started in the business?
“My best friend’s family owns an insurance agency and they asked me if I would be interested in applying,” Kistler says. “If you would have told me when I was in college that I would make a career in the insurance industry, I would have laughed at you. But the industry has been a gift to me and my family.”

Where is the industry headed?
“Clients will continue to demand more from their brokers. I believe the client discussions will center on a few key concepts: defined contribution, implementing an enterprise health care transparency tool, data analytics, creative captive solutions and integrated online benefits enrollment and administration technology solutions,” he says.

What do you think young advisers do differently to network?
“Two easy ways for a young adviser to grow their network is to become an expert in LinkedIn and to invest in their local professional groups,” he says.
“On the whole, however, survival in this industry demands hard work.” He adds that when he started out, he had doors slammed in his face and HR directors who were not a pleasure to deal with. However, he made it through with the drive that advisers need. “For young advisers to flourish, they need to work at it with all their might,” he says.

 

Chad Schneider, 33
Broker Market Director
Aflac
Irvine, Calif.

What’s the most rewarding thing for you so far in the business?
“The incredibly talented and successful people that I have been able to network with,” Schneider says. “Some of my closest friends and people in my life came to me through avenues I would not have had access to if not in the insurance business.” He adds that he has been with Aflac for 11 years.

What do you think advisers need to do to survive?
“Assisting clients with a holistic benefits package that includes not just medical, dental and vision but voluntary worksite, wellness, comprehensive communication plans and a multi-year strategy is the future,” he says. “The agents and brokers who can effectively accomplish that will be the ones who will have a bright future.”

What do you think young advisers do differently to network?
“The younger generation is all about multi-tasking and spreading the wealth. We are a generation who wants an impressive and extensive resume,” he says, adding that the other obvious distinct difference is the use of social media. “Resumes are getting more and more intense and extensive. I like the competition and the raising of the bar that continues to be heightened. If we don’t have a thousand things to do all at the same time then we feel like we are not working hard enough.”

 

Robert Mitchell, 29
Group Savings and Pension Account Manager
Vital Benefits, Inc.
Calgary, Canada

What got you started in the business?
“My first role was as a pension administrator, which I took up because I liked the technical element,” Mitchell explains. “I soon figured out it was the client-facing side I enjoyed most. This led me to take my first consultancy position with Mercer, and my career grew from there.”

What’s the most rewarding thing for you so far in the business?
“My job is quite diverse, which means I get the benefit of being able to interact and help members on an individual basis as well as run group education sessions,” he says. “But my role also includes plan design and implementation. So it is great when plans are designed that fit with our clients’ culture and requirements so that when rolled out, everyone … is happy with the outcome.”

Where do you think the industry is headed?
“I see a strong focus on education and transparency on fees,” he says. “It always surprises me how little some people are aware, yet how material the impact can be. … It is a competitive industry so I think advisers need a way to differentiate themselves from the crowd, and innovative engagement and education will be a vital component.”

 

Justin Hanratty, 32
CEO
Hanratty & Associates, Inc.
Minneapolis

What got you started in the business?
“I grew up with my grandfather and father both working in this industry, so I always had a desire to do the same,” says Hanratty, who become president of the family business at age 30 and ascended to CEO this year at age 32.

What do you think young advisers do differently to network?
“This industry has always been a relationship-based business and that hasn’t changed,” he says. “However, our generation has some new tools to aide in building a brand and furthering agency reach. Young advisers also understand the millennial generation and use this knowledge when networking.”

What do you think advisers need to do to survive?
“Our industry has become very complex,” he says. “Advisers should partner with an agency that understands the changing marketplace and has a clear strategy along with a dynamic culture.”

 

Matthew Glaros, 29
Vice President of Sales
Employer Benefit System, Inc.
Dyer, Ind.

What got you started in the business?
“My dad has always been my hero in all aspects of life. He worked hard, provided a great life for my mom, my sister and me, but most importantly he was always there, even though he sometimes worked late or had to go in on Saturdays,” Glaros says, adding that his father founded their Chicago-area company 36 years ago. While the younger Glaros went away to Denver for a bit to work at a hedge fund, he knew he had to return home to work for his family. He says: “For me, it wasn’t the industry that attracted me, it was the person.” Glaros’ father, Willis, nominated him for Rising Stars.

