Rising Stars, in focus: Benefit advising as a family affair
Family has always been important to Ben Conner. The 34-year-old benefit adviser from Indiana sits down to dinner with his 14 family members every Wednesday — a tradition started by his grandmother. Up until she passed away in 2017, Conner’s mother would invite her every week as the guest of honor.
For Conner, family has played a big role in both his personal life and how he approaches business. Growing up, he watched his father run a benefits advising firm, Conner Insurance, where he began to work after graduating with a double major in finance and management in 2006 from Indiana Wesleyan University.
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Conner vividly remembers the advice his father gave him when when he first got into the business. “Relationships are everything, there is no amount of money worth betraying someone’s trust, and to know who you’re serving and serve them well,” his father told him.
For the first three years, he worked in general and commercial insurance. But in 2010, after the Affordable Care Act passed, he was brought on to help. Soon after, he realized he wanted to work exclusively in employee benefits. “It really matched with my skill set and finance background,” he adds. “From a personal level, I enjoy building relationships, communicating with employees and helping them solve problems.”
He was lucky to have his father by his side as a mentor, he says. “His job was to be available and open, and my job was to pursue him and make the most of that relationship,” he says.
In 2015, Conner bought the family business from his father with four other partners. While he says that some practices have remained the same, the firm has embarked on some changes.
“He understands that the benefits world is quickly changing and he embraces new ideas after proper inspection,” says Jeff Fox, a benefit adviser at HJ Spier, a local competitor of Conner Insurance.
To attract top talent in the benefits space, Conner says firms have to create a “culture that communicates the tremendous opportunity that exists in the insurance industry.” Conner notes that to thrive as a benefits adviser, one has to possess “business acumen and toughness” and invest in technology.
“You have to use technology or you're going to be done,” Conner adds. At the same time, he cautions against relying too heavily on tech. He says the market is oversaturated with different software and platforms promising to help.
“We have to ask, where does it fit within the ecosystem of a benefit offering,” he says. “Sometimes it just doesn't jive with the flow of the entire program.”
Despite the adoption of new tech, Conner Insurance is still run like a family business.
“Regardless if your last name is Conner or not, the onus is to treat each other like family, which is a higher call than to just have an employer employee relationship” he says.
Conner, who has two young daughters says he wants them to pursue whatever career they’re passionate about. “And if that's benefit advising and they have the ability to work with the customers that I get to work with,” Conner says, “I would absolutely love that for them.”