Ben Stiller is the reason Courtney Nelson became a benefit adviser. The actor portrayed a risk manager in the 2004 film Along Came Poly and Nelson, then an adolescent, was so swayed by his performance that she decided to check out the field.

“I thought it was so cool,” she recalls, laughing. “Ultimately, he was one of the reasons I decided to enroll in business school.”

It was a smart decision, as Nelson was recently chosen as an EBA 2018 Rising Star in Advising due to her success as a broker.

Recruited out of the University of Georgia’s risk management program by Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Brown & Brown, Nelson did a seven-month stint in the insurer’s property and casualty division before moving over to the benefits group in 2010. “That was a good decision,” she says, “because in benefits we can truly make a difference in people’s lives.”

Buoyed by that conviction, by the spring of 2015, Nelson had built a $1.5 million book of business in annualized revenue, had distinguished herself as the firm’s top benefits producer three years in a row and was named a vice president. But the rocket ride had just begun.

It was at this point that Ryan Rothrock, Brown & Brown’s benefits division chief and Nelson’s boss and mentor, was promoted to executive VP and head of the firm’s Tennessee division. He promptly invited Nelson to make the move to Nashville with him and take over the division’s benefits operation.

When she took charge, the Tennessee benefits business had been steadily losing ground, but within two years, Nelson had it turned around and back on a solid growth trajectory. Now in command of a $6 million book of business, she has become the mentor for 25 other young producers, several of whom have already sold their way into Brown & Brown’s top producer club.

“Courtney is very persistent,” says division head Rothrock. “She’s tenacious and builds relationships quickly.

Making lives easier

Nelson attributes her success to always staying focused on the needs of her clients. “They’re burdened by healthcare reform,” she says, “they’re burdened by financial pressures. They have so many other things on their plate that aren’t benefits related. I tell my team that we always need to be thinking about what we can do for them. How can we make their lives easier?”

She names healthcare costs, compliance, technology and employee eligibility as some of the key issues that — if properly addressed — will earn a client’s loyalty. And since a loyal customer will often refer other customers, Nelson has always looked to her clients to help her grow her book of business.

Looking back, Nelson acknowledges that it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing when she first entered the business. “I had two things going against me when I started,” she says. “I was young, and I was a woman.” But she was also fierce in her belief that she could succeed. “So, in the end those things weren’t that important, because I wouldn’t let them be important.”

And Nelson’s characteristic persistence always stood her in good stead. As she puts it: “Any time I heard the word ‘no,’ I heard it as, ‘not right now.’ But later, ‘yes!’ It was going to happen.”

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