The face of benefits advising is not the same. The volatile economy, the changing landscape of health care reform and the ever-increasing role of technology are serving up unprecedented challenges.
On the cusp of this change is a new crop of advisers under age 42 who are ready to take over from retiring baby boomers. They grew up with technology and never knew the business the way the "old-timers" did. They are eager and enthusiastic. They are the future.
EBA searched far and wide to find 10 "Rising Stars in Advising" who are making a name for themselves and will lead the next generation of advisers. We're delighted to introduce them.
Vice President | The American Worker Plans | South Barrington, Ill. | 36
For Jon Duczak, insurance has always been a family affair. Duczak grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and was familiar with the industry from a young age.
Not only does his father work alongside him at The American Worker Plans, but he also has three uncles and several cousins in the major medical small group marketing industry.
"I spent summers working at a major medical agency doing odd jobs," he says. "During my high school years, I would come home to insurance publications placed on my bed -little hints from my father," he says with a laugh. "Even if I didn't want to be in the business, I eventually was going to be drafted."
Benefits advising can be intimidating, Duczak says, and young people coming into the business need to be educated, have a mentor and be willing to look and learn where the market came from in order to understand where exactly it's going. Then they must share that knowledge with their clients. He recalls one of his own "ah-ha" moments.
"A couple years ago, there was a moment during a sales process when a director of benefits came up, gave me a pat on the back and said, 'I just want to tell you that you're doing a really good job here, and we really appreciate the fact that you're not trying to sell us as much as you're just trying to educate us.'"
That's a lesson for all ages. MDR
Producer | Flanigan-Leavitt Insurance Agency Inc. | Reno, Nev. | 32
Younger people bring a newer enthusiasm and different way of looking at things in the insurance business, says Bradford M. Backlund, a 32-year-old producer at Reno, Nev.-based Flanigan-Leavitt Insurance Agency Inc., a Leavitt Group affiliate.
Whereas aging colleagues are often in maintenance mode as they look ahead to retirement, Backlund is constantly looking for new business opportunities. "I have a young family I have to support 100% on my own. I'm driven to put money on the book," he says.
That motivation prompts Backlund, who is president-elect of the National Association of Health Underwriters Nevada chapter and past-president of the NAHU Reno chapter, to push himself. In the three years he has been in the business, he has exceeded his goals twice and won a Circle of Excellence award from his company for being a top new producer. Further, he finished 2010 in the top 10 of overall new producers for the Leavitt Group, the seventh-largest privately-held insurance brokerage in the nation.
Backlund takes personal interest in his clients. He points to a woman who was suffering from multiple sclerosis and had an "ugly medical plan." Backlund moved her into a high- deductible health plan and with that plan being 100% covered after the deductible, he was able to save her nearly $12,000 a year in out-of-pocket prescription costs.
"She has remained very loyal to me and has referred me some amazing clients."
Despite all the change in the business, Backlund, who managed corporate rental agreements for Enterprise Rent-A-Car before joining Flanigan-Leavitt, sees himself staying in the business forever. Everyone is talking doom and gloom created by health care reform, he says, but he believes there is actually tremendous opportunity with worksite and voluntary benefits.
"You definitely have to be optimistic and see the glass as half-full, not half-empty. Figure out what your markets really are asking for. . . . That's where relationships come into play with your current clients."
And he flows with ambition. "I anticipate milestone achievements in my career as I grow and prosper," he concludes. "My future goal is to have an ownership interest with my agency." BMK
Employee Benefits Senior Account Manager | Gregory & Appel Insurance | Indianapolis | 34
Susan Rider believes that in the ever-changing world of PPACA, all generations need to able to work together in order to be successful.
Rider entered the employee benefits field after being injured at another job in the health care business. Service is in her blood; she is not only an employee benefits senior account manager at Gregory and Appel Insurance, but also national chair of the National Association of Health Underwriters Younger Agents Advisory Group and president of the Indiana State Health Underwriters.
As head of the younger agents group, Rider helped introduce the social media sites Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to NAHU, as well as a blog called B2B, or broker-2-broker, where young agents can post information relevant to each other. Her passion is helping NAHU brokers around the country realize the value of technology.
"I work for a large agency, so we have a lot of technology that we offer as an added value," she says. "Some of the more independent brokers might not have all that technology, and if you're not getting a younger person in to help them keep up with the times, they are just not going to be able to keep up with health care reform."
But the transformation of the business excites her. She wants to stay in benefits advising for the rest of her life, and she believes her background in human resources - she has an HR certification - will really help her.
"The only constant in our industry, unfortunately, is change." BMK
Chief Executive | FirstPerson | Indianapolis | 38
At 38, Bryan Brenner, the chief executive of Indianapolis-based FirstPerson, has neither an old way of thinking about the business nor the history of when things were done quite differently.
Brenner grew up on a farm and attended Butler University, graduating with a communication major. This led him to a role in marketing for a third-party administrator.
He joined his father-in-law's small independent agency in 1998 in order to "take over the family business." After buying his father-in-law out, he bought another company in January, 2010 and combined the two companies into FirstPerson.
