Advisers, brokers looking to strengthen critical partnership with insurance carriers

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For attendees of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers Employee Benefits Leadership Forum this week in Colorado Springs, Colo., it is all about one thing: carrier meetings.

Over the past few years, a “huge divide” developed between carriers and brokers, says Nancy Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel for the employee services division of CBIZ. “The Affordable Care Act tore us apart and as a result no one talked about the relationship between the two entities within this industry,” she explains.

But now, broker and carrier are again starting to work together because the whole concept of who the risk bearer is and who the true consultant is for an employer has changed so dramatically as a result of the ACA, Mellard — who in 2015 was chair of the conference — adds. That has led to carriers and brokers coming back together and “locking arms again.”

It is important to have meetings with high-level contacts from across the country, believes Chris Powers of Risk Strategies Group. With his firm’s 23 locations across the country from Boston to Los Angeles, “it is important to be in a location where you can get to high-end decision-makers” at carriers, he explains. “As we continue to increase our profile as a company, we have a lot of carrier meetings and other contacts to make.”

Mike Sullivan, chief growth officer at Digital Insurance, agrees. Sullivan has multiple meetings set up with carriers “to make sure we understand the path we are on and to understand the best way to work with them to drive growth and efficiency together,” he says.

“There is always a healthy amount of tension” between brokers and carriers, usually on client-specific issues, he adds. “But we need each other.”

During his meetings at the Broadmoor resort, where the conference will take place Tuesday-Thursday, Sullivan aims to find a balance for client, adviser and carrier. “It is a balancing act,” he says. “It is all about communication.”

The event is all about strengthening relationships, Mellard adds. “I just get charged,” she explains. “I always want to go away with deeper relationships than I have and new relationships, too.”

Future trends

Technology will be the future of this business. Ed White of Risk Strategies Group says his company is the process of launching a private benefit exchange and is embracing technology.

“Benefits administration. A private exchange. Whichever way an account wants to go, we have all the tools,” he explains.

“The Affordable Care Act tore us apart and as a result no one talked about the relationship between the two entities within this industry."

And at Digital, Sullivan says he just came from an off-site leadership event where the conversation focused on doing things and being in businesses that his firm has not been in before.

“Technology is going to play a much [larger] role,” he says. “We are trying to leverage technology and software to bring downmarket to small and midsize employees what has traditionally been upmarket.”

“It will require we do things differently then we have,” he adds. “That is exciting for us.”

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