By Paul Wilson of BenefitsPRO
Jessica Du Bois wonders whether the industry has lost focus on what these benefits truly mean to employees.
Paul Wilson: How did you get started in the benefits industry?
I’m from a very small Iowa town of about 800 people. During high school and college, I had jobs where I saw that if you work hard and build relationships with people, you will make more money. So I set out to do that but in a way that would move me out of the state.I ended up with Principal Financial Group as a sales representative. I took part in their development program for new grads, and this led me to Nashville. During those years, I worked the Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky markets.I connected with Business Benefits Group (BBG) through a mutual connection in Nashville. I wasn’t sure at the time that I wanted to stay in the industry, but when I met with them, it gave me a different view on what the industry could look like. I didn’t realize how innovative benefits has become. The market I was working in was so outdated, people were still enrolling using paper applications and the number of carriers was very limited. Talking to BBG, I saw a lot of opportunity. So I packed up all my things and moved to D.C.
PW: What helped reinvigorate you about the industry?
People are always talking about customer service as a differentiator. At BBG, that’s non-negotiable; it’s not even something we have to talk about. We work extremely quickly and in a collaborative manner. We’re always looking at ways to improve knowledge, processes, and services. And I felt like they acknowledged the ideas I brought from day one and were trying to figure out how to implement some of them and see where they’d fit in the overall strategy. We’re constantly learning about what’s available out there.
PW: How has your journey so far helped shape your mindset as a broker?
Working in rural areas, I was holding enrollment meetings everywhere from poultry processing plants to auto shops, often in the middle of nowhere. To create a competitive advantage, I was the person who would meet with the employer, conduct enrollment meetings, collect applications and then help with the servicing on the back end. So I got to go through every step with the employees and figure out, “OK, what does this mean to your family? How do we protect you if something goes wrong?” And then have conversations with the employer, show them how important benefits are and explain ways they can differentiate.Caring about people and seeing what they go through on a daily basis is something I bring to work every day. I feel like that’s something that’s been lost in the industry. In many cases, we’ve stopped focusing on what these benefits truly mean to employees.
PW: What are the biggest challenges and successes you’re experiencing?
One of the biggest challenges is just trying to understand everything that’s coming our way, from all the new vendors knocking on our door every day to keeping up on new strategies and all the risks and opportunities that come with them.I’m very excited about what we do, so I tend to always look at the opportunities that come from these challenges.
PW: Any predictions on what will happen with single-payer?
Every time something changes, it creates opportunity. If it were to happen, it’s just another reason to move from commission to consulting fees, which is where we’re already heading.My focus has been on the employee experience and bringing the culture part of the conversation to benefits. Even if a drastic change did happen in health care, I’m still useful because the things I’m providing are much more than just health care. Everything from mental health to technology to educating employees to improving onboard and offboarding. I’m talking about it all.
PW: What areas of the industry are you especially passionate about?
I love to make complicated things easier to understand, whether at an open enrollment meeting or within the health care plan itself. I recently wrote a piece about artificial intelligence. There are so many great applications out there that help make the employees’ experience better as they navigate through the system. I feel like that’s where the industry is moving and as more younger brokers come into the field, that will impact not only the cost of care but also the way people feel and function at work.
PW: What are your favorite things about your job?
There’s so much opportunity. In particular, there’s been such a lack of conversation when it comes talking about employees and their experience. All day, I’m thinking about material I can create or conversations I can have with prospects or the groups I work with. Companies are starting to realize in order to be here for the long run, you have to provide purpose for your employees. That’s something I’m trying to help them with.The companies I want to work with are the ones who truly care about what all this money is doing for their employees.
PW: How important has collaboration been to your career?
We collaborate a lot within our office, but we do it a lot outside of the company as well. Podcasts are also huge; we use them to learn and share information and we also reach out to people we hear to ask questions or discuss what we’re seeing and hearing. It’s never been easier to share information and content.We’re all trying to change the health care industry for the better, and more people are realizing that the best way to do that is through employers. It can’t just be a couple of brokers; in order to truly make an impact, we all need to do it.
PW: How can the industry attract and support young advisors?
I think it’s important to focus on purpose rather than income. I’ve had multiple people within the industry tell me how much money can be made; that’s not something I care about, and it’s not something I think a lot of younger consultants care about. We see the huge opportunity our industry has compared to where it is now; that’s what we care about.
PW: I know many advisors are focusing on the C-Suite. How does that fit in with your HR relationships?
When it comes to financials and the health care strategies, you want to talk with the CFO. However, if that’s the only place we focus, we’re missing why we have health care in the first place and why we offer benefits. If your only focus is saving them $200,000 a year, then you’re missing the fact it’s one of the biggest factors in why an employee chooses a company, or what keeps them emotionally, physically and financially healthy.If you get in the door with HR, you’ll often have the opportunity to talk with the CFO, as well.
PW: What does the word ‘disruption’ mean to you?
Complete transparency, with everyone’s cards on the table. That includes employers knowing how brokers are paid, which is something we talk about in our first meeting. One of our big goals for 2019 is figuring out how to be even more transparent, looking at ideas like tying our compensation to results, for example.
For employees, it means knowing how much their care costs and how to more easily find the right providers.I think it’s also starting to happen on the physician side. My mother lives in Iowa and recruits physicians for a hospital network, and she is a big part of the conversation around physicians being paid by how many patients they see versus getting a salary. The network my mom works for is transitioning to the salary model for physicians so there isn’t the pressure to see more and more people every day. We’re seeing some positive changes.
PW: Finish this sentence: The key to success in this industry going forward is…