Two brokers challenge conventional thinking to transform their agencies

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Becoming a highly valued partner for employers starts with communicating effectively. At a recent industry conference, two successful advisers shared how changing the way they discuss healthcare and benefits with clients helped each of them rise from happenstance producer to powerful industry executive.

David Contorno, president of Lake Norman Benefits in Mooresville, N.C., says his biggest passion is delivering results. “For too long my career was delivering bad news for employers,” he explains. And he makes that clear when talking to employers.

Contorno will regularly apologize to prospects on behalf of himself and the industry about how health insurance renewals have historically been handled. For the last 20 years, he’ll explain, a broker would present a spreadsheet and discuss typical 22% rate increases.

When the prospects nod with recognition, he will explain the problem is “you cannot control healthcare costs by shopping out insurance,” he says. He will then tell prospects that they need to focus on the underlying cost and lack of quality in healthcare.

“If we can address that and have an impact on those things, then we can lower the underlying cost of care in total and hold our whole insurance plan accountable to [those] lower costs,” he says. “We can’t expect insurance to lower costs for us when the employees on the plan are spending the same dollars at the same providers [that] they always have.”

One way to lower healthcare costs is through drug pricing, Contorno says. As an example, the cost of filling generic Lipitor, one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States, can range from $12 to $150, depending on the pharmacy. Assuming 25% of employees are filling prescriptions, as 25% of Americans take the drug, Contorno estimates saving up to $30,000 a year by finding the least expensive pharmacy.

Through valuable conversations such as these, Contorno has grown his agency from zero in annual revenue to $3.2 million and counting.

In Richlands, Va., Taylor Lindsey, partner at Employee Benefits Consultants Inc., began to change the way he interacts with clients through an agency rebrand a few years ago. The goal was to highlight the brokerage’s focus on turning employees into smarter consumers of healthcare.

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“That was a big pivot point for us,” Lindsey says. “We can’t compete on a spreadsheet. We don’t want to do it. That’s not fun, that’s boring.”

Lindsey looked at his agency from a 30,000 foot viewpoint to examine why he is in this business in the first place, and then deliver that message to clients. “I had to tell our story in black and white … and it wasn’t how many years we have been in service,” he says. “We love that — and we are in our fourth generation — but that doesn’t help sell insurance.”

Lindsey started a blog to position himself as a thought leader in the field.

Contorno says a strong way to promote the adviser’s value and leadership potential to clients is by being open about how much brokers get paid. “[Committing to] that forced me to raise my game. Because I knew that if I felt uncomfortable having that conversation, it was because of one reason: I was being paid too much,” he says.

He also explains to prospects that the interview process is mutual. His firm does not work with every client. “Both of us have to say, ‘Yes,’” he explains. “Far more often than not, we are getting a yes from them. It increases their desire. Tell them they can’t have something and they want it. Force something on them and they don’t want it.”

Facing resistance
Despite the success these brokers have seen, others are often resistant to change. Lindsey’s father, who works in the firm, was initially hesitant for the re-branding. “But through my commitment and being able to say, ‘This is going to work or we will continue to do the same thing we are doing and fail,’” his father agreed to it, Lindsey says.

The rebrand has paid dividends, giving Lindsey’s staff more confidence to tell the firm’s story, he says. “It allows [prospects] to be excited and approach us as a prospect versus” the other way around.

It’s not just the advisers who can be hesitant to change, Contorno adds. “[E]mployers facilitate the status quo just as much as the rest of the system does,” he adds.

However, Lindsey knows the change and challenges are worthwhile. “Us brokers [who will change] this healthcare industry that has so much fat in it, we are going to be the ones that force this to change. The doctors aren’t doing it; they are getting paid,” he says. “We are implementing actions that are creating healthier bottom-lines for employees.”

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