It’s highly probable that the vast majority of benefits advisers will finish 2016 with flat or declining revenue from the year before. Compensation rates have fallen by about fifteen percent these past ten years, meaning that you need to sell that many more new accounts just to stay even.

On the other hand, there are those agencies that will grow their revenues by 25% to 40% this year. What do they do differently to become so successful?

Far too many benefits advisers confine their contacts to an employer’s human resources and benefits department, and are either unwilling, or incapable, of broadening their touch points to include the finance department—and the Chief Financial Officer in particular. That’s a problem, but one that you can address with a little creativity.

If we go back thirty-five years, human resources and benefits in most corporations reported to the legal department. Why? Because they were viewed as regulatory and compliance functions. Today, however, HR reports to the finance department and specifically the CFO. Why? Because benefits have become such an expensive line item. In fact, at most firms, benefits now represent 9 to 11% of their total operating expenses, and the CFO wants to keep track of how that money is being spent. And that’s why the CFO needs to be your main point of contact.

Still not convinced? Who makes the ultimate decision about changes to benefits and adviser relationships? Benefits? Human resources? Generally, they make the recommendations, not the decisions. It’s the CFO who invariably has the final word on benefits—and all insurance-related issues for that matter. Just ask your property and casualty counterparts. They already understand this important dynamic. Likewise, high growth benefits practices are focused on building a relationship with the CFO.

Engaging the CFO

So how do you connect with the CFO in a meaningful way? By engaging him (or her) in a strategic discussion about his company’s benefits program. What is the business trying to accomplish by offering benefits? What are the pros and cons of the current benefits selection? Does management know what it wants the benefits program to look like in three-to-five years?

None of us can predict the ultimate outcome of “healthcare re-formed” given all the likely legislative, judicial, and administrative changes that are still on the horizon. But you can advocate a process for managing change and a methodology for developing a benefits roadmap. By being more consultative and forward looking you will elevate your status from product vendor to “trusted adviser.” The CFO will come to view you as an “insider” whose opinion and counsel is valued.

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"You can advocate a process for managing change and a methodology for developing a benefits roadmap."

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Approach a CFO along the lines I am describing and just watch his reaction. The “light bulb” goes on and he has that “aha!” moment. CFOs have a written plan for managing every major business operation; how could they have overlooked such an important line item as benefits? More importantly, how could the company’s current broker not have addressed this matter?

Therein lies your opportunity to differentiate yourself from 99-plus percent of the other benefits advisers in the marketplace.

Perhaps you just had your own “aha!” moment. Connect with the CFO, takeover dozens of accounts and boost your client retention as well. Once you adopt this approach, it will change your client interactions forever.

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Jack Kwicien

Jack Kwicien

Kwicien co-founded Daymark Advisors LLC, a Baltimore-based consulting and advisory services firm in 2001.