Since he was profiled last year as one of Employee Benefit Adviser’s Rising Stars, vice president of benefits consulting at GCG Financial Cory Friedman has seen his book of business grow by 15% with the addition of roughly 20 new clients.

Other benefit advisers may concentrate on a small regional pocket, but Chicago-based Friedman prefers to focus on thriving industries in the throes of rapid consolidation. His book of business consists largely of veterinary practices, animal hospitals and dental practices, all of which are experiencing a wave of consolidation thanks to what he calls “interest from private equity firms.” Clients include American Animal Hospital Association, Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and the National Association of Veterinary Technicians.

The pace of consolidation among these businesses has been so frenetic that Friedman compares it to the wave of mergers and acquisitions now consuming the benefit brokerage space. In fact his firm, GCG Financial, was one of the 24 firms that joined together to form Alera Group in January 2017.

All told, Friedman consults for more than 150 organizations that represent more than 500 animal hospitals. “I have clients in 40-something states and there's a ton of money flooding into that base,” he reports. “A lot of organizations are buying up independent animal hospitals and consolidating them.”

These newly acquired practices are eager to establish a uniform set of benefit offerings, medical plans and compliance tools. Their aim is to offer a consistent set of benefits to help attract and retain talent. “We're creating consistencies where we can,” Friedman explains, “and looking to create one common benefit program across an entire portfolio of companies.”

Another trend that Friedman sees gathering speed is a move toward self-insurance.

“Employers are starting to wake up to the fact that a less bad rate increase is not something they have to accept year after year,” he says. “That's not the best that they can hope for.”

Employers, Friedman adds, are demanding greater pricing transparency. “They want to see where costs and quality intersect to take advantage of all that a self-funded health plan can offer.”

Currently, “We're helping consolidate eleven veterinary practices in various states into a large group self-funded plan,” he continues. “And we're building a captive program that's going to be exclusive to those animal hospitals.”

But Friedman sees the effort to blame the insurance companies for the rising cost of healthcare as misplaced.

“It’s easy for critics to portray health insurance companies as the bad guys and to criticize the “broken health insurance system,” he says, “but they often conflate healthcare with health insurance. I wish there was more discussion on the cost of care itself,” he adds.

Such sentiments belie a radical streak. The young broker calls it exciting time to be in the benefits industry because the environment is changing.

“Now is time for disruption—more so than ever in the past,” he exclaims. “People are starting to challenge the status quo, and as someone younger and more progressive in the space, I'm excited about it.”

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