Craft Hayes is not meek. The 31-year-old adviser for Bernard Health of Nashville, Tenn. likes to shake thing up with new technology, high energy and a new way of thinking about his clients.

“This is an antiquated industry that is ripe for disruption,” says the 2017 Rising Star finalist. “If you’re on the front end of that there's a lot of new business to be had and new clients to work with.”

Along with educating small business clients with an average of 75 employees on the benefits of HSAs and offering a nurse to help employees find the best values for prescription drug pricing, Hayes helps his clients embrace new technology. For example, he helped implement the brokerage’s Bernie Portal that helps employers onboard their workers electronically.

“The tangible is the technology like the Bernie Portal but also the strategy around the actual healthcare plan,” he says. “Most advisers are hesitant to disrupt the status quo of fully insuring. We're working with a few different self-insuring type models and building our own captive that takes a tremendous amount of work. But once it’s started up, people knocking on your door wanting to get in.”

Craft Hayes

Hayes focuses on small businesses that usually don't get the attention and services that are offered to larger firms. His client base averages 5 to 500 employees and are found in Nashville, Indianapolis, Austin, Texas, and Atlanta. He adds that the firm has plans to open offices in in North Carolina and the Tampa, Fla. area next year. To enter these markets, Hayes says he looks for a competitive insurance marketplace with four to six established carriers. “Alabama has a single player system so it’s not good for us,” he says.

In the past nine years as a broker, Hayes saw firsthand how technology changed that game for smaller clients.

“In the beginning, we were going into a small to medium-sized group with 50 to 100 employees and we would walk out of an open enrollment with 400 pieces of paper,” he recalls. “When you offer medical, dental, vision and you have all this paper, you think there has to be something better.”

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Thanks to years of client feedback, the online solution has expanded into what Hayes calls a “robust HR platform that has grown from just employee benefits enrollment to onboarding, compliance management, benefits enrollment, time off management, COBRA, and so on.”

Despite serving smaller businesses that were once dismissed as risk averse, Hayes has seen his client base mature and grow comfortable with new, cutting-edge technology.

“We're starting to see a transition the HR decision maker from a more technology savvy admin and they're wondering at this point why they're still doing things on paper. They are looking for solutions and there is an immediate reaction of this is what I have been looking for,” Hayes says.

The Bernie Portal also boasts mobile features that allow clients to enroll and view their benefits and contact a broker via a smartphone or mobile device. During the onboarding process they can log on via a fingerprint to view their tax withholding forms and manage most of their benefits. Mobile wellness services will be added in the coming months, but Hayes says, “The most important thing that is driving clients [is] the parts of the job that are required to be done.”

One client in impressed. “When Hayes started, Bernard Health had 12 clients, with revenue nearing $50,000. Today, the company employs more than 100 people, has more than 400 clients, and has annual revenue of over $7 million. To date, Hayes has the most profitable and largest recurring book of revenue in the company and had a hand in 45% to 50% of Bernard’s Nashville clientele,” says a client who wishes to remain anonymous.

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