As health care reform threatens to shake the foundation of our industry, brokers and agents are trying to understand where they will fit in as the employee benefits marketplace realigns. While there are still many unknown factors, change will quickly delineate between the haves and have nots. New players will enter the field, and the most effective firms will offer solutions that drive value and affect costs for employers and employees.
Depending upon your career timeline, market focus, capabilities, threats to your niche, and other factors, there are basic steps that every agent can take to prepare for the future and align with the entities best suited to your needs.
1. Realistically evaluate your competitive position
Are you playing offense or defense today? Regardless of your orientation, you need to understand why. Is your value proposition almost entirely tied to the knowledge in your head and your long-term client relationships? This will not become unimportant overnight, but it certainly won’t be enough to survive. The wave of the future is teams of people with diverse skill sets, coupled with tools and services leveraging technology. These solutions are coming to a neighborhood near you – if they haven’t already.
2. Connect with the individuals and companies reshaping our industry
This can happen locally, regionally, or on a national basis – just make sure it happens. PEOs, payroll companies, technology solutions, other agents, industry consultants, service providers, and carriers of traditional and non-traditional products are among the forces leading the industry change. If you wait to see how things evolve over time, you may become obsolete. The only way to understand the role you will play in a realigned industry is to actively participate in the conversations taking place around you.
3. Ensure access to carriers
Inevitably, carriers will begin to stratify agents and brokers based on size, growth rates, and capabilities.
Look to the P&C space as a harbinger of things to come. Smaller P&C agents now struggle with access to product, pricing, and workable commission levels. This same dynamic will lead to dramatic consolidation among employee benefits agents and brokers.