When Life Gives Brokers Lemons ….

For three years now, a key staple of the BenefitsPRO Broker Expo has included a Face of Change panel, featuring those in the industry–young and old–working to help employers rethink their benefits and health care strategies. These brokers must not only be willing to embrace change themselves, but inspire employers and employees to take a leap of faith.

So, when a pandemic pulls the rug out from under life as we know it, who better to look to for guidance than the masters of change? At this year’s panel, moderator Megan Chiarello of Grassetto Creative grilled a panel of six brokers featured in BenefitsPRO’s Face of Change series over the past year to see how they’re adapting. Each panelist had at least one great example of how they’ve found opportunity amid the chaos.

Lori Fearon, PayneWest Insurance

In the early stages of the pandemic, Fearon and her team were quick to anticipate that employers and their employees would have a lot of questions about how it would affect them and their health care needs. “We did a team event that answered some of the hard questions we saw coming,” Fearon said.

And while this may sound familiar to many brokers, who did the same, there’s a twist: “We only invited prospects,” she said. They were already in regular contact with their existing clients, this outreach was for employers who didn’t have that kind of support. “We had three meetings simply from outreach,” she said. “It was fun and unanticipated.”

Colleen Blum, Combs & Company, LLC

If you want to have a thriving social life, New York City is the place to be. Or it was, at least, before becoming a hotspot in the early days of the pandemic. “I went to three or four different networking events every week,” Blum said. “Now it’s gone to nothing. How do you meet new people?”

Blum, like so many others, has come to embrace podcasts in recent months, finding them very helpful in her personal life. Eventually, an idea formed: “These clients of mine have stories that can definitely help entrepreneurs and business owners, so why not mix the two?” she said. “I created a podcast called ‘Try and stop me.’ It’s a way for me to highlight my clients and get marketing experience for us. It’s a way for me to grow my network and reach out in new ways.”

Chris Wolpert, Group Benefit Solutions LLC

For many BenefitsPRO attendees, this year marks their first experiences with virtual conferences. While the experience requires some adjustments on the part of the participant, it’s a whole different ball game for the organizers. That’s something Chris Wolpert found out for himself this year.

“I was going to have a live event and bring some subject-matter experts to the greater Seattle area,” he said. He had a committee set up, plans in place–for late February. “We still had that date on the calendar, but it wasn’t until I had the experience of participating in a virtual event that I realized that we could do a virtual event and I could open it up beyond my own area.”

Moving the event to the online world opened doors, Wolpert said. He was no longer limited by speakers’ availability to fly in for the event, for one thing, but could expand his lineup of speakers. Another upside? ”You have the ability to record that session and use that as part of an ongoing marketing strategy,” he says. “It’s a way to check a number of boxes, but it isn’t just a static event. Suddenly this is something I’ve been able to get some mileage out of.”

Caitlin Hodge, Conner Insurance

Caitlin Hodge’s big idea wasn’t inspired by the pandemic, but still addressed a major pain point for her clients. “When we’re introducing all of these new “next gen” benefits, it’s great–we’re saving employers lots of money, bringing better benefits. But it’s challenging. I would go in to meet with my employers, and I would get bombarded with ‘This is terrible, this plan isn’t working.’”

In looking further, Hodges found that, while the plans were working overall, small issues were proving to be major obstacles. “Someone received a balance-bill notice and shoved it into a drawer and forgot about it until the collections agency called. Or someone getting a high-cost medication and didn’t know or forgot that we had this Rx advocacy program. It was enough noise that it made the employer have these second thoughts.”

Not wanting to see a good idea derailed by employees unfamiliar with the new process, Hodges and her team decided to get proactive. “I needed to have my team address it and get to these problems before they were brought to the employer,” Hodges said. “I had my team go in in person and employees could sign up to meet with us one on one. Bring their balance bill, their questions about how to navigate the system, and we’d walk them through it.”

Did it work? You bet. “We’ve had zero complaints moving forward, and we’ve taken that concept and turned it into an actual position within our agency.”

Danny O’Connell, Next Level Insurance

Change does not have to be big. Sometimes, small, simple things can go a long way. Danny O’Connell shared a change his business made that shows how we can take inspiration from major disruptors and scale it down. “You look at companies like Amazon and Uber, they reduce the friction, they make it very easy to do business with them,” he says. “Going back to what we do, what are the hangups, what do people hate?”

His answer? Paperwork. A year ago, the agency implemented DocuSign for renewals and paperwork. “People know exactly what to sign, where they need to sign,” he said. “We’re just looking for ways to make it easier for our clients to do business with us.”

Fernando Martinez, Clarus Benefits Group

The best way to approach change? Just get out of your comfort zone. “I’m not one that does social media,” Martinez said. “I didn’t have LinkedIn until a year and a half ago. Here I am. It goes to show, there are going to be things we go through from a business perspective that you really have to challenge yourself and say, ‘I’m going to go do this no matter how uncomfortable it’s going to be.’”

This is something that his agency does on a routine basis as part of the dreaded “prospecting” aspect of building the book of business. They identify their top-tier clients, those who bring in the most value on a yearly basis. “What we try to do is really start snipering,” Martinez said. “Who are the vendors they work with? What is that perfect client that you’re looking for? Then, you have to go out of your comfort zone and ask for that introduction.”


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