Where is the industry headed?
“Employee benefits will be changing constantly and I think the advisers’ role is going to become even more important,” he says. “If you are willing to make yourself an expert, you will survive and thrive. I sometimes liken our business to accounting firms: In theory, if you are willing to read and learn the tax laws, you could technically file your own taxes. However, most people would never even consider it. I look at benefits the same way — people could try to do it on their own, but employers like the ability to say, ‘We have an adviser/broker do the work for us and here is what we are offering.’”

How do you explain your job to non-industry friends?
“I have tried over the years to make it sound sexy or intriguing, but usually I failed miserably at that,” he says. “So now, I just tell people I help businesses manage their health insurance programs and manage the risks of Obamacare. Most people understand that right away and funny enough, they all have questions, which makes me a popular person at parties.”

What do you think advisers need to do to survive?
“You need to be willing to accept that we don’t know what the future will hold in benefits and if you are willing to do the right thing for the client and not your pocketbook, then your business will grow,” Glaros says.

 

Megan Cumbers, 29
Senior Consultant
Laurus Strategies
Chicago

What’s the most rewarding thing for you so far in the business?  
“I really enjoy being a part of our clients’ overall business strategy. Health and welfare benefits are many times a company’s second biggest expense behind salaries,” Cumbers says. “It is a big component of an employee’s total compensation, and our clients are faced with providing competitive and comprehensive benefits while maintaining and controlling costs. I find it rewarding that we are able to help a company execute their overall business strategy by providing consultative advice as it relates to the health care budget.”

What do you think advisers need to do to survive?  
“I think with all of the regulations in this industry, advisers will need to not only understand the compliance changes and health care reform regulations, but understand and articulate how that relates to a company’s overall financial impact,” she says.

What do you think young advisers do differently to network?
“I think that younger consultants are more likely to network through social media avenues. I also think that we are more connected to our alma mater (in part because of social media) and network through that relationship as well,” she adds.

 

Wes Hamby, 33
President and CEO
Enrollforce, LLC
Huntsville, Ala.

What got you started in the business?
“I started directly out of college in 2002, working as a benefit counselor for an enrollment firm. After the first month as a contract counselor … I topped both employee satisfaction and production,” Hamby says. “I was promoted to a case manager position to assist with a 32,000-employee hotel group. Within a year, a friend and I started an enrollment firm that focused on groups of 50 to 500 employees. After a few years of working together, my friend decided to pursue a different path and I bought him out, which led me to change course and start Enrollforce.”

Where do you think business is headed?
“[It will be] electronic and mostly government-controlled. The government is starting to show its inefficiencies,” he says. “Many private exchanges and defined contribution strategies will dominate the next five years in a move to increase efficiencies and lessen employers’ administrative burden for their benefit programs. Advisers should find a tech partner or enrollment firm to get into this rapidly growing market right away.”

How do you explain your job to non-industry friends?
“I guess it depends on who I am talking to. If I know someone is asking for lip-service, all you have to say is that you do insurance and you can clear an entire room! All jokes aside, I say that we make it where a company’s employees can speak to a non-commissioned benefits counselor to better understand and be educated about their benefits,” he says.

 

Brad Sutliffe, 34
Director of Employee Benefits
RPS ISG International
Cambridge, Md.

What is the most rewarding thing for you so far in the business?  
“Knowing that I am offering true value to my clients by providing essential benefits for their employees, families and themselves,” Sutliffe says.

Where do you think the industry is headed?
“With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we have clients that are looking to us for guidance more than ever,” he says. “We need to continue to evolve and expand our knowledge to bring value to clients. The brokers that see their clients once a year, deliver the renewal and have zero contact throughout the year will not survive. Also, the need to stay in front of technology as much as possible to bring efficiencies to your job is extremely important.”

What do you think young advisers do differently to network than older brokers?  
“Young advisers are extreme multi-taskers,” he says. “I think we are able to get our message out to large numbers of people on many different platforms. Our weakness is that we need to slow down and realize that networking and building relationships takes time and can be a long process.”

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