A compliance attorney who understands benefit needs
One of Katy Stowers’ responsibilities as managing director and general counsel at benefits advisory FirstPerson is to help the firm’s clients attract and retain talent in Indianapolis and its surrounding area.
Despite having low unemployment and a lower cost of living compared to major American cities, it still can be a challenge for Indianapolis companies to hire new people from other regions.
“Sometimes we have to make deals a little sweeter to compete for talent because we don't have an ocean or a mountain [to attract people], so employers — particularly our tech clients — spend a lot of time figuring out ways to attract and retain people and give additional perks,” says Stowers, whose been selected as one of EBA’s 2017 Most Influential Women in Benefit Advising.
To select this year’s honorees, EBA editors asked readers to submit the names of thought leaders who are making their mark on the benefit business through their unique approaches to client relations, benefits technology and/or mentoring other women. From the dozens of submissions received, the editors chose 30 benefit advisers to recognize for their outstanding achievements.
Stowers did not set out to have a career in employee benefits. She graduated from Indiana University School of Law Indianapolis in 1993 and eventually worked as a senior attorney for Krieg DeVault LLP, where her practice focused on ERISA and workplace compliance before she joined FirstPerson in 2012.
Her ERISA work was challenging, she says, but after representing both employers and brokers, she realized she wanted to get more involved in the needs of employers delivering benefits.
“Employers tend to want to get that sort of advice from either their broker or adviser. They don't want to pay $450 an hour for what they want to be included,” she says. During her law work, she found herself partnering with FirstPerson on a few client projects and now she serves as one of its managing directors.
“I liked the ability to be more broad and holistic and not be limited by billable hours. I was going to have a lot more use of my background and what I've experienced on particularly on the self-funded health side,” she says.
Stowers is focusing on what she calls leadership from a benefit advisory strategy perspective.
“I serve alongside an adviser and the client to review the plan financials, to be responsible for determining what their financial strategy is and what outcomes they're looking for with respect to their health benefits or other benefit platforms outside of retirement plans,” she says. FirstPerson does not manage or oversee retirement plans.
“We’re linking in the benefit strategy to the overall business strategy of the company,” she says.
Stowers’ clients range in 200 to 3,000 employee firms that are based in Indiana with some that have multi-state offices and worksites. They are a mix of white collar firms, such as accounting and publishing firms, with blue collar firms that work in the energy field. Her legal background helps with the law firm clients, “because I understand their culture and the way their leadership thinks,” she says.
Stowers also runs FirstPerson’s Operations Task Force, an internal organization that aims to clarify responsibilities and oversight of client needs. “Some of the challenges we continue to face as a business is linking our sales and advisory folks with our delivery folks. They go out and sell, create relationships and hear about employers’ needs. They want to match services and products to those needs but then we've got to deliver them day-to-day,” she says.
The Operations Task Force takes members from sales, advisers and communications and marketing to create a smoother workflow. “Some of the things we initially did was really drill into role clarity for each of our key roles,” she says, “Account executives and client advocates are delivering day to day and everyone has a clear picture of who is responsible for doing what.”
Despite her business management acumen, Stowers still wears her compliance hat for the FirstPerson team. “We’ve used my expertise to develop a compliance practice area that helps our clients navigate ACA and all of the various regulatory minefields. Fortunately, I have a compliance manager that manages the day to day work, but it is a practice unit that I’m really proud of.”