Recently, an adviser colleague said something to me that most benefit brokers would find to be a startling statement:

“Insurance is almost incidental to what we do,” said Greg Carlton, executive vice president for benefits & wellness at Peel & Holland in Kentucky. “The key element to our success is business acumen … really understanding the broader business challenges that an owner or CEO/CFO is dealing with in his or her business and how we can help.”

Peel & Holland’s proprietary process seeks ways for the business to prevent and mitigate its risks before transferring risk — by means of insurance — even becomes an option. This in-depth consultative discovery process isn’t focused or based on the sale of a product or service. The consultation itself is a valuable service, for which the client will pay a fee.

Peel & Holland is in the vanguard of an exciting new trend for employee benefit firms: A business-solutions approach concerned with a broad swath of the employer’s business issues. This approach transitions an insurance broker into the role of adviser, eventually to become that much-discussed trusted adviser as you continue to bring value, insight and solutions to the client.

Another firm in the forefront of this trend is California’s Bolton & Company. Bolton COO Mike Morey recently told me about a new, third division in his firm, along with employee benefits and P&C. Bolton Business Solutions provides clients with a wide range of business resources, including actuarial services, benefits administration, environmental consulting, estate planning, financial consulting, legal advice and property valuations. You can see that many of the business solutions are complementary to, and even can flow from, the firm’s work with the benefits and risk management.

The most valuable asset

As impressed as I am with what these two firms are doing around business solutions, I’m not suggesting that every benefit firm reposition itself as a provider of business solutions. There’s a larger strategic point here.

The most valuable asset a benefit firm has is not its book of insurance business (which is becoming less and less valuable), but rather its relationship with clients. From this, your firm can pivot to provide value in numerous ways, including valuable business solutions that go far beyond insurance.

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The transactional broker role and the old product-centric & commission-based agency business model are no longer relevant.

While some of my agency clients prefer the business solutions approach and focus on the C-suite and the company executives, others are increasing their commitment to HR by providing solutions that help HR better manage their human capital. Both approaches include insurance, but don’t start there. The HR-centric approach can include HR technology outsourcing, HR consulting, employee training and compliance services, among other solutions. For instance, our consulting client Group Services, Inc. in Iowa is having great success consulting on both HR and compliance.

As progressive and innovative benefit firms reinvent themselves as business solution advisers and human capital management consultants, the bar is raised for other firms that want to compete. The transactional broker role and the old product-centric & commission-based agency business model are no longer relevant or able to compete with the new and more compelling value propositions that firms such as Peel & Holland, Bolton & Company and Group Services are taking to the market.

By focusing on client problems and pain points beyond insurance, these next-gen benefits firms are bringing impactful insights and valuable solutions to their clients that differentiate them from their competition and grow their market share.


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Nelson Griswold

Nelson Griswold

Griswold is an agency growth consultant and author of DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success. His Agency Growth Mastermind Network helps agency leaders reform-proof their firm. Reach him at (615) 656-5974,