Most of us have seen The Wizard of Oz scene when the Tin Man, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are walking through the forest, saying over and over again, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” All of a sudden, the Cowardly Lion jumps out and says, “Put ‘em up! Put ‘em-up!”
Is it me or does it seem like many in our industry have been walking around saying, “Exchanges and fees and Zenefits, oh my!” Depending on who you are and how long you have been in the business, your ‘lions and tigers and bears’ will be different.
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Our business is changing. It’s not a scary thing; change is good and if you manage it, prepare for it and execute, it will be a great thing. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the three changes above and remove/face the fear (keep in mind these are just three top-of-mind disrupters that we have seen over the past few years).
1) Exchanges. For those that were around during the days of cafeteria plans, today’s exchange is the electronic version. As we all know, they are not for every employer, but we need to make sure our clients understand the value and the risks of the exchanges.
2) Fees. I love fees. My issue: the carries refuse to go net of commissions on any and all business. I believe that when we charge a fee, rather than the transactional commission, we look different to our client. We become a consultant and adviser.
3) Zenefits: Fact is, it is a different model and it is a model that will work for some. Rather than being fearful, work with it. Understand the model. When we understand how something works, we are less fearful. Odds are that if you define yourself as a “firm” and “consultant,” your target client will not be a Zenefits client. The good news, look at some of the recent valuations for these tech solutions. If they are true, most of our firms are worth zillions of dollars.
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You have homework to do. Take some time and identify your lions, your tigers and your bears. Then, dig deep and jot down, why? What is it that you feel is the threat to your business? For example, fees versus commissions. Many feel that if they move to a fee-based model their revenue may go down. Our firm looks at it differently. While we do not receive a pay raise when we deliver a renewal increase, our persistency has increased. More important, we are viewed differently by our clients and the market.
The next steps are the most critical; this is a three-step process.
1) Develop an action plan for each lion, tiger and bear. For example, since the beginning of time, your organization has given certain clients “free” stuff (FSA, COBRA, technology). Hello! Nothing is free. The next time a prospect or client tells you that their current broker is giving them something “for free,” make sure you ask them if you can have some of their free product and/or service. You must move from free to value-based. This is another reason to move to a fee-based model, you can tie all of your services and time to the fee. Transparency. You must define how you can change current practices, policies and procedures. I would recommend after you have developed your initial list, engage your team and firm leadership. Have them go through this individually.
2) Execute. Even if you have to take a few baby steps, execution is your path to transformation.
3) It must become part of the culture. Your organization must eat, sleep and live the plan. Roll it out, make this an event.
So let’s go back to the forest. When the Cowardly Lion attempted to bite Toto, Dorothy looked the lion in the face and slapped his nose. It is time for all of us to define our lions and tigers and bears, look them straight on and slap them in the nose.
I hope to see you in Oz!
Reach Daboul, partner, Sage Benefit Advisers, at email@example.com.
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