The risks and rewards of advising smaller clients

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Six years ago, at the age of 27, Niko Caparisos decided to roll the dice. He left Savannah, Georgia-based Sapelo Creative Solutions, where he had been working as an employee benefits specialist, and set out on his own.

“I realized I could do more for my clients and myself not tied to an entity that wasn’t moving as quickly as I was,” says the young adviser and one of Employee Benefit Adviser’s Rising Stars for 2018.

Caparisos’ clients went with him to his new firm, and today Prosperity Benefits, also based in Savannah, serves 45 employers with two to 200 employees scattered throughout Georgia and the Carolinas.

Of his clients, Caparisos says they span the white, gray and blue-collar rainbow. “Every industry has challenges, and I don’t discriminate,” he says, adding that he’s willing to work with “whomever will listen and wants to make a change.”

Ironically, though, serving smaller companies in the south often entails the same challenges as working with much larger businesses in other parts of the country.

“An employer with a thousand people in its workforce is often fishing for the same worker as a twenty-employee company,” he explains. “Expanding benefits is always important, but the hot button for both is controlling costs.”

To negotiate the best possible prices and services for his clients, Caparisos takes a hands-on approach. Conversations, he says, “are typically financially motivated,” but his clients are also interested in new technologies such as administrative tools and compliance applications.

One thing his clients are not generally interested in is tuition benefits— “It costs a lot of money to pay off someone’s student loans,” he says—and its reducing the healthcare spend that always drives the conversation.

“A lot of them don’t want to get down into the weeds [of other benefits],” he admits, but a meeting about controlling costs can lead into larger discussions about issues like using analytics tools to uncover major areas of health spend in order to control and manage those costs.

A one-man shop, Caparisos relies on BenefitsMall to provide clients with medical coverage from Humana, Blue Cross, United Healthcare and Aetna, and Maxwell Health to offer them a private exchange and benefits administration platform. To offset his workload, Caparisos employs a service team based in Charleston, South Carolina that is paid for by his insurance carriers. He uses the group to manage administrative chores, such as coverage terminations and claim disputes.

Caparisos’ go-getter attitude has won fans in the industry.

“He left Sapelo, went to a bank and took out a loan to start his solo-insurance business –risked it all to work for himself. Who does that?” asks Eric Silverman, principal and owner of Silverman Benefits Groups. “It’s very rare to hear of an insurance agent getting a loan to start his own firm.”

Caparisos, meanwhile, is scrambling to keep his clients abreast of the latest twists in the healthcare legislative and regulatory landscape. Recently proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate have been a pain point for his clients, who often don’t know how to respond.

“Most will hesitate to make a decision about their health plan. I tell them that the best thing we can do is make the best decision for this year and the next year,” he says.

“I try to get them not to be scared to make a change for fear that something will become law and force them to make another change later,” Caparisos confides. “As long as their programs are cost-controlled and compliant for now, I feel that this is what they should focus on—and not on what could happen.”

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