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In a largely male-dominated profession, EBA’s 2018 Top Women in Benefit Advising stand out for both personal and professional reasons. Some of these winners were credited with finding substantial savings for employer clients and strengthening their organization’s bottom line, while others advocated for a holistic approach to technology, behavioral finance, level-funding techniques, mind-body healing and metrics to track corporate objectives.

Below, see this year’s winners, chosen by editors at EBA, listed in alphabetical order by last name and share your thoughts #TopWomeninBenefitAdvising.
Rosario Avila
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Benefits consultant
Arrow Benefits Group

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
The launch of our Spanish Language Division called Alianza.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Understanding my client’s demographics and needs.
Paula Beersdorf
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President
Sun Risk Management

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Standing in front of over 200 employees of a construction firm during open enrollment last month, and letting them know their Employer had improved all of their benefit plan offerings AND lowered the cost of all of those plans for employees and family members by over 25%. The employees were so happy, and so was the employer - they now believe we CAN actually control healthcare costs!
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Thinking in a very different way than the majority of advisers on this business, with the sole purpose of providing meaningful guidance and advice to my clients and prospective clients that will help them reach their goals. If my clients are successful, that means my firm will be successful.
Shawna Brackett
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Director of client services
Axial Benefits Group

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
I’ve had a lot of great things come to us in the last year as I transitioned from to a senior management role: we’ve received a fair amount of national press coverage and been recognized, as well as won, several national awards for the performance of our Healthcare Purchasing Coalitions. This coverage and attention put a spotlight on the Axial Benefits Group service team and our hard work. I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done behind the scenes to make these coalitions come together through planning and being responsible for the execution of each Coalition’s annual national user conferences. Paired with the the training programs we have developed for our staff this year, has helped us maintain a high level of performance for our clients.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Collaboratively, we’ve created a new healthcare purchasing road map. It's helpful to show our clients what style they are currently purchasing their program in now and the steps, cost containment's, and savings opportunities to get them to one of our Healthcare Purchasing Coalitions. The fact that I am well-versed in all facets of this healthcare purchasing spectrum has allowed me to not only offer ABG clients my expertise, but to help teach many other advisors across the country a different way to think about the healthcare purchase. It’s a new concept that I believe in deeply. Its helped me gain a fair amount of credibility with many advisors across the country with more tenure than myself.
Lori Callahan
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Principal, senior client executive
OneDigital Health and Benefits

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Transitioning from Strategic Employee Benefit Services to OneDigital on June 1, 2018. It was difficult to prepare for a merger and continue to work with existing and new clients.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I believe in being a partner with our clients. We truly consider ourselves their outsourced benefits department and we work strategically with them in the planning process.
Cristy Gupton
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President
Custom Benefits Solutions

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Having the NC Attorney General attend a forum I hosted on the opioid crisis. He was the finale keynote speaker and I'm humbled and honored that he would attend this community event.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I don't shy away from the truth no matter how it may impact my own bottom line. If it helps my clients then that's all that matters.
Marcy S. Heath
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Founder/CEO
InoVentive Solutions

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
My biggest accomplishment was shifting my mindset and transforming my Agency to a Next Generation Benefits Firm.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
The attributes that set me apart as an Adviser is offering my clients Next Generation Strategies. We deliver value, selling outcomes instead of activity. My Agency focuses on cost containment tools that deliver quantifiable results while improving bottom line profits and increasing employee satisfaction.
Nancy Humphrey
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Benefits technology practice leader
A.G. Insurance Agency

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
We've had more complex groups integrate their payroll platforms with Employee Navigator. Even though we were a beta tester on some of the capability expansions, we've only had a few hiccups that have allowed us to create a work flow not only for our clients but for any other agency/vendor nationwide.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I build rapport with a client quickly that allows a safe space for them to ask questions. I then take that opportunity to not only answer the questions but feel it is my duty to teach them how to function as efficiently as possible with the tools provided to them.
Beth Johnson
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President
Mitchell Insurance

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Our agency is on track to double the employee benefits revenue.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I am always looking for creative opportunities to lower the cost for my clients.
Suzy Johnson
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Suzy K. Johnson
President and employee benefit strategist
Employee Benefit Advisors of the Carolinas

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Aggressively moving many new and existing clients to level/self-funding plans for their health plans where they have more information and control over their healthcare spend. Also we grew the firm this year by about 10% top line and continue to focus on adding more of the right type of clients. My team embraces the continually changing landscape of what we do and that cannot happen without leadership and vision.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
My team and I are continually learning and adopting new solutions that better meet the client's abilities to manage their health benefits spend. We are very creative in plan design with the health plans as well as other benefits such as group disability, group life, dental and vision benefits. We put the client's needs and problems first always in everything we do even if it means less compensation for us.
Katie Kripp
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Senior human resources manager
Waubonsee Community College

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
This past year we expanded the health insurance offerings from one to three. We developed a very robust education and communication plan - this was the first significant change to the health insurance ever. We had good feedback and many employees moved to the new plan offerings!
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Listening, pursuing solutions through creativity. I am very good at rallying a team effort!
Renee McGowan
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Global leader, individual wealth
Mercer

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Partnering with the World Economic Forum on a project focused on improving retirement savings systems. From this, Mercer developed our own research, Healthy, Wealthy & Work-Wise that is now helping clients redefine work and savings programs so that employees can be more financially secure.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Client collaboration. Expert advice is important, but nobody knows a workforce better than the employer. Combining client insights and knowledge with expert advice is when the magic happens.
Nicole Negvesky
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Area senior VP
Gallagher

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
I love helping my clients solve their challenges and this year I was pleased to see that across my entire book of business the average increase was only 2.4%. I had some clients with rate passes and some that saw decreases. And many of my self-funded client’s costs have remained relatively flat over the past several years. We actively manage their plans and use data to drive decisions.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I have spent a considerable amount of time establishing myself as a subject matter expert in the area of using data analytics to help employers create a strategic plan to attract and retain top talent. I have been invited by numerous SHRM organizations, as well as public sector human resource associations to present on the value of building strategic plans based on relevant data ( I spoke at more than nine different organizations conferences and meetings this past year).