He says the business has been dynamic from the day he walked in.
"I don't know it any differently. It's been complex from day one, I don't look back and say, 'I wish it was easy like it used to be.'"
His company has achieved great success since the merger. In October, FirstPerson became the third-largest insurance brokerage and consulting firm in the Indianapolis area, behind two national firms.
Brenner himself was named to the Indianapolis Business Journal's "Who's Who in Health Care and Benefits" in September, and his company was selected as one of the "Best Places to Work in Indiana" by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
He believes in giving back to the community as "a way to establish a solid foundation for future generations, particularly my own children." In November, he will rappel down a building with a co-worker to raise money for the Special Olympics.
He also has plans to begin an internship at his company for students at his alma mater's College of Business School of Management.
"We think there's an opportunity to bring young people in and have them move into an adviser position," he says. "I think we can go younger [when hiring] - right to school. I don't think that happens right now. BMK
Partner | Duley Bolowar and Associates | Scottsdale, Ariz. | 31
C.R. Duley was born into the insurance business. His father started Duley Bolwar and Associates in 1970, and the younger Duley, who is now 31, grew up around the business admiring his father's success.
He attended Northern Arizona University on a football scholarship, and completed his college academics at Arizona State University, then joined his father's company in July 2003.
As a lifelong resident of Scottsdale, Ariz. Duley enjoys giving back to his community. He is on the fundraising committee for Phoenix Children's Hospital and serves on the Fiesta Bowl Committee. "It feels good," he says. "I was born and raised here, so I definitely want to give back to what they have given me."
He has also had success in his business role, growing his book of business 15% to 20% year over year, he says, while bringing in new clients.
Duley sees younger people getting into the business. He says most of his company's hires have been younger. "They have more of a drive and [are] more eager to learn and push themselves."
For those young people joining his firm or the business, he also offers this advice: "Keep you ears and eyes open. It's a changing world, [you] must keep up-to-date with all the changes. Never be satisfied with where you are." BMK
Vice president and Director of Technology and Marketing | Eustis Insurance and Benefits | Metairie, La. | 41
Tom Daly grew up in New Orleans and was nicely settled there when Hurricane Katrina hit the southern Louisiana panhandle in 2005. He temporarily packed up and sought shelter in San Antonio, Texas, where his wife has family.
"In a weird way, that was a big turning point and evolution for my business. I wouldn't want a Katrina-type situation to come again, but just like with health reform, maybe this kind of disruption in the marketplace forces you to do things differently."
After moving around to a few locations in the Lone Star State, Daly credits social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, with enabling him to connect with other industry professionals and put his business back on track. He became such a social media fan that he started NAHU's LinkedIn group, which currently has around 5,200 members.
A self-proclaimed geek, Daly has always leaned on technology as a differentiator when competing with others in the business. In the beginning of 2011, his love for all things tech paid off; he released an iPhone app, Benefitsync, which delivers ID card information and links to provider directories directly to a plan participant's iPhone.
"I've rolled it out to most of our larger clients; they're all walking around with an iPhone app that I built for them. [It] helps them access their information and stay more connected to me." he says.
What's next on Daly's list? An app that helps plan participants enroll in benefit plans from any Smartphone.
One of his proudest accomplishments occurred in April 2001 when he started Hartwig Moss Benefits through the 135-year-old property and casualty agency, Hartwig Moss Insurance Agency. The firm had never sold benefits, he adds.
After the agency was bought out in March 2011, he moved with his whole team to Eustis Benefits at the end of May 2011. Since the owners of Eustis Benefits are nearing retirement age, they look to him to help perpetuate what they have built by leading the 17 person benefits team.
Daly is feeling confident about the future of the industry. He predicts that in the next five years, the broker business will evolve into a purely fee-based delivery model.
He also believes that younger people are sometimes more suited for the insurance industry.
"If you bring to the table a lot of institutional knowledge about the way things are done, that doesn't really help you that much when an industry is continually changing." MDR
Founder and President | DSG Benefits Group | Dallas | 32
Born and raised in Dallas and a University of Texas at Austin alum, David Goldfarb is a tried-and-true Texan.
Although he wasn't quite sure what career he wanted to pursue after school, all signs pointed to something related to financial services, since he works best with numbers and people. "Every client is unique, and I enjoy coming up with different solutions for different scenarios." he says.
Goldfarb entered the benefits industry 10 years ago. He was lucky to have a mentor who showed him the ropes before he started his own firm seven years ago. Although most people start out on the carrier side, he began on the broker side selling from day one, which he says was pretty scary at age 22.
"I eat, sleep and breathe benefits; I've always been a strong, strong believer that it's much better to be a master of one trade than a jack of all trades, especially when it comes to insurance." he adds.
Despite what some say, Goldfarb believes there is tremendous opportunity in the insurance market. "If you're willing to learn all of the business' ins and outs and commit to really becoming an expert at it," there is a spot for you, he maintains. "Uncertainty and unknown always creates opportunity."
