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30 top benefit advising innovators
As we head into a new era of employee benefits and healthcare under a President who has promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, these trendsetters are sure to lead the way for the industry. Each of these men and women are making significant contributions to the field of advising. Whether it be through focusing on transparency in insurance and healthcare, utilizing technology to improve care, education or bending the cost curve, they are people to watch in the coming year.
Customers expect new ways to interact with advisers, and as an advocate for technological advancement through mobile applications and web optimization, Matt Aaron is a leading disruptor of the status quo. Aaron created his own mobile app and now consults with others in the industry on the necessity of having such a platform.
Roger Abramson is an expert on the Affordable Care Act who has closely followed Republican actions to dismantle and replace it. He has his eye on the future of health reform and the “public hunger” to make further fixes to the system. Abramson predicted back in September that the Cadillac tax will be the first element of ACA to go, but that the pre-existing conditions clause will remain. President-elect Trump has since cited those two points in a post-election interview.
More and more companies are pushing HDHPs as the universal healthcare plans and Bill Bade, along with his company, is opening up the possibilities of how hospital indemnity plans can effectively couple with high-deductible health plans. Bade also works with his clients in order to hlep them save more and achieve maximum coverage.
Co-Founder and Managing Director Thomsons Online Benefits
Chris Bruce has his eye on the U.S. benefit technology market, calling it “mature and competitive” — and he knows the pitfalls that keep advisers from taking full advantage of it. But Bruce also knows that American firms with subsidiaries and satellite offices overseas face an uphill battle in upgrading their benefit IT up to modern standards. That's why he is working to push for greater IT investment and modernizations for sectors that still operate as if its 1993.
VP, Technology, Marketplace and Engagement Solutions Pacific Resources
EBA’s 2016 Technology Adviser of the Year, Sean Clem approaches this business differently than other advisers. He knows what clients want and works with them to keep them loyal to him and to cut costs. He continues to develop innovative new ideas in the technology space for his clients.
Senior Vice President, Director of Compliance Services Lockton Companies
Shan Fowler is focused on how technology and artificial intelligence can be used to make the enrollment process simpler and more comprehensive for all parties. He preaches that A.I. should not be seen as a replacement for human interaction, but rather a tool that can expand a company’s book of business.
Mark Gaunya is on a mission to cut back on healthcare costs nationwide by making the system more transparent and user-friendly. He speaks to lawmakers both in his home state of Massachusetts and in the nation’s capital to cut back on what he views as the major problem of the healthcare system.
Executive Managing Director of Employee Benefit Services Crystal & Company
Michael Grant is a leader in flexible benefit design. From coast to coast, he’s identified the distinct geographical differences in what employees want in their benefits offering and caters to their unique needs. Grant says West Coast clients seek more flexibility in schedules, while East Coast clients seek increased life insurance and disability coverage. Grant is also a supporter of office “time-out” or “relaxation” rooms as a way of improving workplace wellness.
Vice President of Digital Products UnitedHealthcare
With people “living much of their lives through their smartphones,” Craig Hankins is taking advantage of greater adoption of mobile app technology to improve health insurance resources and empower employers and employees to expect information transparency and easy access.
Tom Harte testified in front of Congress on how the Affordable Care Act is impacting businesses and their employees. A former National Association of Health Underwriters president, Harte is an advocate for the industry.
A marketing guru, Dave Jackson turned a social media page into a huge booster for his business while developing a reputation as the go-to guy for insurance needs in his neighborhood. After three years of being in business, Jackson showed a 4,000% ROI as a result of offering services such as paper shredding, notary services and occasional door-to-door donut delivery.
The author of multiple marketing books, Michael Jans knows the secret sauce to turn a passive client into a lifelong advocate of an adviser's services. Using specially crafted emails, client data, reduced information silos and incisive proposals, Jans says brokers no longer have to expect to see "low-loyalty clients" just drift away. Ina revolutionary way of classifying client, they have to be treated like patients in a hospital. "Those relationships need to be healed first so they become a high-loyalty client, and the moderate-loyalty clients have to be elevated to high-loyalty clients," he says.
Kiki Johnson’s forward thinking about the benefits technology space is leading advisers to be ahead of the game when it comes to bringing clients the latest in mobile technology to serve the benefits field. Partnered with Matt Aaron, she also consults with other insurance agents to inform them of the need for mobile apps to deter clients from switching over to a competitor after being persuaded by online ads.