I have a deep understanding of Gallagher’s National Benchmarking data, and how to help organizations use that data to maintain competitiveness in talent markets and effectively manage human capital. I help connect the dots with the data to show how a holistic approach to benefits and total rewards not only drives engagement but most importantly organizational outcomes and growth. An engaged employee is a productive employee and will drive organizations to achieve high performing results. This impacts not just their benefit programs but their overall organizational goals and revenue.
Stefane Pigeon
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President
Affiliate Associates

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Managing a firm and a TPA from more than 1,000 miles away while creating double digit growth.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
What makes me stand out is my willingness to bring "new and different" to my clients. They often comment, "I love these meetings because I always learn something." My advisory role is critical, not only for my clients but, for my staff where my role is to educate, share and encourage the expansion of opportunities for all.
Rachel Sapoznik
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CEO
Sapoznik Insurance & Associates

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Six of our clients, including our company, were nominated for the South Florida Business Journal’s Healthiest Employers.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I am passionate about emphasizing the value and necessity for education and wellness in helping manage costs for the employer while improving the lives of their employees.
Lisa True
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COO
Nova Healthcare Administrators

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Positioning the organization to handle massive growth.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
My passion to make a difference, my love of innovation and my 30+ years of experience I bring to the table to get it all done.
Leah Vetter
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Area president
Gallagher

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
As part of my responsibility in overseeing the sales and operation of our 6 area location in Iowa, Nebraska & South Dakota, my greatest accomplishment has been to lead and support the development of the 63 employee benefit professionals that have help to drive our top line growth of 55% YTD in 2018.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I believe it is the holistic approach we take to understanding our clients business first, then their workforce and finally how their benefits program & philosophy fit into their organizational objectives.
Vickie Whaley
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Vice president, Florida sales and service
FBMC Benefits Management

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
In January of this year, I made a transition to FBMC Benefits Management. During the last seven months, I have recruited, trained and mentored a team of benefits consultants and account managers who have achieved this year's state revenue objectives, created a strategic operational plan for onboarding new clients and lead panel discussions throughout the state as a subject matter expert discussing innovative solutions to mitigating healthcare spend increases.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
The ability to focus on the protection of employers while providing solutions to employees that address their whole health, using a multi-year strategy to develop solutions for the long-term with a passion for educating employees and leadership on the value of their benefits and how to become better consumers of healthcare.
Jessica Word
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President
Word & Brown General Agency

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Moving to Salesforce from our previous proprietary CRM. Salesforce has allowed us to create greater transparencies between sales and operations teams, which has led to more opportunities for greater efficiencies and strategically speaking, the chance to think differently about how we interact with our customers.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
I would have to say our corporate philosophy and focus on our “One Team” philosophy. We work with thousands of brokers and their clients, day in and day out. And while we offer a diversified portfolio, a number of technology and other value-added tools, at the end of the day what makes Word & Brown stand out is our service and staff. Our true success is attributed to each and every person on our team having the passion and understanding of the importance of not just helping our customers, but each other as well.
Emily Wrightson
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Director
Cammack Retirement Group

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
Taking over leadership of the firm's Public Market Practice and refocusing efforts on building sustainable client relationships and retaining existing clients.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Attention to detail. This element is key when you are working with complex retirement plan sponsors and programs with hundreds of thousands of participants.
Barbara Yoshimura
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Area senior VP
Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

What was your biggest work accomplishment this past year?
I am most proud of the work done this past year to support a large client going through a very complex acquisition, nearly doubling their size. This acquisition required us to manage many moving parts while providing strategic counsel and guidance to shape a holistic benefits approach to meet their overall growth goals and employee needs. Due to a strong partnership and commitment to collaboration, we experienced success from the M&A due diligence process all the way to the phased approach for integration. In parallel, this same client engaged us to conduct a rigorous pharmacy benefit manager proposal that led to a significant cost avoidance. The client was more than content by the value we delivered.
What makes you stand out as an adviser?
Based on previous client feedback, I believe there are two qualities that have differentiated me over the years. First, I have a passion and energy for this business and my ability to positively impact people by helping organizations grow and implement the right benefits and rewards strategies. This passion has led me to continue growing my skill-set, and become a strong business partner to my clients. Second, I think my innate curiosity is an advantage. When working with a client, I ask about their greater business goals, vision, challenges, what’s working and what’s not, what has the leadership team worried, and what has them excited. I ask a lot of questions and aim to really listen, which I think is paramount to developing the most impactful recommendations that help my clients both in the short- and long-term. A lot of consideration goes into my thought-process when assessing a client’s situation – I like to know about their culture, their budget, their brand, and what their employee demographics looks like. Ultimately, I think this curiosity has led me to gain broader insight to my client’s needs and tailor more meaningful strategies.

One of the best compliments I received is when the CFO of a familiar household name company called me with a question unrelated to my field, but did so knowing that I would be able to help him get in touch with the right resources. It was a gratifying moment, reinforcing what it can mean to be a true business partner.
This article originally appeared in Employee Benefit Adviser.
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