Goldfarb places heavy emphasis on the use of technology to help deliver benefits and educate employees. Several years ago, his company started providing mid- to large-sized clients with "full-blown, customized portals," especially if they have consumer-driven health plans. The portals give his customers tools to price out prescriptions, imaging and diagnostic services, he says.
In-house, he prints out a double-sided, branded card that plan participants can put in their wallets with the employee's benefits information on the back. The card features carrier information and websites and includes the member's username and password. "We've received tremendous feedback; it's all about connecting with the employee," Goldfarb says.
He is active with Dallas Association of Health Underwriters and the Texas Association of Health Underwriters as well as the National Association of Health Underwriters. "You have to be involved, you can't be complacent. There's a significant amount of complacency on the broker/consultant side. Anyone can go in and shop the market, it's not magic. You really have to focus on long-term plans."
A year ago, his firm changed its business model, believing that incorporating innovation can set you apart.
"It's important to take a consultative approach to benefits. You can't sell on price, you can't sell on service ... It's about coming up with solutions." MDR
Timothy D. Wojcik
Employee Benefits Adviser | Roller Consulting | Conshohocken, Pa. | 26
Timothy Wojcik has been around technology his entire life and that enables him to have the "attitude of adoption because the last few years [technology has] been constantly changing."
He attended college at Penn State University, and accepted a job right out of school at Mercer, where he was primarily involved in executive remuneration. After spending two years there, he moved to roller Consulting in April 2010 and is still attending villanova University to receive a MBA, while taking CeBP classes.
Being 26, not only is Wojcik, who participates in triathlons, familiar with technology but also being active, with helps him connect to employers who are placing an ever-increasing premium on wellness and disease management. "I think knowing that wellness is becoming more and more part" of the workforce, he says. "People like myself can really add value and push that and really feel comfortable knowing it's part of our lives as well."
But now he sees himself doing nothing else. "When I left my former job, I wasn't sure I wanted to remain in executive compensation the rest of my life . . . it was a very, very specific area," he says. "[But] in benefits I'm very happy and sure I will stay here the rest of my life, that's present in me taking classes and getting my producer license." BMK
Director of Compliance and Communications | Independent Benefit Services | Rockville, Md. | 39
Lisa Scott has made it her business to know health benefits.
After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she cut her benefits teeth as a client service associate at HealthAmerica, a Coventry Health Care company in Pittsburgh.
"employee benefits, particularly health care, are evolving at a rapid pace. There is never a dull moment.New strategies and products keep me engaged and on my toes."
With many of health care reform's groundbreaking provisions set to take effect in 2014, Scott says it's been a tough, yet exciting time in the industry.
Indeed, one of her biggest accomplishments to date would have to be learning and communicating the initial complexities of health care reform, she says.
She has immersed herself in learning the various provisions of the law and is committed to staying apprised of the regulatory changes so she can remain a trusted adviser within her community.
Scott serves as president for the International Society of Certified employee Benefit Specialists' Capital Chapter that promotes educational and networking opportunities for local benefit professionals in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Scott says her CeBS designation with fellowship status distinguishes her from the competition. "Clients want to partner with someone who cares about them and the profession."
She is also a company liaison with United Benefit Advisors. In the next five years, Scott envisions leading new compliance and wellness initiatives.
As an avid runner and tennis player, Scott knows how important it is not only to help others with their health, but also to live a healthy life.
Colleagues describe Scott as a true partner and very knowledgeable.
"Lisa provides account management services and staff management/ training support for the entire advisor and benefit administrator staff. She is an excellent resource for complicated client issues and marketing situations," wrote richard ramsburg on a LinkedIn reccomendation.
Jerry Hardin, who managed Scott while he was the director of employee benefits at Hilb, rogal & Hamilton also gives her a high mark.
"Lisa is a highly competent and knowledgeable benefits adviser dedicated to serving her clients," he says. "She was a real asset to our organization." MDR
John J. Weber
Commercial Insurance | Bond Broker | John O. Bronson Co. | Sacramento, Calif. | 29
After high school, John Weber joined the Marine Corps. Six years later, he decided to go another route and enrolled in college. Being from an area east of Sacramento, Calif., he chose Sacramento State University and majored in business with a concentration in finance, risk management and insurance.
That made his father, mentor and soon-to-be co-worker, happy and proud.
Since his father enjoyed the industry, Weber decided to give it a try. He's been working primarily with pension and 401(k) plans for two-and-a-half years. And he's found a solid niche: His main focus is the construction industry, and his blue-ribbon client roster includes the Construction Financial Management Association, Associate Builders & Contractor, Inc. and the American Subcontractor Association, Inc.
Although Weber says there are many things that appeal to him about his job, one thing that stands out is the ability to take a peek into a number of different businesses and look at the certain things they do that makes many of them successful.
He gets satisfaction when employers tell him how happy they are with the amount of money he ends up saving them, which can be substantial. There's also a great deal of gratification in helping employees plan for their future.
"Laborers in the construction industry ordinarily wouldn't have benefits unless they were a union operation, and even if they have benefits most of them certainly wouldn't have a 401k plan," he says. MDR
You can see the rising stars here.
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