Profiles in advising: The advantages of building a like-minded client base

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Determined to take a progressive approach to benefits management that not all employers are prepared for, Tim Doherty views each meeting with a potential client as a two-way interview. The president of Pinnacle HR Solutions is subtle about the process, but he’s committed to delivering a new way to manage employee benefits — and that means being selective about his clientele.

Pinnacle, founded in 2015 and based in Needham, MA, works primarily with groups between 50 to 1,000 employees. Clients fall into a range of business types, including non-profits, blue collar manufacturers and high-tech companies but they must all have one thing in common. Says Doherty: “You have to be a group that's looking for strategic advice.”

Doherty says he can recognize right away if a potential client will be a fit, based on the company’s culture and business philosophy. It involves an openness to long-term strategic planning and a gut realization that the current healthcare model is broken.

“We like to work with employers that want to be an ‘employer of choice,’ that want to have a benefit program that's going to attract and retain employees,” he says. “It might be that only three out of 10 groups that we meet with are really aligned with who we want to work with.”

A new conversation
An experienced adviser, Doherty entered the benefits field in 1991 on the carrier side, and later worked for various regional boutiques and a large brokerage, before joining a company called Pinnacle Financial Group in 2006.

While working in that firm’s benefits practice, Doherty met the team at Q4intelligence, a sales and marketing firm that supports benefit brokerages. Working with the heads of Q4i, Wendy Keneipp and Kevin Trokey, Doherty cemented his commitment to finding a better way of managing healthcare. Eventually, that led to his decision to go out on his own, although he kept the name “Pinnacle” for brand recognition.

Pinnacle’s motto is, “We’re changing the conversation,” and these days Doherty’s prospect meetings no longer include asking about renewal dates, insurance carriers or employee censuses. Instead, they’re all about the potential client’s HR strategy, what goals it has for its benefits program, how it recruits and onboards employees, and even how much paper is involved in the process.

Doherty urges clients to take control of their healthcare supply chain by unbundling their carriers’ traditional benefits package and moving to self-insured programs that make use of best-in-class vendors and plan management practices.

One client who has entered into that new conversation is Dana Smith, VP of HR at Peabody Properties, a property management firm in Braintree, Mass. Recalling the firm’s last insurance renewal and the latest rate increase that his 500-employee group was facing, Smith says he and Doherty teamed to “stop a train about to hit us.”

Together, they broke down Peabody’s traditional plan design, put the prescription benefits portion out to bid and found a new third-party administrator, which ultimately saved the company up to $300,000 a year with no disruption to the plan participants. Other steps included adopting a referenced-based pricing model and joining a group health insurance captive.

“Knowing that we could surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who were committed to cost containment and control, while still maintaining their ‘employer of choice’ credibility was pretty important,” Smith says of the decision to join the captive. “Tim has been right there by our side the entire way.”

Doherty has three full-time account managers who support Pinnacle’s client base, including Angela Crangle, who has worked with Doherty for more than a decade. She says Doherty practices what he preaches and has created a family-friendly work environment at Pinnacle that offers flexible work arrangements for the staff.

“He's a good guy; you want to work for him,” Crangle says. “And I think that's resonating with some new business clients. They see that he's very forward-thinking, but also very genuine in his approach.”

Breakfast roundtables
One way Doherty brings in new business is through regular breakfast roundtables with around seven to 10 Boston-area CFOs, most of whom are not clients. These events are informal and conversational, he says, and designed to get the word out that there’s a better way to manage healthcare. Conversations will often dwell on what “levers” CFOs can pull to take control of their companies’ healthcare supply chain. Some of those control levers include introducing direct primary care, more transparent pharmacy benefits management and independent third-party administrators.

“I've gotten great feedback from participants who find the discussions thought provoking and insightful,” says Doherty. “It's not a sales pitch. It's more like they walk out of there feeling like they just had a thought leadership meeting.”

Or an entirely new conversation about healthcare.

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