Michael Lujan is committed to disrupting and re-imagining employee benefits. A former broker and California state-run exchange official, Lujan helps advisers navigate the constantly changing technology landscape. He frequently speaks at industry conferences across the country on emerging trends, and has his finger on the pulse of the industry.
Joe Markland knows how to compete in this new and challenging space technology, giving frequent talks on the subject at conferences around the country, often pushing advisers to think outside the status quo.
Executive Vice President Firstrust Financial Resources
It’s the adviser’s responsibility to educate new employees on the true value of a retirement plan, says Paul Markowich – a retirement advocate who is focused on connecting the dots between employee education and financial wellness. Markowich advises clients to utilize an HSA the same way they would a 401(k) or bank savings account. He also educates clients on why current healthcare standards are hindering increased saving for retirement.
A 25-year industry veteran, Rob Massa created EPIC’s investment advisory firm that has grown to $3 billion in AUM. Massa’s goal is to let employers establish best practices for their plans, with a growing emphasis on financial wellness and fiduciary responsibility.
Armed with a nursing degree, Gayle McCann has forged innovative partnerships with providers and carriers and by listening to clients. The results? The 2016 Employee Benefit Adviser of the Year has grown North Risk Partners into a true Minnesota powerhouse. With a keen eye for finding solutions, McCann established new offerings and help build a network when a new state law stifled coverage for medical professionals, which is the cornerstone of her client base.
The hunt for new clients is the foundation for growing a brokerage. But you have to retain those clients to make them loyal for the future. Brian Nate, an insurance marketer and retention specialist based in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, has grown his agency by 23% the first year and 24% last year as he increased retention from 80% to 94.6%.
Jeff Oldham is a strong advocate for voluntary benefits that assist millennials with student loan debt, and believes that physical and mental wellness can be achieved through relieving the financial burden first. Through the use of nontraditional benefits, Oldham says employers should expand the use of debt assistance to more than just education loans, but home, auto and other forms of debt.
Benefit managers love the idea of transparency in healthcare programs – comparing the prices of MRIs from one facility to another, for example – but getting employees to use the data in their healthcare decisions remains a challenge, one that Mary Catherine Person is working to overcome. She is also working hard to decipher the wide swaths of data from state data, Medicare data, commercial data and more for her firm and fellow employees. The data often reveals that the supposed "low-cost" medical facility actually has plenty of competition for that title.
Sima Reid is an insurance broker who does not like following others in pursuit of the best products for her clients. It’s about finding the best options on the market for clients of twentytwenty Insurance Services, even if she has to build the technology herself.
Managing Partner, Employee Benefits Lawley Benefits Group
At a time when some advisers are struggling with what to do with private exchanges, T.J. Revelas is making them a unique selling point for his firm, reaping the rewards by attracting new clients and keeping them satisfied with lower healthcare costs and more consumer-decision support.
Within the past year at EPIC, Craig Schmidt has been hitting the wellness grindstone hard, building the company’s employee benefits specialty consulting practice, developing content for client-facing webinars, educating staff on wellness productivity planning and writing a whole chapter in EPIC’s wellness playbook tool for internal account teams.
Alan Schulman works hard to lobby lawmakers on a local and national level to continue to improve health reform. He is heavily involved in the National Association of Health Underwriters, fighting tooth and nail to amend the Affordable Care Act.
National Sales Director MetLife Expatriate Benefits
Brian Sideris has his finger on the pulse of the growing expatriate market and how benefits are evolving to assist this niche employee market. Under expat benefits, Sideris says healthcare needs to be universal no matter where the client might be and should be provided with a translator, should the need arise. As more Americans seek employment outside the U.S. borders, expat benefits are starting to play a larger role in the benefits market.
MD Sam Smith is former president of the California Association of Health Underwriters, and is involved in influencing policies that affect brokers in his state and across the country. He is well-known on the national stage as an outspoken broker who makes his voice heard on important issues facing the field.
Troy Underwood has no plans to slow down after selling his company benefitsCONNECT to cloud-based benefit provider benefitexpress. The serial entrepreneur plans to invest in another startup or benefits agency to continue serving the industry he loves. No fan of the complexity and sweep of the Affordable Care Act, Underwood believes that good health and nutrition should be the cornerstone to solving the nation's health woes. "We spend too much on healthcare because we eat poorly and don’t work out," he says.
John Zern is a leader at Aon, meeting frequently with lawmakers to influence the future of the benefits industry. As a member of Aon’s political action steering committee, an employee-funded effort to support business-minded candidates seeking election office, Zern hosts elected leaders at Aon facilities around the country.