How to Be an Expert in the World of Private Exchanges
By John Gedney
There are two types of benefits advisors as I see it: the ones who have committed to learning the nuances of private exchanges and are advising their clients accordingly; and the ones who haven’t.
In my position as Vice President of National Broker Partnerships at Liazon, I meet with both types when I present the private exchange opportunity and Liazon’s industry-leading platform, The Bright Choices® Exchange.
More often than not, the leadership of these benefits firms and their individual practitioners are looking for me to turn them into experts in this new way of delivering benefits in just one easy session. As leaders in this relatively new area, my associates and I are fully committed to improving our training, communications and support techniques to assist our broker partners. However, like Albert Einstein said, “the only source of knowledge is experience.”
Get in the Game
The first type of brokers, the adopters, may not know all the answers the first few times they go out there with the exchange concept, but they see the value and want to offer clients the best new solutions. So, with support from Liazon, they get out of their comfort zone, and eventually, increase their book of business because more clients are turning to private exchanges, or are at least willing to hear about them.
And the advisor is still gaining knowledge and experience post-sale, when they observe and learn through the implementation process, so they are even better equipped to advise the next client on how it all works. This increases their confidence in the subject matter and inevitably leads them to successfully bring more clients onto the Exchange. Before long they have become experts in a new field, one in which there are still relatively few, and they are looked upon as thought leaders in the Private Exchange arena. In fact, we’ve recruited several of these thought leaders on our own Private Exchange Resource Council (PERC) to lead the industry in presenting data on how people are using exchanges and how they make their benefits choices.
So what about the other type of benefits advisor? They are coming up with lots of reasons not to actively engage, such as:
“This is complicated and I don’t know how it works exactly.”
“My clients haven’t asked for this.”
“This is too new so I want to wait and see.”
“We’re trying but my clients aren’t interested in moving forward.”
Let’s face it, the process of procuring, presenting, and implementing benefits programs has not changed much in the last 20 years and private exchanges require a mind shift. Like anything new, this can be uncomfortable in the beginning. Remember your first smartphone? Your first GPS? You had to move past the “I don’t really need it” phase to appreciate what they can do, and now, you can’t live without them, can you? A key role of the benefits broker is to mitigate risk. What’s new may come with some level of risk, but being left behind when innovation passes you by is an even greater risk.
How big of a risk will it be to continue to stand on the sidelines? Industry pundits estimate that 18% to 50% of the benefits market will shift to private exchanges in the next three to four years. Not getting into the game now means the market could pass you by and render your services irrelevant. It’s like attempting to sell DVD’s in the age of the DVR.
How to Become a Private Exchange Early Adopter
Fortunately, it’s not too late to get off the sidelines and get into the game. You can still get in as an early adopter. Here’s how:
1. Immerse yourself in the subject matter.
There is a treasure trove of information out there – from industry trades such as Employee Benefits News, Employee Benefit Advisor, Business Insurance and BenefitsPro, just to name a few. Read them! Attend industry conferences like next week’s Benefits Selling Expo in Arizona. (Disclosure: Liazon’s Chief Strategy Officer, Alan Cohen, will be speaking at this conference.) If you have enough to read try the IHC’s Health Care Consumerism podcast on BlogTalkRadio. And of course, follow the Liazon blog. The industry is changing so fast that you can’t keep up unless you, well, keep up.
2. Partner with a provider that has experience in operating a Private Exchange.
Align yourself with someone that has the resources to support you in the proper positioning of private exchanges from a sales, product, and resource perspective. For instance, at Liazon, we have sales representatives whose sole purpose is to provide the benefits professional with field support – assisting in developing and presenting proposals for clients, and ensuring proper installation post-sale. We provide ongoing sales training while giving our partners access to a broker extranet, which contains a wealth of information honed through our eight years of experience in the market.
3. One sale at a time.
Talking about it in the hallways of your office with your peers or listening to presentations from Private Exchange providers is a start, but to really be an early adopter you need to visit your clients, with support from your exchange provider, and present. Then, do it again. Present to five different clients and you are now a Private Exchange practitioner. Take it to the next level and present to ten clients. Two or three will likely move forward with your recommendation. Once you experience the implementation process with them, you are now an expert in an emerging product area that will ensure a prosperous future for employers and employees alike. And that means advisors will win too.
With their unique perspective and experience, the early adopters are able to broaden their sphere of influence, and their client base, while moving the industry forward. In short, they have taken personal accountability for their success and they are rewarded accordingly.
Ready to get in the game? Take the first step in partnering with the leading Private Exchange provider and take advantage of our knowledge in the space.