One of the nation’s largest independent employee benefit-only consulting firms hopes to turbo-charge its offerings by teaming up with a leading national retail insurance brokerage that also does employee benefit consulting.

EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants’ recent acquisition of Ascende, Inc. reflects similar activity across a highly competitive employee benefit brokerage landscape, according to Kevin Stipe, a partner with Reagan Consulting, which advises agents, brokers and financial institutions.

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“Independent benefit brokers are aligning with larger brokers, such as EPIC, to enable themselves to gain the benefits of scale as they continue to try to stay on top of the rapidly changing employee benefits landscape,” he observes.

With access to a national platform of clients, the aim is to be able to offer more affordable resources in the areas of compliance, population health analytics and wellness, just to name a few. Stipe says another advantage of a firm like Ascende partnering with a multi-lines broker involved with both employee benefits and property and casualty insurance is that there are some cross-selling resources and capabilities to better serve clients and expand business. 

Growth opportunities

Indeed, Ascende CEO Jim Watt believes the pairing offers his company a chance to thrive. “Of all the opportunities and expressions of interest that we have seen over the years,” he says, “not one has ever provided the combination of unique services capabilities, the entrepreneurial environment or the laser focus on client service excellence that the partnership with EPIC has presented to us.”

There also could be valuable growth opportunities in Houston, where Ascende is based, as well as the Southwest, says EPIC President Peter Garvey.

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“The severe downturn in the energy market has created a lot or turmoil and challenge for the local broker community,” he observes, noting his company’s long-term commitment to the region. “We’re hoping that other P&C brokers and employee benefit consultants like Ascende, who share our clients-and-employees-first beliefs and practices, will want to join us to both weather the storm and create a strong, stable platform for ongoing growth and success.”

Headquartered in San Francisco, EPIC offers P&C, employee benefits and specialty programs to more than 13,000 clients nationwide. Ascende’s consulting services include health and welfare plans, retirement and investment advisory, HR and mergers and acquisitions, as well as benefit plan administration, wellness, communications and global benefits.

Shutan is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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